What are Macros? A Complete Guide to Counting Macronutrients
What are macros and why should you be counting them? If you’ve spent any time on social media in the past few years, you undoubtedly would have seen hordes of fitness influencers plugging their formula for optimum macronutrients, better known as macros. But despite their sudden uptick in prevalence online, macros have been around nearly as long as calories and since those early days, tracking them has been a long been practised task in the fitness world, albeit made far simpler with the advent of macro calculators and fitness trackers that tell you what are macros in food.
When it comes to fitness and nutrition, generally speaking, you fall into one of three categories – those who want to lose weight, those who want to add muscle and those who are happy where they are. However, unlike other factors, such as training methodology and supplements, macronutrients will play an important role, irrespective of your goals. Understanding why and how to count calories and macros effectively will be the biggest and most influential aspect in generating positive health from the inside out.
“Counting and understanding macronutrients is so important as it allows you to exactly understand where your energy is coming from and how that will affect your body’s overall performance, functioning and aesthetic,” Ben Putland, founding personal trainer at ACERO Fitness and fitness ambassador for meal preparation business MACROS tells Man of Many. “Understanding the right ratio of protein, fats & carbs your body needs to either lose, maintain or gain body fat & muscle is key to achieving the results you want which might be to lose stubborn fat, maintain lean muscle mass or gain muscle mass.”
So, whether you are new to counting calories or just want to know the correct macros for weight loss, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you need to know about macronutrients.
What are Macros?
If you have been wondering just what are macros, don’t stress. Chances are, you have come across the dieting aspect before, probably without even realising it. Put simply, macros is an abbreviation of the word ‘macronutrient’ and refers to the three most common nutrient groups. These include fats, carbohydrates and protein, the three categories of nutrients you eat the most and provide you with most of your energy. When you count macros, you’re counting the grams of proteins, carbs or fat that you’re consuming.
To dive a little deeper, carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fibres. Most carbs get broken down into glucose, or blood sugar, which your body can then choose to use for immediate energy or store as glycogen, an energy reserve found in your liver and muscles.
While the importance of carbohydrates is widely debated amongst fitness circles, major health organisations suggest consuming 45–65 per cent of your daily calories from carbs. Specifically, carbohydrates provide around four calories per gram and typically make up the largest portion of people’s calorie intake.
Similar to carbohydrates, protein provides around four calories per gram. Known as the muscle-building macronutrient, protein is responsible for a vast number of important bodily functions, such as cell signalling, immune function and the building of tissues, hormones and enzymes. While most major health organisations suggest getting around 10-35 per cent of total calorie intake from protein, bodybuilders and fitness experts have found greater success upping this number. Putland suggests opting for lean meats, seafood beans and eggs to increase your protein intake effectively.
Another misunderstood macronutrient, fats are an important source of energy in your daily life. While they contain the most calories of all macros at nine per gram, your body requires fats for critical function, so it’s important not to skimp out on them. Certain bodily functions, such as hormone production, nutrient absorption and body temperature maintenance are all impacted by fat intake. Typical macronutrient recommendations for fats range from 20–35 per cent of total calories, however, many people find success following a diet higher in fat, such as the ketogenic diet.
Benefits of Counting Macros
As most fitness fanatics will know, counting macros effectively will significantly improve your results in the gym and on the scales. Putland believes that having a balanced mix of key macros, aligned with your goals is critical to ongoing success in the health and fitness space.
“When counting macros you are ensuring that essential nutrients are making their way into your diet on a daily basis and in balanced portions. Understanding the role that protein, fats & carbs play in your diet is crucial,” the fitness and health expert says. “Having the correct quantities of these macronutrients cannot be achieved through purely counting calories as all calorie meal plans focus on is calories in vs calories out & doesn’t factor in your nutrient intake. Hypothetically, you could consume seven chocolate bars and still lose weight if you’re counting correctly, however, the long-term health effects would obviously be detrimental.”
“If you’re struggling to hit your macronutrient intake per day, either you’re under-eating or overeating your specified target goals (carbs, fats, protein) there are a few things you can implement such as:
- Try eating smaller more frequent meals throughout the day to hit your daily targets
- Make a smoothie to incorporate more ingredients and macronutrients – this will also make it easier for you to consume on the go.
How to Count Macros
Counting macros is the process of tracking how many grams of each macronutrient you consume per day. This figure will give you a better understanding f your general diet and nutrition, but must be tailored to your specific goal. Further to that, because protein, fat and carbohydrates each provide a certain amount of calories per gram, you are also tracking how many calories per day you consume.
Macros for Muscle Growth
Counting macros for muscle growth generally relates to an increase in protein intake. As with most body tissues, muscles are dynamic and constantly being broken down and rebuilt. In order to gain muscle, your body must synthesize more muscle protein than it breaks down.
In general terms, that means having a net positive protein balance in your body — often called nitrogen balance, as protein is high in nitrogen. The simplest way to do so is to increase more protein during periods of high-performance training, leading to greater muscle growth and strength. Similarly, those who want to maintain the muscle they’ve built may need to increase their protein intake when losing body fat, as a high protein intake can help prevent the muscle loss that usually occurs when dieting.
“For bodybuilders and performance athletes, counting macros almost becomes second nature, Putland says. “You have to be nutritionally savvy when entering such an industry, and knowing exactly what goes in your mouth and how it will support your body for optimal functioning and aesthetic is a necessary skill. Counting macros is a great way to assess and improve your physique, especially over a long period of time.”
As a general rule, the most basic and common formula for how much protein you should eat per day comes from the US Food and Nutrition Board. It reads as follows;
- o.8 grams of protein per kilogram of weight
In this case, a 100kg man will require 80 grams of protein per day. While this Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) is a great basis for starting your protein journey, there are other factors that play into the mix. Certain elements, such as whether you are sedentary or active, How Much Water Should You Drink Per Day? and if your goal is to put on muscle quickly will play into your required protein intake. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American College of Sports Medicine and the Dietitians of Canada suggest that those wanting to bulk up, the protein macros for muscle gain have are higher. need more protein. At the same time, however, it’s important not to go overboard.
“While consuming fewer calories can result in fat loss, eating more won’t necessarily result in muscle gain. The latter is usually a result of consuming the right macros, at the right ratio, while engaging in regular weight training,” Putland says. “Generally speaking, a typical macros breakdown for maximum muscle growth is 40 per cent protein, 30 per cent fat, and 30 per cent carbs whilst being in a surplus.”
Here is a guide to increase your protein macros for muscle growth based on your weight in kg:
- Sedentary – Multiply by 0.5
- Light activity – Multiply by 0.6
- Moderate – Multiply by 0.7
- Active – Multiply by 0.8
- Very Active – Multiply by 0.9
Macros for Fat Loss
If you are looking for the ideal macros for weight loss, things become a little bit more challenging. While your macros breakdown might end up being the same, you need to reduce your calorie intake, so cutting fats might help you to keep that figure down. Similarly, increasing your protein intake will likely make you feel fuller for longer, satisfying hunger cravings.
Importantly, you must remember that your macronutrient ratio doesn’t directly influence weight loss, that is more dependent on calorie intake. If you want to lose weight, maintain a high-protein diet and reduce simple carbohydrates from your nutrition plan. Instead, opt for complex carbs that offer long-lasting energy. To lose weight, find a ratio you can stick with, focus on healthy foods and eat fewer calories than you burn.
“Stick to your clean whole foods. For carbs, I’m talking bread and cereals, legumes, and non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and asparagus),” Putland says. “When it comes to protein I recommend you reach for lean meats, seafood, beans and eggs. Lastly, fats are best sourced from nuts and seeds, cheese, and full-fat dairy products. If you’re lacking a little inspo, or feeling time-poor but need to hit those targets, I would 100% recommend subscribing to a meal delivery service that suits your goals. Companies like MACROS deliver fresh, portioned meals direct to your door, and can cater to an array of dietary needs. There is nothing more satisfying than ready-made meals that taste good and are great for you.”
Whatever your nutrition goal, understanding your macronutrient intake is critical. Whether it’s macros for weight loss or muscle gain, having a macros calculator that can detail a specific gram target for each can be a massive advantage. Here is a macros calculator to help you count calories and achieve your fitness goals.
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What are Macros?
The phrase macros is short for macronutrient, which is the name given to the three categories of nutrients you eat the most. These include protein, carbohydrates and fats, and they provide you with most of your energy
Are macros important for weight loss?
While you can certainly lose weight without taking macronutrients into consideration, the job will be made far easier by calculator your fat, carbohydrate and most importantly, protein intake. This way, you can keep an eye on your muscle retention and diet circumstances.
Is it better to hit macros or calories?
Counting calories may allow you to lose weight, however, if your goal is to add muscle, counting macros is a huge advantage. It is the only way you can ensure your body is receiving the required amount of protein to trigger muscle growth and keep lean muscle stores optimised.