What is a Macronutrient?
Macronutrients are the nutrients that provide energy while helping to maintain many of the systems within the body.
Macronutrients can be defined by their three major nutrient groups being carbohydrates, protein, and fat. We’ve listed below what each macronutrient provides the body.
Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source of the body, and the preferred energy source for your nervous system. They should be prioritized as they increase insulin which is important for anabolism (muscle building/muscle retention). They are slightly more difficult to be stored in the body as fat than the dietary fat macronutrient (described next), and carbohydrates increase the muscular pump in the gym, provide energy to keep training quality high, decrease cortisol levels, and they are protein sparing, which means that they are prioritized for energy over protein (i.e. the body prefers to use carbs to energy than protein, which means you’ll be less likely to lose muscle).
Fat provides energy and is critical for normal hormonal health, absorbing fat soluble vitamins, and cellular health. Once a minimal effective dose of fat is met for health (~.3 grams per lb of lean mass), excess fats does not seem to benefit performance or body composition goals unless an individual has a difficult time at getting enough calories in overall OR if an individual finds it easier to adhere to a plan with additional fats.
Protein is important for increasing muscle protein synthesis, muscle building, muscle retention, hormonal health, tissue health, as well as metabolic health.
Macronutrient Counting vs Calorie Counting
Tracking an individual’s macronutrients is just a more in depth way of tracking calories. One gram of protein equals 4 calories, one gram of carbohydrates equals 4 calories, and one gram of fat equals 9 calories. How you choose to spend your macronutrients should fit within your calorie needs based on your desire to increase muscle mass, decrease fat mass, or maintain mass. Your goals will determine your specific caloric budget and macronutrient profile.
It is important to recognize that you can hit your “macros” and not get enough micronutrients (water and fat soluble vitamins and minerals). This is a less ideal approach and can have negative health consequences. In order to make sure that you consume enough micronutrients, it is recommended to eat a diet rich in nutrient dense foods (lots of colorful vegetables, leafy greens, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats). Eating a diet rich in micronutrients will make it a lot easier to manage hunger when in a deficit, as these are generally rich in fiber and are usually more satiating.
How to Count Macros
- Learn how many calories there are per macro.
- 1 Gram of Protein = 4 Calories
- 1 Gram of Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
- 1 Gram of Fat = 9 Calories
- Calculate total macronutrient calories in a food item
- Reading the nutrition label and understanding number of servings is critical to ensure that you are consuming close to your recommended macronutrients. For foods like produce that do not have labels, you can easily find their calories and macronutrient breakdown online. For a few weeks, it may be helpful to weigh your food to get a gauge of what, for example, 25 grams of protein from a chicken breast looks like. Just like when you have your license for a while, you may find yourself looking at the speedometer less and driving the correct speed, so will this happen with your gauge of the right portion size.
- Use a Macro Tracking App (MSP recommends My Fitness Pal because it has a TrueCoach integration) for easy macronutrient look ups and logging/tracking.
Want to learn more about macros or find out what your macros should be? Talk to one of our nutrition coaches!