Everyone seems to talk about macros these days – whether you’re discussing flexible dieting, an ‘If It Fits Your Macros’ (IIFYM) style of eating, losing weight, gaining weight – or even maintaining weight. If you don’t have any of these goals in mind, you should still understand the basics of the three macros, and this article will help to explain exactly what they are.
What are Macros?
Macros are short for “macronutrients” – or the nutrients in our foods that contribute energy in the form of calories. The three macros in food are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. There are also micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, which are important for health but don’t provide any calories on their own.
When people are counting their macros, they are keeping track of the grams of carbs, fat, and protein in their diet. Many foods have a combination of all three macros in their nutrient composition, in varying levels. Alcohol also provides calories, but is not considered a macro.
Carbohydrates are typically the greatest source of calories in our diets, and are broken down by the body to be used as energy, or stored as fat when we obtain more total calories than we need. Carbs are primarily sugars or starches, and can be classified as simple or complex, based on their chemical structure.1 Foods that are made up primarily of carbohydrates include grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, cereals, and pastas. Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram.
Proteins are the second of the macronutrients, made up of chains of amino acids. Proteins are used to rebuild our muscles after exercise, and are crucial for growth and healing of all of our body tissues.2 Protein can also be broken down for energy when carbohydrates are not readily available. Protein digests more slowly than carbohydrates, making us feel more satisfied after eating them. Foods that are high in protein include meats, fish, soy beans, milk, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Protein also contains 4 calories per gram.
It can be harder to obtain all of the protein that you need from a vegan diet, which is why we have these recipes to help you out!
Fats are the third macronutrient, and are key structural components in all of our body’s cells, as well as many of the body’s functions. Fats can be classified by their chemical structure as either saturated or unsaturated fats; and unsaturated fats can be further broken down into monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats (like omega 3s). There are both animal and plant based sources of fats, like butter, ghee, lard, olive oil, or avocado oil. Fat digests very slowly, making it very satiating and good at limiting hunger. Fats can be broken down for energy when carbs are not available, and contain 9 calories per gram.
Which Foods contain Macros?
Every food contains macros, and most contain some amount of all three macros. The table below lists some examples of foods and their macro breakdown:
|Food (100g)||Carbs (g)||Protein (g)||Fat (g)|
|Whole grain bread||41.3||13.0||3.3|
|Ice cream (chocolate)||23.2||4.0||14.1|
Should you count Macros?
Now that you know what macros are, why should you care? You might try counting macros if you’re not seeing the results you’re hoping for in the gym. No matter how hard you workout, your diet has to be in line to see success. Tracking macros is one way to make sure you are eating properly based on your goals.
Using a macro calculator, you can input your age, height, weight, and activity level to determine the best macros for your goals – whether you want to gain or lose weight, or just target fat loss, there are ways to calculate your macro goals for any scenario.
Tracking macros is an alternative to calorie tracking that takes into account exactly what type of calories you’re consuming along the way. Tracking your macros even for a few days can help you better understand your habits and make sure you’re following a well balanced eating plan.
Take Home Message
This article reviewed exactly what are macros – including why we need each of the three macros in our diets. Foods that we traditionally think of as just carbs, proteins, or fats often contain some amount of each of the three macros. You can use your knowledge about macros to help meet your goals using a macro calculator to get started.
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Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.
- Yunsheng Ma, Barbara Olendzki, David Chiriboga, James R. Hebert, Youfu Li, Wenjun Li, MaryJane Campbell, Katherine Gendreau, Ira S. Ockene, Association between Dietary Carbohydrates and Body Weight, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 161, Issue 4, 15 February 2005, Pages 359–367.
- Ha, E., & Zemel, M. B. (2003). Functional properties of whey, whey components, and essential amino acids: mechanisms underlying health benefits for active people. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 14(5), 251-258.
- Liu, A. G., Ford, N. A., Hu, F. B., Zelman, K. M., Mozaffarian, D., & Kris-Etherton, P. M. (2017). A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutrition journal, 16(1), 1-15.