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A Guide to Macronutrients and How They Can Impact Your Health

June 22, 2016

Our friend, let's call him John Doe, was having trouble starting his fitness journey, finding informational articles on nutrition and websites to help jump-start a healthy lifestyle. 

John, like many people trying to live a healthy lifestyle, fails to realize that losing weight and staying healthy is not a give or take between exercising and diet, but rather diet and exercise go hand in hand. The first step to maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to begin understanding your body and learning how to stay active understanding that exercising is not the hard part, but rather, it is changing what we put in our bodies on a daily basis.

How do you figure out what is best to eat and what is healthy or unhealthy? Interestingly enough, there is a science behind it called macronutrients.

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients (Macros) refer to the chemical elements that humans consume in the largest quantities. These are substances used for energy, growth and bodily functions by organisms. Calculating your macronutrients is one of the proven ways to properly diet and lose fat. By getting their proportions right, it makes dieting a lot more effective when simple calorie restriction fails. Data on nutrient intake is important to figuring out the relationship between health and nutrition. There are three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fats.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a common source of energy in living organisms. Humans are able to obtain their entire energy requirement from protein and fats but it is unwise to completely cut out carbohydrates from your diet. Carbohydrates provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for the working muscles. They also prevent protein from being used as an energy source and enable fat metabolism. They are also important for brain function and can influence mood and memory. Processed or refined foods such as sweets like cookies, soft drinks, and breakfast cereals have higher levels of carbohydrates. Lower amounts of carbohydrates are usually associated with unrefined foods including beans, rice and fruit.

Many people read about “unhealthy carbohydrates” versus “healthy carbohydrates” but they are just talking about simple versus complex carbohydrates respectively. The two classifications refer to the length of the carbohydrate molecules. The shorter the molecule chain is, the easier it is for your body to break down which is why they are called simple carbohydrates. On the other hand, larger molecule strains are referred to as complex because it takes longer for your body to break them down into usable components and in turn keep you full longer. Simple carbohydrates tend to be sweeter like sugars whereas complex carbohydrates have a more savory taste like whole grain foods. There is a huge debate in the simple versus complex department (white rice vs. brown rice: which is healthier?) so it is important to preface this by saying that you are the master of your own body and you can play around with different combinations of carbohydrates to see what works for your body to reach your goal.

Proteins

Proteins are used to produce new tissues for either growth or to repair old or damaged tissue, as well as to regulate and maintain body functions. Enzymes used for digestion, protection and immunity are also made of proteins, and essential hormones used for body regulation require proteins to function. In addition, proteins may be used as a source of energy when carbohydrates are not available. Protein is found in foods including meats, poultry, fish, meat substitutes, cheese, milk, and nuts, and in smaller quantities in some starchy foods and vegetables. 

The body breaks down protein into its building blocks called amino acids. There are 500 known amino acids, 21 of which are needed by humans. Of the 21 necessary for life, 9 are considered essential since they cannot be produced by the body and must be eaten. Proteins that contain all nine essential amino acids are considered “high quality” proteins. These high quality proteins tend to come from animal sources. Proteins that do not contain all nine essential acids are considered “low quality” proteins and tend to come from plant sources.

Fats

Fats have a terrible reputation because people hear the word “fat” and assume, “it must be really bad for me.” However, there are two distinctions that need to be noted: healthy and unhealthy fats. Fat is actually very important to normal body functions, acting as the backbone to important hormones, insulation for nerves, skin and hair health. They are a high-energy source that helps us absorb vitamins and insulate the body. While nobody is saying to completely get rid of bacon from your diet there needs to be more healthy fats in your diet than unhealthy ones given that it fits into your macronutrients.

Trans fat, or saturated fat, has been shown to increase the risk of coronary heart disease and is known as the unhealthy fat. They are mostly found in processed food such as fast foods and sweets. Healthy fats, or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, consist of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids that are essential fatty acids. Like essential amino acids, your body cannot produce them by itself so they have to be ingested through food. Common sources of healthy fats are avocados, coconut oil, fish, walnuts and extra virgin olive oil.

So how do I calculate my macros? 

You can figure out your macros in a few simple steps. First, you must figure out your goal whether it is losing weight, bulking up, toning your body or even building muscle. Once you have figured out what your goal is, we can move on to the next step. Remember that a healthy active lifestyle incorporates both exercise and diet. Here you can find many exercise plans that also help you find your macros if you are confused on how to do it. In addition, they provide healthy meal plans and videos on how to exercise.

Find your calorie requirements

The number of calories you need per day is a product of your age, gender, weight, muscle mass and activity level. Eating more than this will cause you to gain weight, while eating less will cause you to lose weight. To figure out the exact number, you can use a calorie calculator but be careful to remember that these tend to be very rough estimates that don’t take into account a multitude of other factors. There are many online calorie calculators, so see which works best for you. The number given to you is the amount of calories needed for maintenance.

Time to do the math 

As an example, we will use John and his stats for figuring out his macronutrients.

We will use this calorie calculator to enter in his information. John is a 23-year-old male who is 5’11 and weighs 190 pounds. He will need approximately 2,000 calories (without exercise calories) to maintain his weight. Since John wants to lose some weight, take the maintenance number and subtract 20% of it. This number is your new target caloric intake until comfortable and then slowly decreases it more and more. Next, we must figure out how to allot these calories into our three main macronutrients of carbohydrates, protein and fat.

  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram
  • Protein: 4 calories per gram
  • Fat: 9 calories per gram

Using that as a guideline, we must figure out how much protein to intake daily first. Many people use a simple 40:30:30 (40% protein, 30% carbohydrates, 30% fat) split for figuring out their macros.

Another way is to customize it to your needs. To maintain John’s weight, he needs 2,000 calories/day and to lose weight he must now eat approximately 1,600 calories/day. It is suggested you intake approximately your target weight to your current weight’s amount of protein in grams (ex: 190lb man wants to become 170lb -> 170-190g of protein).

Calories to lose weight: 1600 calories

Macro: Calories per Gram Total Calories
 Carbohydrates 110g x 4 calories per gram 440 calories
Protein 180g x 4 calories per gram 720 calories
Fats 48g x 9 calories per gram 432 calories

We are now left with 880 calories in our daily intake to split between fats and carbohydrates. You can split it evenly 440 calories for fat and 440 calories for carbohydrates, which will leave you with approximately 48g of fat and 110g of carbohydrates daily. However, fat intake should be kept at a minimum versus carbohydrates and protein. 

If you feel that 180g of protein is not enough, you can adjust it to increase the amount, but at the same time, remember that as you increase one, the other categories must be decreased to maintain your overall caloric intake.

In summary, John needs 1,600 calories to lose weight, his macros are 180g of protein, 110g of carbohydrates and 48g of fat. Sticking to your macros or even figuring out what types of nutrients are in different foods may seem daunting and difficult, but thanks to technology, there are devices and apps to help monitor your macros. One of the most popular tools is an app called MyFitnessPal. You input everything you eat and it calculates your set amount of macros. At the end of the day, it will let you know if you have hit your targeted macros or not.

Care+Wear is committed to helping you get back to living your life. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important to living a long and prosperous life so it is important to learn about nutrition and how it affects your body. It is always important to remember that diet and exercise is extremely important to lower your risk for cardiovascular diseases and your risk for cancer. Please remember that this a very simplified and brief overview and please consult your doctor or a nutritionist when beginning a diet plan.



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