If you’re interested in nutrition, you have probably heard the term macro, or macronutrient, before. Over the last few years, calculating and tracking macros have become increasingly popular diet methods. But what are macros, how does your body use them and how do you determine your needs? We’re here to answer all your questions about macronutrients!
What are macronutrients?
First things first, what on earth are macronutrients? Well, they are nutrients that your body needs in large amounts, every day. They are essential to fuel your daily activities, be it work, school, or sports, because your body uses them for energy. This means your diet should ideally cover your daily macronutrient needs, each and every day.
There are three types of macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. They each have their own function and are used differently by your body. Let’s find out what they do!
1. The best thing since sliced bread: Carbs!
Carbohydrates, or carbs, are your body’s main energy source. They are essential to fuel your brain, muscles and cells. Not only do they contribute to the maintenance of normal brain function, they also help with muscle recovery after highly intensive and/or long-lasting physical exercise.
During digestion, your body breaks down carbs into sugars, which will enter your bloodstream in the form of glucose. There, they are either used as an immediate source of energy or stored in your cells for later. Just like fuel for your body!
Carbs can be divided in two categories: simple and complex. Simple carbs are broken down quickly by your body and are found in food that is usually sweet: honey, sugar, milk, etc. Complex carbs, on the other hand, take longer to be digested by your body and contain dietary fiber, which makes them more filling. Sources of carbs that are good to include in your diet are:
- Whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, whole oats, wholegrain bread…
- Fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, oranges, blueberries, sweet potatoes, carrots, beetroots, etc.
- Legumes, such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas…
- Rice, pasta, bread, etc.
2. When it comes to your diet, you butter not skip Fats!
You heard that right! Fat is an important part of your diet, just like the other macronutrients. Now, we’re not saying that you can go crazy on fried food, pastries and other greasy foods, but you shouldn’t avoid fat altogether. This is because fat provides you with essential fatty acids (like omega-3 and 6) that your body cannot make on its own and acts as an energy reserve for your body. Not only is fat necessary to ensure a range of bodily functions, it also plays a part in the proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
As with other macronutrients, you should try to favour healthy sources to cover your daily fat intake. There are three types of dietary fat: trans fat, saturated fat and unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fat is considered the healthiest type of fats and can be found in:
- Vegetable oils such as olive, canola, peanut, sesame oils…
- Nuts and nut butters
- Seeds such as sunflower, sesame, pumpkin seeds…
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel…
3. There’s no whey you can miss out on Proteins!
Here’s everyone’s favourite macronutrient: protein! You’ve probably heard this a thousand times before, but let’s do a little recap on protein, shall we? Proteins are present in every single cell of your body, where they are the building blocks of the skin, bones, blood and muscles. That’s why it doesn’t come as a surprise that they are so important! Unlike carbs and fat, your body cannot store protein, which is why it is essential to supply it daily with an adequate protein intake.
OK, but what do proteins do for you, exactly? Well, they contribute to the maintenance and growth of muscle mass, as well as the maintenance of normal bones. That’s essential for gym-goers and sports enthusiasts, right? So make sure your diet contains quality sources of protein. You can find the right protein suited to all of your needs, including plant-based protein, in our protein sources database. If your diet doesn’t provide you the amount of protein you need, you can use protein supplements such as powders, ready-to-drink shakes or bars to fulfil your needs.
For each of these macronutrients, how do I determine my needs?
Now that we’ve explained what each macronutrient is and what they do, you may be wondering how much of each you actually need in your daily life (that’s sometimes referred to as a macro split). Getting the right combination of carbs, fats and proteins can contribute to your well-being. It’s not a one-size-fits-all plan, though! The amount of macronutrients you need depends on several factors, such as age, gender, level of activity, fitness/weight goals, lifestyle, etc. But fret not, you can find out what your macro split is by using our calorie calculator, which will tell you exactly how many grams of each macro is recommended for you every day depending on your goals. Easy peasy!
Should I track my macros?
As opposed to calorie counting alone, which doesn’t focus on macronutrients, counting macros can help you make smart choices when it comes to food, because it encourages you to choose nutrient-dense quality food. Moreover, understanding your macronutrient needs can ensure that your daily needs are being met. It can also assist you with your fitness goals, such as losing weight or gaining muscle mass. However, when it comes to nutrition, there is more than just macros and numbers: you should also ensure that you are covering your other nutrient needs, such as vitamins, minerals, etc. (see our Micronutrients 101 guide). And the best way to do this is… (drum roll…) Yes, you’ve guessed it: to have a varied and balanced diet!
To sum it up…
Macronutrients are essential nutrients that your body needs for growth, energy and other functions. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that your diet is covering your needs for each of the macros. Tracking them can help you do that and can also be beneficial when it comes to reaching your fitness goals. However, don’t forget that tracking macros isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan and that the key to healthy eating is to have a varied and balanced diet. So do what works for you and good luck with your goals!