The Basics on Macros

There’s a lot of information on the Internet, Instagram and other social media about macros. Today I’m tackling the basics; clarifying what macros are and providing you with a framework for creating more balanced meals.

Before I break down macros further, I just want to preface that I’m not endorsing macro counting as the only or “right way” to achieve your goals. I feel strongly about providing evidence-based, accurate information so you as a consumer can make an informed choice for yourself. I always recommend speaking with your doctor or a registered dietitian if you have questions about changing your diet or exercise routine, or concerns about your current relationship with food.

Macros are not the solution to living a balanced lifestyle. They’re just one of many strategies that are out there to help you evaluate patterns, monitor progress and support healthy habits. The same benefits also exist for keeping a food log, intuitive eating, or using MyPlate to inspire your meals. Different approaches work for different people and that’s why I believe offering information to clarify misconceptions is key to helping you make the best choice for yourself. You’re an expert when it comes to your health and dietitians should be key partners in your journey to help you discover what works best for you.

What are macros?

Put simply, macros or macronutrients contribute energy to the foods we eat. Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are the three macronutrients that provide us with calories. Micronutrients on the other hand, are non-caloric, meaning they don’t contribute calories or energy to our diet but are still essential. They include things like vitamin A, C, D, E, K as well as minerals like calcium and iron.

Each of the three macronutrients serve different but essential functions in our bodies. Carbohydrates i.e. glucose at its simplest form, is our bodies main source of energy and is required by our brain to function. Proteins are essential for muscle and organ maintenance while fats are key to providing insulation, maintaining body temperature and creating cell membranes. One macro is not better than any other, they just serve different purposes in our body.

Counting macros emerged in the fitness world as a way to track intake without specifically counting calories. Instead of focusing on total calories, you instead try to achieve certain gram amounts for each macronutrient (that are calculated from your energy needs). In the end, counting macros is just another way to track intake that uses a more quantitative approach.

What recommendations exist for calculating your macros?

Although “tracking your macros” isn’t a campaign pushed out by the government, there are general guidelines called Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges or AMDR’s that can support you in creating more balanced meals. AMDR’s describe macronutrients within a range to allow flexibility and the option to tailor them to fit your individual preferences, needs and goals.

  • Carbohydrates = 45-65% of total calories
  • Protein = 10-35% of total calories
  • Fat = 20-35% of total calories

Especially for athletes, AMDR’s can be used to support different types of exercise. Endurance athletes (i.e. running, cycling, etc.) may benefit from a higher carbohydrate intake while regular strength training may require a slightly higher protein intake to support muscle repair and growth. In the end, the AMDR’s are flexible and should be used as a guide.

I’m interested in calculating my macros but don’t know how. How do I know the information out there is accurate?

Start by checking out my post about Calculating your Energy Needs if you want to have a better idea of your calorie needs (which you’ll need to calculate your macros). If you want more information and are interested in giving macro counting a go, but want to make sure you’re getting accurate information, download this PDF here.

If I don’t want to specifically count macros, how do I use this concept to create balanced meals?

When it comes to balanced meals, thinking about macros relative to one another can help you pair foods together to create snacks and meals that provide energy and support your goals. My Meal Prep 101 Guide focuses on breaking down a meal into its components so check that out for more information about using macros as a guide. For snacks that are filling and will hold you over until your next meal, focus on pairing two food groups together.

  • Apple + PB = carb and protein
  • Cheese stick + crackers = protein and carb
  • Nuts + dried fruit = fat and carb
  • Yogurt + granola = protein and carb
  • Carrots + hummus = vegetable + fat/protein

These are just a few ideas, there are many combinations out there that can help support your goals!

Take-Aways

  • Thinking about the macros in your diet is just one of many ways to monitor your intake and evaluate progress towards your goals. Counting your macros or any other strategy doesn’t guarantee you achieve your wellness goals. Creating healthy habits that are sustainable is the best way to support a healthy lifestyle!
  • Most of your calories should come from carbohydrates (yes, this is an endorsement to eat carbs), you don’t need to eat your body weight in protein, and fats should be embraced as an essential part of your diet not avoided (especially those heart healthy fats)
  • Any strategy to support a healthier lifestyle and consuming balanced meals requires you to prioritize your health. Start simple by shooting for a carb, protein and fat at all your meals (plus some veggies). Check out my post on Meal Prep in 4 Steps to learn more!
  • Disclaimer – Counting your macros should be done with caution or avoided by those that struggle to have a healthy relationship with food, are restrictive or have an eating disorder. If you are concerned that this might apply to you, please feel free to reach out. I’d be happy to refer you to resources.

References

https://www.nal.usda.gov/sites/default/files/fnic_uploads/DRIEssentialGuideNutReq.pdf