Everything You Need To Know About Macros to reach your goals!
Almost all of us have heard something about ‘macros’ lately. The talk about “if it fits your macros” is all over social media, in articles, and highly promoted by some of the biggest fitness industry leaders. This philosophy is becoming popular very quickly due to its flexibility with the foods you eat. No longer are the days of just chicken and broccoli. Now, you can enjoy donuts and not feel guilty!
Whether your goal is to lose weight, gain muscle, maintain your weight, have a better relationship with food, or just have an overall healthier lifestyle, understanding your macros is important!
What The Heck Are Macros?
So, you’re probably wondering what in the world a ‘macro’ even is. Are we right? Well, ‘macro’ is short for ‘macronutrient.’ By definition, a macronutrient is, “a type of food (e.g., fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in the human diet.”
Macronutrients are the nutrients that provide the energy to carry out our human functions, and they are broken down into three categories; protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Let’s take a look at them.
Think potatoes, fruit, bread, oatmeal, chips, sugar, etc. Those are carbohydrates! They are all of the sugars, starches, and fibers you would find in your fruits, veggies, grains and even dairy products.
Their job is to provide energy for our central nervous system and energy to our muscles. They are critical to our brain function and also influence our mood and memory! Have you ever had a bowl of ice cream and then felt happy? Thank those carbs! They are a key player in mental health.
Carbohydrates can be broken down into two categories: Simple vs. Complex.
- Simple Carbohydrates: are broken down quickly by the body. They are found naturally in foods such as fruit and dairy. They also include things like sugar, candy, soda, etc.
- Complex Carbohydrates: are broken down slowly by the body. They are found in foods such as beans, vegetables, and whole grains.
Protein. (Muscle up!)
The second type of macronutrient is protein. Proteins are long chains of amino acids that make up your muscles, skin, bones, hair, nails, etc. Without protein, your organs can not exist.
Most protein is found in animal sources such as poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy. However, you can also find protein in plant-based foods such as beans, tofu/tempeh, nuts, seeds, nutritional yeast, and quinoa.
Fat. Not, ‘you are fat.’ Dietary Fat.
The last (and usually scariest) macronutrient is dietary fat. Like carbohydrates and protein, dietary fat is also essential to life. Like carbohydrates, dietary fat is an energy source. Your body will store up fat (not make you fat!) and use it as energy once your carbohydrate reserves have been depleted. Have you ever started to feel tired during a workout and then get a second wind? Your fat stores just kicked in!
Fats can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds, oils, butter, fatty meat and fatty fish.
Like carbohydrates, dietary fats are also broken down into different categories. We have two main types:
- Good Fats. These include monounsaturated fatty acids found in oils, polyunsaturated fatty acids found in plant-based foods and omega-3’s found in fish.
- Bad Fats. These include saturated fats found in animal products and full-fat dairy products* and trans fats that come from oils which have undergone processing.
Although, water and fiber are not macronutrients they are two important factors in the “if it fits your macro” philosophy. Primarily because water is essential for life. Without water, we wouldn’t survive. And fiber is critical because it aids in digestion, regulates our blood sugar and keeps us feeling full and satiated, which discourages overeating.
The Ultimate Guide to Calculating Macros
So, how do you calculate macros?
Now that you have a good understanding of what each macronutrient is and why it is critical to your everyday diet let’s take a look at how to calculate macronutrients.
Before beginning the math on macronutrient calculations, you will need to know that:
- Proteins have 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram
- Fats have 9 calories per gram
If you are looking at packaged foods, you can find the grams of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats for each serving on the nutrition label. If you do not have a nutrition label available you can usually find the correct nutrition for something like chicken breast or salmon by doing a simple google search with something like, “What are the macronutrients for 4oz of chicken breast” or referencing the USDA food database.
Let’s take a look at an example:
Here we have the nutrition label for Melissa’s Produce Black Eyed Peas:
We can see based on the label that this item contains:
- 19g of carbohydrates
- 8g of protein
- 2.5g of fat
Based on our knowledge that there are 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates and protein and 9 calories per gram in fat, we can see that we are getting:
76 calories from carbohydrates (19g x 4 calories per gram)
32 calories from protein (8g x 4 calories per gram)
22.5 calories from fat (2.5g x 9 calories per gram)
If you are working with specific macronutrient goals, it is important to measure and/or weigh your food with a food scale to ensure accuracy in portion sizes. It’s amazing how small a serving of nut butter or cereal is!
You can use tools such as My Fitness Pal or Lose It! to make it easy to calculate and track your macronutrients each day. These apps allow you to input your food and amounts into each meal and then tell you the total number of each macronutrient that is in that meal. You can also keep track of additional information such as fiber, sodium, water, etc. They will even let you log your exercise!
Here is an example of what a My Fitness Pal daily log might look like:
The downside to these apps is that the macronutrient calculations are a bit more generic instead of custom to you. If you are looking for a more customized plan, you can reach out to a health and wellness coach to help you.
How Do I customize my macros to my fitness goals?
To figure out your macronutrient goals for each day, you will need to start with calculating your daily calorie requirements. Again, this can be done through a customized plan or on the USDA MacroNutrient Calculator. Once you have your recommended calorie intake, you can then figure out what the best ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and dietary fat would be to achieve your goal.
What Macronutrient Ratio Should I Use?
If your goal is:
- Weight Loss: it is usually best to go with a higher protein, lower fat, lower carbohydrate ratio. The standard 25%-45% carbohydrates, 35%-50% protein and 20%-35% fat
- Maintenance: you can increase our fat and carbohydrate consumption a bit. Carbohydrates may range 35%-55%, protein 25%-40%, and fat 25%-40%.
- Muscle Gain: here you will want a higher carbohydrate and protein ratio to fuel your workouts. Your ratio should be around 45% carbohydrates, 35% protein, and 20% dietary fat.
Putting It All Together.
Once you have your calorie needs and macronutrient ratios figured out, it’s time to start planning to reach those goals! There are so many reasons why you should be meal prepping including saving time and money! You want to start with learning what portion sizes look like and then jump into planning. If you are new to meal prepping then our easy to follow article, Meal Prep 101 For Beginners is a great place to start! If you are looking for recipe inspiration, you can try switching up your breakfasts for one of these 25 Make-Ahead Breakfast Ideas or change up your lunches with a Non-Salad Lunch recipe!
And don’t forget to make meal planning fun! Put on some music, get out your favorite kitchen gadgets and enjoy a few hours on your Sunday! For many, meal prepping/cooking/baking is very therapeutic!
Summing It Up.
The information above is just a guideline into macronutrient calculations. When starting a macronutrient plan, you will find that you may end up tweaking numbers over the first few weeks. Some people find that they work more efficiently on a high protein or high fat diet, while others are better on higher carbs. With that said, please use the numbers above as a guideline not an exact science.
Over time, finding the right ratio that works for you and your lifestyle will become easier. Please be patient with yourself when starting this plan. In time you will find the balance that gives you enough energy to make it through your day and leaves you feeling satisfied, all while attaining your fitness goals.
If you are still unsure how to calculate macronutrients to achieve your goals or are looking for more customized guidance, please reach out to our Nutrition & Wellness Counselor, Sarah Kesseli.
*These should not be eliminated from your diet. They should be used mindfully when planning.