Today I wanted to chat about a subject that seems to be getting a lot of traction lately – the concept of “macros” and the IIFYM diet.
Whether you’re interested in eating healthy or just like looking a food photos on Instagram, you’ve probably heard the word macros thrown around.
Counting macros, macro-friendly, switching your macros, macro finisher… there’s clearly a lot going on with macros, but what ARE they anyway? Today I want to get back to basics and discuss the three main macro-nutrient groups. Later I’ll talk about how to calculate/count macros, develop a macro-based strategy for achieving your goals, and the different diets you can use macros with – but we’ve got to start somewhere!
Macro Basics: Carbs, Fat, and Protein
“Macros” is short-hand for macro-nutrients, the main build blocks your body uses for energy. Every food you consume can be broken down into the three main macro-nutrient groups: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. A healthy, balanced diet includes a variety of foods that can ultimately be summed up as a combination of these different macro-nutrients.
Since each macro-nutrient plays a specific role in the body and has a different energy quantity (note: calories are a measure of energy) associated with it, playing around with the ratio of one macro-nutrient to the others can help you achieve specific goals. For example, a long distance runner may require a different ratio of carbohydrates to protein and fat than a bodybuilder. Although elite athletes can obviously improve their performance from adjusting macro-nutrient ratios, being mindful of macro-nutrient ratios can also be beneficial foranyone looking to feel better all around.
Carbohydrates: Your Body’s Energetic BFF (4 calories per gram)
Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fibers that act as our body’s favorite energy source. Think: fruit, veggies, grains, legumes, and the like.
When you consume a carbohydrate-rich food, your digestive system converts it into glucose (blood sugar) to give energy to your cells, tissues, and organs. Whether you’re running marathons, sitting at your desk working, or even just sleeping, your body needs carbohydrates to feel its best.
While there’s some debate in the real-food community about our body’s natural inclination to be a sugar-burners vs. fat-burners (more about that at a later time), the fact remains the same: for most people, carbs are the easiest and fastest form of energy. Our bodies love them and need them to survive.
Protein: The Strong One (4 calories per gram)
Proteins are in every cell of the body. They help keep your body strong by serving as the building blocks of muscle, tissues, and bones. Think: meats, fish, eggs – even vegetables.
Although our bodies are made of protein, it’s important to get enough dietary protein to maintain and build strong bodies. The amount of protein you need will depend on physical factors – age, gender, height, weight – and the goals you have.
The common recommendation is to meet a protein minimum based on your physical factors (usually 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight for an adult) and work from there. We’ll get to that in the macro-counting post; for now, just make sure you’re eating enough to sustain your beautiful body.
Fat: The Low-Key Important One (9 calories per gram)
Oh, fats. Poor fat good a bad reputation with the low-fat crazy of the ’80s (and onward). Apparently people gone the wrong idea that dietary fat (what we’re talking about here) and body fat (the thing most people don’t want more of) were the same thing. Spoiler alert: they’re really not. An excess of any macro-nutrient can make you gain weight – not just dietary fat.
Anyway, dietary fat is extremely important in the body. It helps us assimilate nutrients from food, produce appropriate hormones, and regulate healthy cholesterol levels. It’s a great source of sustained energy – just look at that energy density of 9 calories per gram! – and makes us feel our best. Ever seen someone who seems to glow from the inside out? Yeah, chances are their fat game is on-point.
Great sources of healthy fat include everything from coconuts and avocados to wild caught fish and sustainably farmed meats.