Basic Guide To Macros

Basic guide to macros

WHAT ARE MACRONUTRIENTS?

Macronutrients (also known as Macros) are the nutritional compounds that your body needs in significant quantities for daily functioning.

They are the nutrients we need in larger quantities that provide us with energy and make up our calorie intake. We must not avoid any of these macros, we need all of them in our diets!

There are three macronutrients

Carbohydrates. They are our bodies’ preferred source of energy, so this macronutrient should make up a lot of our diet. When you eat carbs, your body converts them to glucose (sugar) and either uses that sugar immediately or stores it as glycogen for later use, often during exercise and in-between meals.

Carbs = Energy

Protein. Protein is mostly used in our body to build and repair muscle and tissue. All proteins are made from building blocks called amino acids, and there are 20 of these in total. Amino acids are found in animal sources, plant sources and some grains. There are three groups of amino acids: 

  1. Essential (these are essential because the body is unable to produce or synthesise its itself) out of the 20 amino acids, 9 are essential
  2. Non-essential, these are made by the body and are present in many foods.
  3. Conditionally essential, these are also present in many foods.

When proteins are digested, amino acids are left. The human body needs a number of amino acids to break down food. Amino acids need to be eaten in large enough amounts for optimal health.

Protein has many other important functions as well. It’s also used in making essential hormones and enzymes that support your immune system. When used as an energy source by the body, it’s typically because the carbohydrate and fat storage in the body has been depleted to the point where protein is necessary to continue to maintain normal functioning.

Protein requirements can be met by consuming complete, incomplete and complementary proteins.

Fat. They’re used by the body as energy, storage for vitamins, for production of hormones and as protection for our organs. There are different types of fats:

  • Saturated: These should be limited, but not necessarily avoided. If eaten in large amounts they can be bad for your heart health. You can easily make a few swaps from saturated fats to unsaturated fats.
  • Unsaturated: Which are Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats. Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat. We should aim to include more of these fats in our diet, as they have the opposite effect to saturated fats, and can be beneficial for your heart health. Healthy fats help with vitamin absorption, supply the body with essential fatty acids it doesn’t make by itself.

Micronutrients are mostly vitamins and minerals, and are equally important but consumed in very small amounts.

Carbohydrates + Proteins + Fats = Total amount of calories consumed.

GET TO KNOW YOUR HEALTHY MACROS

Each macronutrient is found in every item of food, the only difference is how the macronutrients are balanced.

There are:

  • 4 calories in 1 gram of carbohydrates
  • 4 calories in 1 gram of protein
  • 9 calories in 1 gram of fat

Good examples of the nutritional composition of foods are:

  • An avocado is generally made up of 75% (good) fats, 20% carbohydrates and 5% protein, therefore this is clearly a fat-based food.
  • A banana consists of 95% carbohydrates, with only small amounts of protein and fats. 

HOW MANY MACROS SHOULD I HAVE DAILY?

A good tool to use as a reminder of what your intake of macros should be, are most food labels.

You will see the reference intakes. They show you the maximum amount of calories and nutrients you should eat in a day.

Daily reference intakes (according to NHS guidance) for adults are:

  • Energy: 2,000kcal (calories)
  • Total fat: less than 70g
  • Saturates: less than 20g
  • Carbohydrate: at least 260g
  • Total sugars: 90g
  • Protein: 50g
  • Salt: less than 6g

Unless the label says otherwise, reference intakes are based on an average-sized woman doing an average amount of physical activity. The reference intake for total sugars includes sugars from milk and fruit, as well as added sugar.  

Reference intakes are not meant to be targets and everyone has different requirements based on their physical activity levels, build, muscle mass and body size. For example a 6″3 rugby player may require 4000kcals a day, just to maintain their muscle mass and size. Please only use food labels as a guide.

Daily Calories

So now you understand that the macro equation is: Carbohydrate + Protein + Fat = Total Calories.

Next, is to figure out what your daily maintenance calories should be.

To figure out what your daily calories should be for maintenance, I have made a calculator which is really easy to use.

How does the calculation work?

If you want to bypass the calculator and fancy doing it manually, you can! First you need to work out your basal metabolic rate (BMR), this is the rate your body uses energy to stay alive.

This is how to calculate your BMR using the Harris-Benedict Equation:

  • Men: BMR = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) + 5
  • Women: BMR = (10 × weight in kg) + (6.25 × height in cm) – (5 × age in years) – 161

Once you have your BMR calculation result, use my chart to figure out your daily recommended daily calories for maintenance, which you can then split into the three macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat).

Here are some awesome macronutrient splits based on specific goals

  • Maintenance
  • Strength & Muscle gain
  • Weight loss

Calories are based on government guidelines for recommended daily allowance.

Remember, everyone has different requirements based on their physical activity levels, build, muscle mass and body size. In the first instance, maintenance should be your goal.

The best and easiest method is to use a calculator to identify your personal calorie and macronutrient requirements.

Macro Calculator

This calculator is a handy tool to work out your macronutrient needs (carbs, protein and fats), dependant on your goals.

Click on picture for link to a macro calculator.

How To Track Macros

Calculating the details of every meal you consume is both difficult and unnecessary. There are easier ways to record and track.

My personal favourite way of tracking is using the My Fitness Pal App. It’s a really handy tool that lets you input your macronutrient target and track through a large database of foods and products, so that you have to do as little work as possible. I love this app so much because you can scan the food barcodes with your phone.

Tracking is a great tool to get started with understanding and learning about macros. Once you learn, you will be able to eat more intuitively. Why? Because you would have created a habit. You ‘get to know’ your foods and understanding the caloric value to food is to key to successful intuitive eating.

Tracking isn’t for life, tracking is merely a tool to learn about your food.

In summary, macros are the essentials that we need in large quantities for our daily functional needs.

Get your balance right, at first it will seem like a chore, but with consistency it will become a habit.

Reach out to the community to find out how others manage their macros.

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