You hear a lot about micronutrients or “macros” these days, especially in the fitness world. “You can eat whatever you want, as long as it fits your macros.”
But what are macros, how do you know you’re getting enough, and can you really eat whatever you want?
Macronutrients are chemicals that provide us with energy in the form of calories. These are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Water is also considered a macronutrient because it is vital for living but does not give us caloric energy. These four significant nutrients can be calculated in many different ways to achieve different outcomes. Whether it is weight loss, weight gain, or specific health issues, these macronutrients are rationed out based on what your body might need.
Protein’s Role In The Body
There are 4 calories per gram of protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids and are referred to as the “building blocks” of the body. Protein repairs and builds all the tissues in your body, including muscles, producing neurotransmitters, repairing liver cells, etc. Protein also regulates blood sugar and affects your energy. Without adequate protein intake, you might experience weakness, fatigue, anxiety, and depression. You can see why it’s an essential part of your diet.
The Contribution Of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates also contain 4 calories per gram. Carbs are broken down and used as quick energy by the body. If you consume more carbs than your body needs, you store them as fat for later energy use. But of course, most people overeat carbs and hence gain unwanted fat.
The best carbs to consume would be “slow carbs” and in proper amounts, depending on what your activity level requires. These are unprocessed whole foods like starchy vegetables, beans, legumes, and berries. Processed simple carbohydrates such as white wheat and sugar-based products (pasta, pizza, crackers, pretzels, desserts) break down and enter the bloodstream very quickly, causing blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes, which cause fatigue, foggy thinking, and hormonal disruptions.
How Fats Fit In
Fats have 9 calories per gram. They are much more energy-dense than protein and carbs. Fats are the demonized macronutrient, but fats don’t make you fat. In fact, they are brain food! They help control your appetite because they help you feel full. Fats also provide a clean energy source for your mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell and can stabilize hormonal health.
Of course, not all fats are equal, and the ones that will contribute to your health include:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Nuts and seeds
- High-quality, clean (organic and pasture-fed) animal products
- Cold water fish such as wild salmon, cod, haddock, etc
The Weight Of Water
Water is essential for every living thing. You need water to flush toxins out, hydrate cells and organs, and balance bodily functions. The rule of thumb is to consume half your body weight in ounces of water (e.g., 150 lbs = 75 oz of water per day). The amount will vary based on your body’s needs and activity level.
How do you balance your macronutrient needs?
With so many ways to eat, from high protein/low carb to vegan/low fat, it can be confusing to figure out what’s best for you. And what’s best can change seasonally, during stressful times, with pregnant you, injury, surgery, athletic training, and aging, to name a few.
There’s a straightforward guideline everyone can follow: listen to your own body
Everyone is unique. Pay attention to what YOUR body responds to — what gives you energy and what makes you feel tired, achy, or bloated. You can learn what your body is asking for by listening to its messages.
Learn to listen to your body by starting with the following tips:
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible
- Eat more slowly and mindfully
- Stop eating when you’re 3/4 full
- Keep a Food Feelings Diary for a week, noting what you ate and how you felt afterward
Need help? Talking to a skilled nutritionist or gettin