I'm sure a lot of you have heard people in the fitness community talk about "macros". This term is short for macronutrients which is a very important topic when it comes to meeting your dietary goals. Macronutrients can be described as substances the body needs in large amounts. The three main macros we will be discussing here are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It is vital the body receives all three of these nutrients through diet because the body needs them to perform specific functions. If a person is too deficient in a certain macro, serious problems may arise. Now I know carbohydrates and fats have gotten a bad rap in some popular diet routines, but in all honesty they are not bad for you at all! And in fact if you incorporate them into your diet in the right ratio's you will reach your goals faster than if you almost cut them out completely! Before we get into ratios, let's discuss each macro-nutrient and how they function in our body.
First off, let's talk about everyone's favorite macro....CARBOHYDRATES!
Speaking of macro, kinda sounds like it could be short for macaroni, as in macaroni and cheese?! My favorite guilty pleasure carb! Anyway, I'll stop talking about my cravings and get back to the science at hand. Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy and provide fuel for all the bodily processes. They can be broken down into two categories, simple and complex. The reason why this nutrient is broken into simple and complex categories all have to do with the length of the carbohydrate molecule. Simple carbs have a small molecule chain and are absorbed into the body very quickly whereas complex carbs have a longer chain and take more time to be absorbed within the body. This is because the complex chain needs to be broken down into simple chains first before the body can absorb them. Both types of chains are important in your diet because simple carbs can be utilized for quick energy and complex carbs and provide more satiety and prolonged energy. Table sugar, candy, fruit juice, and anything baked with white flour are just a few examples of simple carbohydrates.
Oatmeal, wild and brown rice, potatoes and lentils are all just a few examples of complex carbohydrates. It's good to know what foods in your diet are simple and complex so you can maintain a proper balance. Also, it is important to note that in carbohydrates there are 4 calories per gram! This is essential to know when tracking your macro's.
Next up, PROTEINS! Did every gym rat out there just perk up?!
Proteins are the body's second source of energy when carbohydrates have been depleted. Proteins are built up by combinations or smaller units called amino acids that are strung together forming a polypeptide chain. Every protein's chain length and shape is specific for its different roles in the body. The importance of protein within the body cannot be overstated enough. They are involved in several functions such as muscle and tissue growth, enzymes, hormones, structural integrity of cells, antibodies, nutrient transport, maintenance of proper pH levels and water balance just to name a few. It is very important to have the proper amount of protein in your diet because if there is a deficiency the body will enter a state of catabolism and break down its own muscle tissue for energy. Yes, your body will resort to eating itself! This is detrimental for athletes who rely on the preservation of musculature to succeed in their sports.
The best sources of protein come from meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products. Within the dairy group it's important to mention the very popular post workout protein powders whey and casein, which are both derived from milk. Similar to carbohydrates, protein also has 4 calories per gram!
Lets end with the feared boogyman of macros, FAT!!!
Well allow me to be the one to check under your bed and comfort you from this scary nutrient. Not all fats are bad for you and are actually quite beneficial to your body and diet. An interesting fact about fats are their ability to provide satiety much longer than carbohydrates and proteins. This is because fats have 9 calories per gram, whic
h is 5 higher than carbs and protein! Some other benefits are that fats act as an energy reserve, they provide essential fatty acids, add more flavor to food, and carry fat soluble nutrients. Now I must warn you, not all fats are good for you! Friendly fats consist of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids. These fats can be found in fish, seeds, nuts, peanut oil, vegetable oil, and olive oil just to name a few.
Fats to stay away from are saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are derived from animal sources such as poultry, red meat and fatty dairy products. Trans fats are manmade fats derived from a process called partial hydrogenation. Why would we create this monster...this "Franken-Fat"?! Well decades ago we discovered this process called partial hydrogenation so we could extend shelf life of products in food stores. Well it does extend shelf life, but also decreases life expectancy! Both saturated and trans fat increase your bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower your good cholesterol (HDL). This increases health risks such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Some of these foods to stay away from are highly processed meats, cookies, chips, high fat cheeses, fat from pork and beef, margarine, butter, and shortening.
So now that you are all experts on macro-nutrients, lets quickly discuss their ratios in your diet. Every person is different when it comes to daily caloric intake, such as age, gender, activity level, weight, metabolism, fitness/dietary goals, etc. So for the sake of this discussion I'm going to use a daily caloric intake of 2,000 calories. A popular ratio is a 40:40:20 split of macro-nutrients in your daily diet. This simply means, 40% carbohydrates, 40% proteins, and 20% fats. In order to break this down into calories you simply take your target caloric intake of 2000 and multiply it by each ratio. For example, 2000 multiplied by .40 (carbohydrates) equals 800 calories. In order to break this down into grams we need to complete one more step. Since 1 gram of carbs has 4 calories we will then divide 800 by 4 to equal 200 grams of carbs needed in your diet! Easy peasy right?! I'll write it more clearly below:
Carbohydrates (in calories) : 2000 x .40 = 800cal
(in grams) : 800/4 = 200g
Proteins (in calories) : 2000 x .40 = 800cal
(in grams) : 800/4 = 200g
Fats (in calories) : 2000 x .20 = 400cal
(in grams) : 400/9 = 44.4g
There are several ratio’s out there for you to try each customized for your personal fitness and dietary goals! Bodybuilding.com has a great macro calculator for you to use to optimize your body’s performance and reach your goals quickly! Check out the link below!