A Quick Guide to Macronutrients (And Why You Should Care About Them)
Care about nutrition? Then you should start paying attention to your macros if you aren’t already.
Hop onto any diet or nutrition website and you’ll likely find that the term “macro” is something of a buzzword. That’s because macros underly the majority of the substances you consume every day, and so are directly tied to your overall wellness.
Macros—short for macronutrients—are the basic building blocks that make up everything you eat. There are three types of macros that make up the trifecta of a balanced diet: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Nearly all foods and drinks have a certain ratio of these three components, and a rough amount of each is necessary for the day-to-day requirements of the human body.
The problem is, most people receive disproportionate ratios of macros from the food they eat, resulting in problems like excessive weight gain, low energy, feebleness, and poor overall health.
So why track macros, and what are they to begin with? Read on as we explore the importance of macros and their role in healthy eating!
What Exactly Are Macros?
Macronutrients are the three largest nutrition components that your body utilizes for basic functions, such as preserving energy and maintaining healthy systems. Compared to their counterparts, micronutrients—which include nutrition we consume in smaller amounts like sugars, sodium, cholesterol, and potassium—macros are needed by the body in larger quantities, hence the name.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the recommended daily intakes of macronutrients for American adults include:
- 45% to 65% carbohydrates
- 20% to 35% fats
- 10% to 35% proteins.
However, these ranges shift depending on age, sex, whether or not you are pregnant, and your fitness goals (so do check out the list in the link).
Nevertheless, these ratios demonstrate that each macronutrient is necessary in at least some amount every day. Cutting one out from your diet entirely (which might not even be possible) can result in malnourishment. Your body needs all three to do its job each day!
But what do the three macros do to your body? It turns out that each has its own unique purpose in keeping you healthy and ready for action.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are primarily used by the body as a source of energy for completing activities, including those in the brain. Specifically, carbohydrates are broken down by the body into glucose, a natural sugar that provides instant boosts of energy when necessary. Additionally, dietary fiber is another type of carbohydrate that isn’t directly digested in the stomach but instead sticks around in your colon to promote future digestion.
Any carbs that are not used can be readily stored in your muscles as glycogen for a later time. But beware: your body has a limit of the amount of glycogen it can store (approximately 600 grams). Once that limit is reached, glycogen is converted to fat.
Generally, carbs are the most prevalent macro found in most foods and will take up the bulk of your daily nutrition. Carbohydrates can be found in starches like bread, pasta, starchy vegetables, fruit, and whole grains like oatmeal and rice.
What Are Fats?
Fats act as your body’s backup energy reserves, particularly for days when you burn more calories than you eat (called a caloric deficit). If there isn’t enough instant energy provided by carbohydrates, your body will dip into its fat reserves to keep you going. Additionally, fats keep your organs and tissues protected and insulated, so a thin layer around your stomach is vital.
Of course, if not managed properly with moderation and exercise, fats will continue to be stored by the body until it is used. This can lead to issues with high fat, causing unnecessary weight gain, heart disease, and obesity in extreme cases.
Fats are also divided into two categories: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats (which are further divided between saturated and trans fat) occur in red meat, processed foods, and dairy, but have the potential to raise cholesterol too high. Unsaturated fat (like omega-3 fatty acid) is considered the healthy fat that can actually improve cholesterol levels for a healthier heart.
Either way, fats are important for body function and should not be overlooked when creating a nutrition plan. Sources of unsaturated healthy fats include nuts, fatty fish like salmon, avocados, and peanut butter.
What Are Proteins?
Proteins are the macro mostly involved in the construction and reconstruction of muscles and tissues. Namely, proteins are broken down into components called amino acids that directly influence your body’s ability to regenerate. In addition to balancing out your body’s overall pH levels, they can also produce vital hormones and enzymes that your body cannot otherwise create on its own.
Whenever your muscles are sore or damaged, your body will seek to rebuild itself through the use of proteins. This functions as the main way you can build muscle. When adequately supplied with large amounts of proteins, new tissues are constructed to patch up critical weak points, resulting in stronger muscle mass over time. Without proper protein intake, this process can be slowed and made less efficient.
Sources of proteins are found in abundance within meats like chicken, fish, and beef, but also make their homes in soy products, beans, eggs, and dairy.
Respect the Ratios
While the recommended macronutrient ratios above are generally important to aim for, there’s a lot of wiggle room within each macro range. This allows you do diversify your nutrition just a bit to aim at different goals for body health. Striving for weight loss? Try a low-carb, high-protein meal plan that minimizes fats. Preparing for a challenging workout? Stock up on carbs and intake fewer proteins and fats, which can be denser to digest.
The flexibility of the macro percentages gives you the benefit of customizing your nutrition to get where you want to be. However, keep in mind that the vast majority of foods actually hold a mixture of all three macros, which is why a healthy balance is required. No matter what your health goals are, you should always try to stick within the recommended ratios stated by the USDA. Your body needs all three macronutrients to survive—don’t deprive it of one!
Because of this, many fitness gurus and nutritionists stick with the acronym IIFYM, or "if it fits your macros."
But what's more, not all macronutrients are created equally. While there are roughly only 4 calories per gram of carbs or gram of protein, there are about 9 calories per gram of fat. That means fats will easily overstay their welcome if you let them! Be mindful to keep your daily fat ratio below 35% as recommended.
At the end of the day, macronutrients dictate virtually every aspect of your body’s function and wellness. Being at the center of a healthy diet, it’s only natural that they're tracked frequently with every meal for the best, healthiest performance and outcome day in and day out. Just make sure you are still eating enough daily calories!
If you want specific advice for the nutrition you should be seeking for your goals, don't neglect to consult a registered dietitian to get on the right track!
Pair Nutrition with Hand Sanitizer for a Strong Immune System
By far, the biggest factors that play into a healthy immune system are food choices and high activity levels. But that doesn’t mean foreign bacteria can (and will) still sneak into your body when you’re least expecting it to cause mayhem!
If you’re looking for a quality hand sanitizer to take with you on the go, Muse Health’s Fragrance-free Hand Sanitizer provides the right amount of ethyl alcohol to kill 99% of germs while also utilizing natural oils to soften your hands like a lotion. Hand sanitizers are much easier to use consistently when they won’t give you cracked hands to worry about.
Visit our store page to learn more. Watch those macros, and stay healthy!