What is a Macro?
a type of food (e.g., fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in the human diet.
a chemical element (e.g., potassium, magnesium, calcium) required in large amounts for plant growth and development.
If you’ve ever been around fitness, you’ve probably heard the term macros thrown around. Short for “macro-nutrients,” it refers to carbs, fats, and proteins—the three basic components of every diet. If you get their proportions right, it makes dieting a lot more effective when simple calorie restriction fails.
One of the problems with traditional calorie counting is that it doesn’t take into account what you’re eating. It only accounts for how many calories your consuming. Sure, portion control alone might work for a while, but unless you switch to the right foods (foods that leave you satiated or even stuffed while on a caloric deficit) your self-control will eventually break down.
In order to start eating more of “the right thing” it may be beneficial to focus on macros rather than calories. Some people do well on lower carbohydrate, higher fat diets while others on higher carbohydrate, lower fat diets. Creating (and hitting) macro-nutrient targets allows you to determine which works best for you. Then sticking to that type of diet without needing to completely vilify and eliminate either fat or carbohydrates.
There are three main macro-nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Protein: 1 gram equals 8 calories
Mostly associated with building muscle and primarily found in foods like meat and dairy. However, its uses extend beyond muscle: it’s the core component of organs, bones, hair, enzymes, and pretty much all other types of tissue in your body.
Carbohydrates: 1 gram equals 4 calories
While it’s technically the only macro-nutrient your body can survive without, doing so would be no fun. Carbs are your body’s most easily accessible source of energy, and is broken up into glycogen (used by muscles and your liver) and glucose (used by the brain).
Fats: 1 gram equals 8 calories
A key component for energy and absorption of fat soluble-vitamins . In all seriousness, though, fat often gets a bad rap because its the most calorie-dense nutrient out there. There are a bunch of different types of fats, from saturated to monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats. Out of all of them, the main three you should be concerned about are trans fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and omega-6 fatty acids.
How to set your Macros? The simplest method is to allocate calories towards each nutrient according to a percentage split. The most common split is 40:40:20, i.e. 40% of your calories allocated to protein, 40% to carbohydrates, and 20% to fats.
To figure out the exact number you can use a calorie calculator, but beware that these tend to be very rough estimates as they don’t take into account a bunch of factors that affect energy expenditure, such as body fat percentage or specific daily activities.
Alternatively, you may want to figure out your required protein and then fill in the rest of your calories with carbohydrates and fat depending on your food preference. For example, if you are a 160 lb woman who wants to get down to 120 lbs, you may determine that you need 1,500 calories and 120g of protein. Subtracting calories from protein, you are left with 1,020 between fat and carbohydrates (1500 total calories – 480 calories from protein = 1020 calories). You decide that you want to split these evenly between carbohydrates and fat at 510 calories each (1020 / 2 = 510) and end up with targeting about 55g of fat (510 / 9 = 56.7) and about 125g of protein (510 / 4 = 127.5).
If you find yourself constantly unable to hit your macro-nutrient budget because you live a relatively social lifestyle, exchange some protein for carbohydrates and fat while keeping calories the same. This should allow you more flexibility in your diet choices.