What are macros and how many do I need?
If you’ve read any health article, I’m sure you’ve heard of macros. You know you need them, you know you should count them, but what are they? A new type of health food? Nope. A kind of protein supplement? You’re getting warmer. Before you start counting macros, let’s talk a little about what they are so that you know what they can do for you and how many you need each day.
What are macronutrients?
With “macro-“meaning large, macronutrients are those compounds that provide the majority of the energy and nutrients in the diet. These nutrients are essential to the body for proper growth and development. Types of macronutrients include:
These are different from micronutrients, which are needed in smaller amounts in the diet. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, and selenium, to name a few.
How much of each macronutrient do I need each day?
This question is going to have a different answer for just about everyone since the number of macros you need each day will depend on a variety of factors.
- What are your daily calorie needs?
- How often do you exercise and at what intensity?
- How active are you in non-exercise-related activities?
- What are your health goals?
The first thing you will need to do is calculate your total energy expenditure, or TDEE. This will help you figure out how many calories you burn each day, so you know how many calories you need to maintain weight. This number will take into account your BMR, your non-related exercise activity, as well as your workout-related energy expenditure. Depending on how often and how hard you exercise, you will need enough energy intake to support your workouts.
Once you know how many calories you need each day, you will need to ask yourself what your health and fitness goals are. If you want to gain muscle mass, then you will want to make sure you eat enough protein each day as well as extra calories to support that goal. If you are training for a long-distance event like a marathon, then you will want to make sure you consume enough carbohydrates and slightly more calories to support your training.
Finally, once you figure out your goals, then you can start figuring out how much of each macronutrient you will need to consume each day. The percentage of each macronutrient that you should consume each day will depend on your health goals. For example, a 50-30-20 plan would have 50-percent of calories from carbohydrate, 30-percent of calories from fat, and 20-percent of calories from protein. Depending on your fitness and health goals, you can tweak these percentages to fit your needs. The Macro Cheat Sheet, included in my Mother Strong League program can make this macro planning a bit easier for you.
This percentage is not going to be found on nutrition labels, so you will need to know a few facts about macronutrients to help you convert this percentage to grams of nutrients.
- Carbohydrates and protein are about 4 calories per gram. What this means is that you take a food that has 7 grams of protein, multiply that by 4, and you will see that this food contains 28 calories from protein.
- Fat contains 9 calories per gram.
This ratio may be something you will have to play around with to find the ratio that works best for you and your health goals. Tracking your macros and calories each day will be helpful during this process.
Do I need all the macronutrients in my diet?
When you adhere to diets that cut out entire food groups or restrict certain macros, it makes you aware of your food choices more. Ultimately, this can lead to caloric deficits that can assist in weight management. However, it will be important to remember that all macros have their importance in the health of your body, so should not be cut out completely.
What about water?
Research shows that about 9 to 12 cups of water a day should be adequate for most adults, but you may need more or less depending on a variety of factors. You may need more fluid each day if you live in a hot climate, at a high altitude, are sick, or sweat a lot. You may need less fluid if you have a chronic disease like kidney disease that restricts fluid intake.
There is no one “right” macro meal ratio for everyone. So, through experimentation and tracking of your progress, you will come to find the macro ratio that is right for you. Don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need it.