Macros, Macros, Macros!

If you are serious about seeing results from exercise, then you must pay attention to your macronutrients. Many people think that because they workout, they can eat whatever they want. Or that weight loss will happen by restricting calories without paying attention to specific nutrients. So wrong! The breakdown of substrates is so important in order to achieve your fitness goals. There are 6 nutrients that the body needs to function: carbohydrates, fats, protein, water, vitamins and minerals. The macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, protein and water. Vitamins and minerals are the micronutrients.

The American College of Sports medicine recommends the following macronutrient breakdown for a balanced diet: 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates, 20-35% of calories from fats and 10-35% of calories from proteins. Note that this is a general recommendation and your macronutrient breakdown will be individualized based on your body composition, activity level, exercise training and your goals. So where to start? Follow these steps to get an idea of how to breakdown YOUR macros to get the results you want!

macronutrients.jpg

Step one is to figure out the total calories you need in order to maintain your weight. To do this, calculate your basal metabolic rate (the total amount of calories your body burns to function) and multiply that by an activity factor. Now you have your total energy expenditure. I wrote a separate post about this titled “the real secret to weight loss.” Check it out to get your baseline daily calorie goal.

Now that you have your maintenance calories, you must establish your goals in order to start breaking down macronutrients. Whether the goal is weight loss, building muscle, increasing endurance performance or simply maintaining where you are at, there are different macronutrient breakdowns for each. Here is a guide for each macro.

  • Carbohydrates (CHO)
    • CHO are digested quickest and provide instant energy. They are the preferred fuel source for the nervous system.
    • CHO produce energy during moderate to high intensity activities. So if your an athlete working out a ton, or if your goal is to run long distances, then a high carbohydrate diet is right for you.
    • CHO are essential for anyone training. Complex CHO are stored in the muscle and liver (in the form of glycogen) and are broken down into glucose during activity. Which basically means that the body needs carbs in order to fuel your workouts! The highest percentage of your calories should come from CHO.
    • 1 gram of CHO has 4 calories.
  • Fats
    • Fats are burned in the presence of oxygen. So during light aerobic activity, fats are the predominant fuel source for the body.
    • Distance runners, hikers and people who are active during their work day would benefit from a higher fat diet. (note that “high fat” is still only 35% of total calories).
    • Fats and CHO are the main fuel sources for the body. Healthy fats are important in the diet because in order for the body to burn fat, it needs to have those healthy fat sources.
    • Fat is the macro that you really need to pay attention to when it comes to where you get it from. All fat calories are not created equally. The body will burn healthy fats (Omega 3’s like coconut oil, avocado, fish) so much more efficiently then saturated fats (red meat, processed foods, butter).
    • 1 gram of fat has 9 calories.
  • Protein
    • Protein is stored in organs, hormones and muscle in the form of amino acids.
    • Most of our amino acids are stored in the muscle. If the goal is to increase muscle mass, then a high protein diet is what you want.
    • A general protein recommendation for gaining is 0.8-1.0g of protein per lb of body weight.
    • 1 gram of protein has 4 calories.
    • The body does not prefer to use protein as a fuel source, but it will in extreme conditions. So its important to get enough carbohydrates on workout days. If your body does not have enough CHO, it will use amino acids for fuel and that will deplete your lean muscle. No bueno!

So now that we understand the difference between the macronutrients, lets break ’em down! So decide the total number of calories you need per day and break that down into percentages of macronutrients. Here are a couple of guides:

Macro

Recommended Ranges

Default setting on MyFitnessPal

Low Carb, High Protein

Low Carb, Low Fat, High Protein

CHO

45-65%

50%

45%

45%

PROTEIN

10-35%

20%

25%

30%

FAT

20-35%

30%

30%

25%

The final step is to convert these percentages to grams of each macronutrient. This requires a little bit of simple math. But don’t fret, it you have a calculator handy, your golden.

Lets use an example of an individual with a daily calorie goal of 2,000. They want to gain muscle mass, so they will use the low carb/low fat/high protein macro breakdown.

  • 45 % of 2,000 = 900 calories from CHO.
  • 30% of 2,000= 600 calories from protein
  • 25% of 2,000= 500 calories from fat

Now take the calories and convert to grams of each macro.

  • 900/ 4 = 225 g of CHO
  • 600/4= 150 g of protein
  • 500/9= 56 g of fat

Play around with different breakdowns in order to choose the right one. Then begin to plan meals around your macronutrient goals. MyFitnessPal is a great tool to use to track calories and macros. Its also a great place to see where you are at with your macros currently. Thats what got me to pay more attention. I thought I had it all figured out. But once I tracked my calories for a few days, I realized that I was not getting enough protein in my diet and I was way over on my sugar. It was a major wake up call! Now that I have been following a high protein diet, I can see my muscle definition much more (which is something I have been working for in the gym for months.) All the hard work is paying off and it feels good to really take control of the results you are looking for.

 

Do you track your macros? What helps you meet your macro goals? What are the biggest struggles you have with making your macro goal each day?

 

 

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