Updated: Sep 8, 2021
You have probably heard this term at one point either from your Nutritionist or maybe even online. You may have even been told that you need to track macros to help you lose weight. Okay, great! But what does that mean? The term “macros” refers to your macronutrients. Your macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fats or lipids. These macronutrients are a source of energy for your body when they are digested and absorbed. Based on USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) are as follows:
45-65% of daily kcals from Carbohydrates
10-35% of daily kcals from Protein
20-35% of daily kcals from Fats
For example, if you are sticking to a 2,000 kcal daily diet, about 900-1300 kcal are from carbs, 200-700 kcals are from protein, and 400-700 kcals are from fats. Now obviously you would adjust the numbers and proportions in a way that you still stick to your intended calorie intake. Then how do you count out your macros?
Macros are typically counted in grams. Once you find out what percentage you want to set for yourself and you determine the calories this translates into for each macronutrient, how do you know how many grams that is? It’s simple actually. One gram of carbohydrate or protein generates roughly 4 kcals of energy, while one gram of fat roughly generates 9 kcals of energy. This is why fat is considered to be more calorie dense than the other two macronutrients. So, in this particular example of a 2,000 kcal daily diet, if we set the proportions of 50% carbs (1,000 kcals), 30% protein (600 kcals) and 20% (400 kcals) fat, we can calculate how many grams are needed for each of these macros. For carbs and protein we take each kcal value and divide by 4, which would tell us that 250 grams of carbs and 150 grams of protein provide the macronutrient proportioned set. Similarly, for fats, take the kcal value and divide by 9, translating into roughly 45 grams of fat. So now you have your daily macros of 250 grams of carbs, 150 grams of protein and 45 grams of fat.
From a macronutrient stand-point, it’s not very relevant where these macronutrients come from, be it potatoes, French fries, mayonnaise, steak etc. as long as you keep within your total daily calorie count you can either maintain or lose or even gain weight, depending on your body composition goal. But when looking at overall health, one should also consider MICROnutrients. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals your body needs. These do not directly contribute energy for the body. But, vitamins and minerals are essential compounds that help in efficient energy production, enzyme synthesis and activation, and hormone synthesis among many other functions. So, one downside of only focusing on macronutrient intakes can be forgetting to meet necessary vitamin and mineral intakes from nutrient-dense foods. Therefore, ensuring adequate daily intake of a variety of fruits (2-3 servings) and vegetables (3 or more servings) provides you the certainty that you are also meeting most of your micronutrient intake recommendations.
As you can see, tracking macros is a somewhat complicated process. A Nutritionist can help guise you in this process if they deem them as the right process for you.
Aida Sadeghi, MS, CNS
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