Breaking Down Macros

Macro counting has become increasingly popular over the past few years as an easy alternative to meet your health goals without calorie counting. Macro counting has long been used by people with diabetes for blood sugar control and by many athletes to help boost athletic performance. In this blog, we’re taking a closer look at macro counting and how to easily incorporate this practice to help you meet your health goals. 

What are macros?

Macros are short for macronutrients. Macronutrients are the energy-providing nutrients found in food, including carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Micronutrients are non-energy-providing nutrients found in foods like anti-oxidants, vitamins, phytonutrients, and minerals. 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide the body energy and are primarily found in starches, dairy, and fruit such as beans, potatoes, corn, bread, cereals, grains, all fruits, yogurt, and milk. Carbs provide four calories per gram and typically make up about 50% of the diet, depending on the individual’s goal. Endurance athletes may have a higher goal, while people with diabetes may have a lower plan. For most people, I recommend focusing on whole food carbohydrates at least 80% of the time. Whole food carbs such as beans versus white rice or bread tend to have more fiber helping you balance blood sugars, sustain energy, and promote gut health. 

Fats

Fats are found in dairy, nuts, seeds, olives, avocado, and most animal products. Fats provide nine calories per gram and take the longest to digest compared to carbohydrates and proteins. Healthy fats such as fats from fatty fish, olives, nuts, seeds, avocados are needed in the body to build healthy cell structures, hormones and provide energy. Getting good quality fat is imperative since your body rebuilds its self out of what you eat. For example, your brain is approximately 60% fat. The general recommendation for fat is about 20-35% of the diet. 

Protein

Protein can be found in most foods but is highest in meats, dairy, soy, nuts, seeds, and supplements like Designer Protein powders and Designer Protein chocolate bars. Proteins are needed to build and repair the entire body including enzymes, hormones, and tissues. Protein recommendations range from 10-35% of the diet, depending on age and individual goals.

What is a macro diet?

 A macro diet simply focuses on making sure each meal and snack has a certain number of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates that meet your individual goals. Some may concentrate on the composition of macros at the particular meal, while others may focus on an entire day. In my practice, I recommend concentrating on balancing each meal and snack individually. This practice tends to be easier to manage and helps you get the most out of each meal and snack. 

 How to calculate macros?

  1. Calculate your calorie needs. Simply go to this website from the American Council on Exercise and input your information to get an estimate of your calorie needs. 

  2. Once youve determined your calories, you can choose which ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fast works best. The Institute of Medicine recommends the below ranges.
    1. Carbohydrate = 45%-65% of calories
    2. Protein = 10%-35% of calories
    3. Fat = 20%-35% of calories; limit saturated and trans fats

These ratios will vary depending on health goals. If someone is trying to control blood sugar or lose weight, they may focus on ~35% carbohydrates, ~35% protein, and ~30% fat to help reduce spikes in blood sugar. If someone is an endurance athlete, they may need more energy to fuel their activity and focus on ~60% carbohydrates, ~20% protein, and ~20% fat. 

  1. It’s important to remember that all of these calculations are estimates. It’s best to start tracking your macros and re-asses to fine-tune and get the result you want. Many people will use phone apps such as Myfitnesspal, Lose It, and My Macro+ to help them track.

 Bottomline

Macro counting is a great way to look beyond the calories and to the quality of the meal. People who dont want to commit to a full day of macro counting can focus on whatever time of day they think they need to most help with. For example, focusing on macro counting in the evening can help nighttime mindless eaters gain control. Check below for an example balanced macro day.  

Balanced Macro Day for Weight loss or Blood Sugar Control

 Breakfast

Designer Protein Shake

 Protein= 31% 

Carbohydrate = 32%

Fat = 37%

AM Snack

1 cup Plain Greek Yogurt

½ cup Blueberries

Lunch

Tuna Sandwich 

Side Salad 

Carbohydrate = 46%

Fat = 22%

Protein = 32%

PM Snack

Hard-Boiled Egg

1 cup Carrots

Dinner

1 Medium Sweet Potato with Butter

3 ounces of Salmon

1 cup Broccoli

Carbohydrates= 27%

Fat= 43%

Protein= 35%

Nighttime snack

Designer Protein Chocolate bar

Carbohydrates = 27%

Fat = 61%

Protein= 11%

Days Macro Total

Carbohydrate = 32%

Fat = 37%

Protein =31%

Provided By: Ginger Cochran, MS, RDN, CDCES, CEP-ACSM

Sources:

Current Sports Medicine: Exercise and the Institute of Medicine recommendations for nutrition
American Council on Fitness: Daily Calorie Needs

International Sports Science Association: Nutrition for Endurance

Essential fatty acids and human brain

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