The 3 macronutrients, or macros for short, are carbs, protein and fat. They are the 3 main suppliers of nutrients in your diet. In addition to providing the body with energy, macros serve a lot of other vital functions. In this article, we’ll offer up all the info you need on the subject of macronutrients.
The energy you get from macros:
- Carbs: 4 cal per 1 g
- Protein: 4 cal per 1 g
- Fat: 9 cal per 1 g
In your diet, carbs are the most important providers of energy in terms of mental and physical activity. Monosaccharides, or simple sugars, are the cornerstones of the carb category. Carbs are differentiated by chain length into the following groups:
- Monosaccharides: glucose (corn sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), galactose (milk sugar)
- Disaccharides: sucrose, lactose
- Oligosaccharides: melitose
- Polysaccharides (aka complex carbohydrates): amylopectin (plant starch), glycogen (animal starch), inulin
Carbs are stored in the body in two forms: as glycogen in the liver (⅓) and in skeletal muscles (⅔). Your glycogen stores provide you with energy during physical activity. Those stores are replenished when you eat a meal rich in carbs.
The Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that carbohydrates should account for 50% of daily caloric intake for the average adult. You should try to favor complex carbohydrates when possible; that’s because they don’t lead to blood sugar spikes, which simple carbs can. Additionally, complex carbs keep you feeling fuller longer, are rich in minerals and deliver a solid dose of fiber. What’s more, complex carbs have a positive effect on your intestinal health and can help to lower cholesterol levels.
Reach for one of these as a great source of complex carbs:
- Cereals and grains
- (Sweet) potatoes
- Whole-grain products
- Brown rice
Simple sugars come to you in:
- Products containing refined or bleached flour
- Sweets (read: candy)
- Sweetened soft drinks and fruit juices
While we’re on the topic of carbs, we can’t forget to mention prebiotics and probiotics. Regular consumption of these should have a positive effect on your intestinal health.
Proteins are made up of linked chains of amino acids; the human body contains a total of 20 different amino acids. Protein serves a multitude of functions in the body. Amino acids fall into 3 categories: essential, semi-essential and nonessential. The human body isn’t capable of producing sufficient essential amino acids, therefore you have to make sure you are getting enough from this group in your diet.
This macronutrient does a variety of jobs in the human body. Protein functions as a hormone, enzyme and an antibody in the immune system. Proteins are also a part of certain bodily structures, like connective tissue, skin, hair and muscle fiber.
The majority (60%) of protein is stored in your musculature. Your protein stores don’t serve as direct sources of energy, but rather work like building blocks for other structures in the body.
You should consume about one gram of protein per kilo (.36 g per pound) of your own weight on a daily basis. If you’re looking to build muscle mass, you can increase your intake to 1.2 – 1.8 g per kilo (1 g per pound) to see results. Does strength training make up a big part of your fitness routine? If so, you should make sure to combine protein and carbs into your post-workout meal at a ratio of 1:3. Carb consumption kickstarts the flow of insulin, which conveniently aids in muscle growth thanks to the anabolic effect of this hormone.
- Fish and seafood
- Milk and dairy products
- Grain products
- Soy products
Creating clever combinations of these foods can significantly increase their biological value.
Fat is the flavor carrier in our diet. Lipids (fats) come in either solid form (butter, coconut fat) or liquid form (plant and vegetable oils). Fatty acids are classified in the following 3 categories:
Within the polyunsaturated fats, you’ll also find omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are essential for the body and need to be obtained through a nutritious diet. Coldwater fish (salmon, herring, mackerel), canola oil, safflower oil and nuts are particularly rich in these fatty acids. You should try to consume omega-3 and omega-6 at a ratio of 1:5
The human body needs unsaturated fats to regulate metabolism and also to maintain the elasticity of cell membranes. Unsaturated fats also improve blood flow and are important for cell growth and regeneration.
Lipids don’t just provide the body with valuable fatty acids, they also deliver the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Animal fats provide the human body with cholesterol, which is synthesized through exposure to sunlight to form vitamin D in the skin.
Cholesterol also plays an important role in hormone production. That being said, while the body does need some cholesterol, a diet rich in high-cholesterol food is not advisable due to the increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Fats should make up about 30 – 35% of your daily caloric intake, with 20 – 25% being unsaturated and a maximum of 10% saturated fats.
Takeaway: All 3 macronutrients are crucial to your health and perform important functions in the body. A balanced diet with the appropriate ratio of macronutrients is vital for staying healthy.
If you want to know more about each of the macronutrients check out our blog posts about protein, carbs and fat linked below (including a protein and carb calculator).