We’ve all heard the term macronutrient at some point or another, also popularly referred to as “macros.” They are talked about a lot in the health and fitness world, even in the mainstream media today, but what exactly are macronutrients and why are they important to you?
What You Need to Know
There are 3 macronutrients: carbohydrate, fat and protein. Your body needs all 3 of these to function properly. They provide your body with energy measured in the form of calories, or kcals.
Carbohydrates and protein contain 4 kcals per gram and fats contain 9 kcals per gram. In addition to providing energy, macronutrients play specific roles in your body that allow you to function properly.
Age, gender, and physical activity level all influence how many macronutrients you need per day.
Carbohydrates are the main energy source for the human body. Carbs have received a bad rap, but are imperative to your diet. They are necessary for proper brain function and should comprise around 45-60% of your total daily caloric intake, depending on your needs.
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which can then be used for energy. The important thing to note is that there are two main types of carbohydrate: simple carbs and complex carbs.
Simple carbs include white bread, white rice, potato, processed and refined sugars such as cakes, cookies and soda, and increase blood sugar quickly. Filling you up initially but leaving you hungry again soon after.
Complex carbs increase blood sugar levels slowly overtime, leaving you feeling fuller and more satisfied longer. Complex carbs include starches like sweet potato, peas, beans, whole grain breads, rice and cereals and fiber.
The goal is to include more complex carbohydrate foods in your diet and limit the simple carbs.
Protein is made up of amino acids. Protein allows your body to grow, build and repair tissue and muscle. On average, 10-25% of your daily calories should come from protein, though these numbers may be adjusted for personal goals.
There are 2 types of amino acids: non-essential amino acids and essential amino acids. Non-essential amino acids are made by your body and are not obtained from food.
Essential amino acids must be obtained from foods we eat.
It is a misconception that you cannot get enough protein if you are a vegetarian or vegan.
It is important to note that you can get the necessary amount of amino acids from eating a variety of plant protein sources such as beans, nuts, seeds, lentils, and soy, as well as lower amounts in veggies, fruits and whole grains.
Fats also play a vital role in your diet, though are largely misunderstood. They act as your energy reserve and protect vital organs, insulate cells, make certain hormones, and transport fat soluble vitamins throughout the body. Approximately 20-30% of your daily calories should come from fat, give or take depending on what your goals are.
You may have heard of “good fats” and “bad fats.” Ideally, you want to cut out trans-fats (or bad fats)- think any food that has gone through the hydrogenation process (i.e. margarine, shortening, baked goods, fried foods) and include unsaturated fats (good fats)- think avocados, nuts, nut butters, oils such as olive oil and safflower oil, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines.
Keep in mind that eating fat does not always translate into increasing your body fat, however. Its more about eating the right types of fat in the right quantities to achieve your personal nutrition goals.
What is Right for You?
It is important to consider your personal nutrition and/or fitness goals when determining how to balance your macronutrients. While a healthy diet should include all 3 macronutrients (it is never a good idea to eliminate an entire macronutrient from your diet), the ratio can be adjusted to achieve your individual health goals.
Prepping for an ultra-marathon? Focus on increasing complex carbs during high-intensity training, increase protein during the recovery period and include more “good” fats on game-day.
Newly diagnosed heart disease? Say good-bye to those trans-fats and hello to unsaturated fats in small amounts, while focusing on increasing complex carbs at each meal.
That’s right, you have the power fuel your own hustle!
For more information on how to adjust your daily macros to optimize your personal nutrition goals, or to learn more about how KNIFEHAND meals can be incorporated into your diet, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ashley Russo-Leone, MA, RDN, CNSC
Knifehand Nutrition Consultant