What are Macros? A Quick Guide to the Nutrients Your Body Needs!

Are sweet potato fries healthy?

Are avocados healthy?

Is steak healthy?

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What if I told you that the answer isn’t as cut-and-dry as you might think? That your question shouldn’t be “Is this steak healthy?” but “Will eating this steak produce the results I want?” 

Make sense? Probably not. Most of us (myself included) don’t always know what our bodies need in terms of food, especially when we’re trying to lose weight. I chalk this up to a fundamental misunderstanding of nutrition, particularly macros.

 I had been a little arrogant about food and nutrition and I thought I knew everything. I figured out pretty quickly that I was eating too much protein and not enough fat…..I experimented with different programs, did a lot of research on different diet programs….and the weight started coming down a bit. Natural health is really important to me, so I’ve been learning how to tinker around quantities and tracking macronutrients.
-Jennifer D., lost more than 102lbs!

What are ‘macros?’

Macronutrients, or ‘macros’ for short, consist of the big 3: the fats, carbohydrates, and proteins that make up the calories in our food. Conversely, micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need only in small quantities. An understanding of macros is essential to a weight loss plan incorporating nutrition, because it’s not just about calorie count; it’s about the breakdown of nutrients in those calories. Or, put in a different way: it’s not just about how many calories the steak has, it’s about what specific nutritional value that steak provides to meet the needs of our body.  

Carbohydrates (carbs)

Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fibers. Most carbs get broken down by our bodies  into glucose, which your body can use for immediate energy or stores as glycogen in your liver and muscles (hence, the popular advice to carb-load before races like marathons!).

Carbs provide 4 calories per gram of carb consumed and typically make up the largest portion of people’s dietary caloric intake. You might be surprised where your carbs are coming from; it’s not just bread! For example, there are 25g of total carbohydrates in a medium-sized apple. 

Protein

Like carbs, proteins provide 4 calories per gram of protein consumed. Protein-rich foods include eggs, poultry, fish, tofu and lentils.

Protein is an essential nutrient for the human body. Our  bodies use protein to build and repair tissue, and to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. It can also serve as a fuel source. Interestingly, however, our bodies do not store reserves of protein for when we need a resupply- thus, it’s important we’re getting enough in our daily diets!

Fat

Fats have the most calories of all macronutrients, with 9 calories per gram of fat consumed.

Dietary fats are are critical for bodily processes like cell growth. They also help protect organs, help keep your body warm, and help your body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones. While your mind might immediately jump to foods like cheeseburgers and french fries, fats exist in a variety of healthy forms like avocados, nuts, and olive oils!

So which macros should I be eating?

It’s not a matter of which, it’s a matter of how much of each! Hopefully I’ve convinced you that carbs, proteins, and fats are all inherently important to our bodies, and we need all 3 to survive. The error I often witness when it comes to macros, however, is not understanding the percentage breakdown of how much of each should contribute to our overall daily caloric intake- especially if you’re trying to lose weight! Finding the right balance between macros is critical.

Calculating Macros

Macronutrients don’t come with a one-size-fits-all set of guidelines. In the most general of senses, the recommended intake for carbohydrates is 45-65% of your daily calories, while protein should comprise 10-35%, and fat 20-35%.

As with most recommendations for health and weight loss, your macros should be tailored to factors like your age, gender, and how much weight you’re trying to lose, gain, or maintain! Calculators like those below can help you determine the ratio of macros (and overall calorie count) you should follow:

https://www.calculator.net/macro-calculator.html

https://healthyeater.com/flexible-dieting-calculator

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Dieting and Macros

One of the most simplified diet plans for weight loss is the principle IIFYM: If It Fits Your Macros. This diet strategy puts you in control of your food choices, allowing you to eat whatever you want-as long as it fits your macronutrient parameters! For example: if your macros suggest that you consume 220g of carbohydrates per day, it’s your responsibility to decide how you get there. Will you choose a muffin for breakfast with 61g carbs, or go for that apple at 25g? It’s up to you to decide, as long as you hit your overall totals for the day. 

 I followed a macronutrient plan to lose body fat where I calculated the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat I should consume (along with a calorie deficit). I logged all the food I ate on MyFitnessPal and made sure to stay within my calorie and macro goals for each day. Sure enough – the weight came off and I’m feeling AMAZING! I haven’t weighed this much since I was in high school! -Kristina F., lost 36lbs

Some diets capitalize on a very intentional manipulation of macros; for example, Keto. The premise of the Keto Diet is that by drastically altering your macro intake to significantly reduce carbs and increase fats, you can send your body into a state of ketosis, which causes your body to revert to burning fat for energy as fewer carbohydrate reserves are available. This can lead to weight loss.

Remember, carbs, proteins, and fats are all an important part of a healthy diet. Any weight-loss plan that proclaims the need to entirely eliminate fat or carbs is simply wrong-and dangerous.  Whether you’re following a basic macro calculator or adhering to a diet that provisions for a more complicated altering of macros, it’s important to be able to track the macro content of the foods you are consuming! Fortunately, the world of wellness technology realized this need long ago, and applications are readily available for doing just that. 

Some popular websites and applications for tracking include:

MyFitnessPal

My Macros+

Lose It!

Cronometer

MyPlate

So, that steak? My own macro tracker tells me that 4oz of steak will contain 190 calories: 24g of protein, 10g of fat, and 0g carbs. So is it healthy? Well with 500 calories left in my personal budget for today, I’m in desperate need of more protein, but trying to avoid too many more carbs. So yes, for me, for today- steak would be a solid option (though I’m craving pasta).

Monetize your Newfound Knowledge!

Now you’ve got the science of macronutrients on your side, you can weaponize it as a weight-loss tool! And since you’re well on your way to success, why not get paid for it? Yes, that’s right- this program will actually pay you for meeting your weight loss goals.

B&A_MegG.jpg
When I first started, I used a FitBit and counted calories. My initial approach was 1,000 deficit. The weight came off really quickly but after about 6 weeks, it stalled and I felt it was hard to maintain. I go would go off on the weekends and not stick to my diet. People told me I wasn’t eating enough, so I started  IIFYM (if it fits your macros) – you’re counting the macro nutrients….I was eating about 1900 calories and still losing weight – I was eating the right foods.
-Meg G., lost 53lbs with HealthyWage!

HealthyWage, much like IIFYM, is grounded in scientific principles aimed at enhancing accountability in order to support you on your fitness journey. Find out how you can get PAID for putting your macros to work for your weight loss goals through HealthyWage!

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Kelly O'Donnel

An avid Colorado outdoors enthusiast, fitness for me means engaging in a lifestyle I enjoy! You can find me on the weekends hiking in the Rocky Mountains with a dog I've borrowed, or traveling to a new place to run an adventure race. A clinical researcher by training, I'm passionate about applying evidence-based principles to wellness.

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