When it comes to overhauling your diet or maintaining a strict eating regime, chances are “macros” pops up a fair bit. But what exactly are macros…?
Macros, or macronutrients, are the three foundational components to every diet: carbohydrates, fats and protein. These are the nutrients your body needs in huge amounts, as they give you the energy you need to function.
Comparatively, micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are essential for good health, but only required in small amounts, as they don’t provide energy (in the form of calories) for your body to function.
Something to highlight, though, is that foods aren’t made up entirely of a single macronutrient. For example, while we tend to refer to bread, pasta, cereal etc as “carbs”, they actually contain a little of each macro, as do most foods. They’re just higher in carbs than they are in protein and fat.
People often manipulate macro intake to help reach certain health goals. If you’ve ever heard of following a low-carb diet, or a keto diet (super high-fat, super low-carb), this is essentially altering your intake of different macronutrients to support weight loss, muscle gain, or another health goal.
Remember, because almost all foods contain a mixture of all three macronutrients, you can’t eliminate any from your diet completely. But you can change the ratio which you’re consuming, and observe how your body changes or adapts in response.
There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to macro ratios. Some people prefer to eat around 60% carbohydrates, 25% protein and 15% fat, while others will opt for 70% fat, 20% protein and 10% carbs (like a keto diet). Everyone’s body is unique, and will respond to different ratios individually. So trial and error is probably your best bet when it comes to figuring out what works for you.
Tracking macros can help you understand what fuel source your body responds best to. Some people naturally function better on high-carb diets, while others are the opposite. Tracking your macros allows you to feel your best, and meet your body’s unique needs.
It can help you achieve your goals. Some people track their macros using apps such as MyFitnessPal or LifeSum, in order to achieve their individual health goals. For example, a high protein intake has been associated with increased lean muscle mass and feeling fuller for longer, potentially assisting with fat loss. Taking this into account and tracking your macros accordingly can help you gain muscle mass, achieve fat loss, and maintain body weight or composition.
It gives you a clear picture of your nutrition. Tracking your macros, even temporarily, can reveal a lot about your nutrition and food intake. While you may feel you eat fairly healthily, many people who track their macros realise they’re not doing quite as well as they thought. For example, you might realise you consume more calories each day than you thought - things like coffee orders (with added creams, sugars, syrups etc ), oils on your food, and even sauces and condiments can add excessive amounts of calories into your day. - it’s easy to be unaware until you have to track your food. On the other hand, if you’re not eating enough to fuel your body and meet its needs, or you’re lacking in certain nutrients and macros, you may be hindering your body’s ability to function and perform at optimal levels. Tracking your calories will help you recognise this.
It can get obsessive. If you’re prone to disordered eating habits or behaviours, tracking is likely not for you. Focusing on the numbers can become highly obsessive, and begin to control your life and influence your attitudes towards food. Food should always be something you enjoy, and don’t feel restricted from, so if you feel yourself teetering on the edge, abandon ship!
It doesn’t always give an accurate picture. Tracking your macros can often be highly inaccurate, as we’ve been known to often underestimate (or even overestimate) our food intake. This means, if we rely on our macro tracking too much, we may not be making optimal nutrition choices. We might start focusing too much on macros, and less on micronutrients, leading to deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals. Food is more than just macros!
“If It Fits Your Macros” is so misleading. IIFYM is one of the more recent macro-driven diets, claiming that as long as it’s within your “permitted” macronutrient target for each day, you can eat whatever you want. So, say you have 31 g of carbs left, 2g of protein and 5 g of sugar, you’re more than welcome to eat a brownie each and every day as long as it’s within those targets. However, this overlooks the importance of quality. Quality is far more important than quantity when it comes to macros, so focusing too much on counting and tracking macros can lead to negative health outcomes, and potentially even hinder your health goals. It’s more important to prioritise a diet rich in fresh fruit, veg, grains - even if it exceeds your carbohydrate “allowance” for the day, than it is to keep your macros within certain numbers and limits.
If you’re interested to get a picture of your nutrition and dietary intake, try tracking your macros for a few days using MyFitnessPal. Remember, quality is always more important than quantity, and numbers aren’t everything! But now that you understand how macros work, you can make more informed decisions when it comes to your food intake! Just keep in mind, food is more than numbers - it’s nourishment, fuel, and something to enjoy!
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