With recent diet trends and fads, you’ve probably heard people talk about “counting their macros” or “tracking their macros”. There are calorie-counting apps on everyone’s smartphone. Personal training studios market macro-tracking programs in conjunction with personal training. But what are “macros” or “macronutrients”? Macronutrients are the three main compounds found in every food: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Depending on someone’s height, weight, age, lifestyle, genetics, and fitness goals, he or she should consume a balance of these nutrients in every meal. Consuming a proper distribution of macronutrients will ensure that someone is eating the correct number of calories to adequately fuel his or her body. .
Listed on each food label, you’d find a section called “Nutrition Facts”. The nutrition facts table lists each macronutrient and its amount per serving of food in grams. For 1 gram of any macronutrient, the calorie (kcal) equivalent is as follows:
Carbohydrate: 4 calories
Protein: 4 calories
Fat: 9 calories
For example, a slice of bread with 10 grams of carbohydrate yields 40 calories of carbohydrate.
However, what if you’re not eating a pre-packaged food with a nutrition label? What if you’re eating an apple, a chicken breast, or a chocolate chip cookie? Thankfully, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has Food Composition Databases with thousands of raw and blended foods.
Now, you may find yourself asking “How many grams of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins should I be eating in a day?” What foods do I eat? To assess your macronutrient needs in a typical day, you first need to know your weight; activity level; how many calories you eat in a typical day; and if you’re looking to gain, lose, or maintain your weight. Assuming one pound of body weight equals 3,500 calories (kcals), someone would need a calorie deficit of 3,500kcals per week either through a decrease in the number of calories eaten and/or and increase in the number of calories expended in exercise in order to lose one pound of body weight per week. On the contrary, someone wanting to gain weight would want to maintain a regular caloric surplus of 3,500kcals per week until reaching desired weight. Once you have an idea of your daily caloric demands, it’s important to distinguish the distribution of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Based on recommendations by the American College of Sports Medicine and the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the general ratio of carbohydrate to fat to protein is 50%-30%-20% leaving room for variation based on athletic demands or a medical professional’s guidelines.
Ultimately, tracking macronutrients can be a great way to accelerate your fitness goals and live the healthy lifestyle you desire. To better assist you in this wellness journey, feel free to consult an exercise physiologist or nutritionist for a tailored nutrition and exercise program.