What are Macros?

Jul 19, 2022 | Nutrition

Macro’s is a term being thrown around a lot more now than in the past, but it is just relevant to body builders??

Macro’s, or macronutrients, is a term that’s being thrown around a lot more now than it has in the past, but what does it mean?

Quite simply, macronutrients are nutrients that your body needs in large amounts to function optimally, these are carbohydrates, protein, and fat.

They’re considered essential nutrients, meaning your body either cannot make them or cannot make enough of them, and they provide energy in the form of calories, which is why we need to consume them.

While there are some specific diets out there promoting very limited consumption of a single macronutrient (i.e. low carb keto diet), a healthy and balanced diet should always include a combination of all three.

The ideal ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates depends on a number of factors and is different for everyone. The factors that can affect the ratio include:

  • Overall calorie intake
  • Activity level
  • Type of training
  • Training goals
  • Height and weight
  • Body composition
  • Biological age
  • Hormonal status
  • Previous dietary status
  • Time of year relevant to periodisation

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach (and if anyone ever tells you that there is, please politely remove yourself from the conversation and run away).

Below we dive a little deeper into each of the macronutrients

Protein

Protein is an essential nutrient in the body, meaning the body can’t produce it itself, so we need to consume protein from external sources in order to survive. Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of the body, building and repairing muscles and bones to make hormones and enzymes. Amino acids loss is constantly occurring in the body, which is why we need to consume protein on a regular basis to keep protein turnover happening.

To summarise, protein is the critical macronutrient to keep your body strong and able to recover from the stress that’s put on it every day.

Sources of Protein

  • Lean meats – Beef, lamb, veal, pork, kangaroo
  • Poultry – Chicken, turkey, duck
  • Seafood – Fish, prawns, crab, crayfish, scallops, mussels, oysters
  • Eggs
  • Dairy like greek yoghurt, milk, cheese (especially cottage cheese)
  • Legumes and beans – Lentils, all beans, chickpeas, split peas
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Nuts and seeds – also a fat source
  • Protein powder and bars

Recommended Protein Intake

1g of protein = 4 calories

1.5-2.6g per kg of bodyweight per day, on the lower end for someone less physically active, and on the higher end for more physically active people, and those wanting to maintain muscle mass.

Protein should be split evenly across your meals, so if you’re having 3 meals a day, divide your total protein intake by 3 and aim to consume that for each meal.

Fats

Most of us have been brought up to believe that fats are bad and that we should limit them in our diets in order to maintain our health. This is not correct, fat is essential to our health. Fat has several important functions in the diet, including being a source of energy, hormonal production, formation of cell membrane, supporting the nervous system, providing omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids (which we can’t make ourselves).

Because of all these important functions that fat plays, we need to change our mindset about it, and instead educate ourselves on the different types of fats to understand which ones are actually harmful to us and that we should avoid, and the right ratio of fats to other macronutrients, depending on our goals.

There are a few types of fat:

  • Saturated fat (solid at room temperature, i.e. butter)
  • Unsaturated fat (liquid at room temperature, i.e. olive oil)
    • Monounsaturated
    • Polyunsaturated
  • Trans fats – not good

There are numerous studies that have shown that saturated fat intake can increase heart disease risk factors, like LDL (bad) cholesterol (which transports cholesterol into the artery walls) and apolipoprotein B (ApoB) (which is a protein and a main component of LDL).

This is why it used to be suggested to keep low amounts of saturated fats in your diet. BUT! Not all saturated fats are created equal, food quality does matter. If you’re getting your saturated fats through good quality sources like organic or grass-fed, this is going to serve you a lot better than getting them through fast or fried food. If you have issues with your cholesterol, you may need a more specific prescription. If in doubt, consult your doctor.

Good Sources of Fats

Foods highest in saturated fats:

  • Fatty beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Cheese
  • Poultry with skin
  • Coconut
  • Butter
  • Full fat dairy products (yoghurt, milk)

Foods highest in monounsaturated fats:

  • Nuts or nut butter
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil
  • Egg yolks

Foods highest in polyunsaturated fats (including omega 3 and 6’s)

  • Walnuts
  • Most seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, chia, flax)
  • Fish (salmon, sardines)
  • Fish oil
  • Seaweed

Fats we want to steer clear of (trans fats)

  • Margarine
  • Cakes, frosting, fried food, cookies etc. made with shortening or margarine
  • Oils that are ‘partially hydrogenated’ (check the label for this)
  • Processed meats

Recommended Fat Intake

1g of fat = 9 calories

20-70% of total calories per day, depending on a number of factors.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are one of the most important of the three macronutrients as they provide the body with energy. Most of the carbohydrates (except fibre) in the foods we consume are digested and turned into glucose before entering the bloodstream. When in the bloodstream, glucose is taken to the cells to form a fuel molecule called ATP which is how energy is made in the body.

Carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient, the body can turn fatty acids and protein into glucose for the brain to run on, so technically you can survive consuming no carbohydrates, but certainly not for optimal health.

There are two types of carbohydrates:

  • Simple – breakdown faster, less fibre
  • Complex – breakdown slower, more fibre

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate and is important as it feeds the microbiome (gut bacteria). There are two types of fibre:

  • Soluble (helps soften stool so it passes through the digestive tract easily)
  • Insoluble (helps beef up stool and give it more density, to help it move quicker through the digestive tract)

Sources of Carbohydrates

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Oats
  • Pasta
  • Wholemeal breads
  • Beans and legumes
  • Quinoa
  • Sprouted grains
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Buckwheat

Recommended Carbohydrate Intake

1g carbohydrates = 4 calories

There is no optimal range for carbohydrates. Protein and fats should be calculated according to their recommended intake, then the remaining calories should be made up of carbohydrates.