Why and How to Count Macronutrients: A Closer Look at Your Daily Macros
We’ve all heard of the importance of knowing how to count macronutrients, but do you know why? What makes it so vital to know how many grams of fat, carbs, and protein we’re eating? Why can’t we just eat whatever we want, so long as we stick within a healthy daily calorie limit? Weight loss and fitness would be so much easier that way!
Well, if fitness was “easy”, everyone would be in amazing shape. As you can see by the high obesity rate (close to 68%), weight loss is no easy feat. It takes hard work, dedication, and, most important of all, knowledge.
Understanding how to count macronutrients is important, but first you have to understand what macronutrients are in the first place. Read on to find out everything you need to know about “macros”, what makes them so important, and what the ideal balance for you is…
How to Count Macronutrients: Understanding Macros
There are many types of nutrients that your body needs:
- Vitamins — Vitamin C boosts your immune system, Vitamin E protects your heart, and Vitamin A improves your eye health.
- Minerals — Calcium improves bone health, iron promotes red blood cell production, and zinc enhances your body’s reaction to invading germs and pathogens.
- Antioxidants –– Flavonoids improve your circulation, polyphenols fight off toxins, and glutathione improves your immune response.
- Fiber –– Soluble fiber absorbs water, cholesterol, toxins, and sugar, while insoluble fiber scrubs away the waste matter clinging to your intestinal walls.
These nutrients are considered “micronutrients”, because you need them in small quantities.
“Macro-nutrients”, on the other hand, are needed in LARGE quantities–in fact, they make up the majority of your daily calorie intake. There are three macronutrients:
Each of these macros plays a vital role in your overall health, so it’s vital that you consume enough of them every day.
But what does “enough” really mean? How much of each macronutrient should you be eating? Understanding how to count macronutrients is the key to ensuring a healthy, fit body. To know how much of each macro you need, you have to understand the purpose of each of the macronutrients :
Fat may have gotten a pretty bad reputation in the last century, but in recent years, it has become less demonized and more accepted as a vital component of a healthy diet.
What does fat do for you?
- It plays a role in the production of growth and reproductive hormones.
- It provides your body with a highly concentrated form of energy.
- It serves as a cushion to protect your organs from trauma and damage.
- It provides stability, consistency, and flavor to the food you eat.
- It ensures that the membranes (walls) of your body’s cells are strong and stable.
- It makes it easier for your body to absorb certain nutrients (such as fat-soluble vitamins–A, D, E, and other carotenoids).
Fat is one of the most enjoyable parts of your food. When it cooks, it becomes rich and flavorful, enhancing the flavors of everything else with which it is combined. That’s why fruit pies are so much tastier with butter, meat is more delicious with a bit of fat in it, and potatoes are much more enjoyable when fried.
Of course, fat is also VERY high in calories. It contains 9 calories per gram of fat, more than twice the calories you get per gram of carbs and protein. This means that high-fat foods are often high-calorie as well, and that high calorie intake is what causes weight gain–hence the connection between fat and obesity.
There are different types of fat:
- Saturated fat comes from animal proteins
- Trans fats are highly processed and artificial
- Unsaturated fats come from nuts and plants, as well as fish
Certain types of fats (such as Omega-3 fatty acids) help to reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and are critical for a healthy brain.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy. They’re easy to break down and absorb, and they are quickly transformed by your liver into glucose. Without carbs, your body would have a very hard time producing energy, as fat is much harder to break down.
But carbs are so much more than just energy to help you work out at the gym. They are needed for your organs and internal systems to function. They take longer to be turned into stored fat. They’re also easily accessed, making them ideal for your body to use hours after eating.
Carbs are one of the most important of the macronutrients, as they give you the energy you need to get through the day. The average person consumes between 35 and 50% carbs in their diet. With just 4 calories per gram, carbs are a good food to include in your diet.
Protein isn’t just the most delicious part of your meal, but it’s also one of the most important. Protein is needed for:
- The production of anabolic (growth) hormones, such as testosterone, IGF-1, and Human Growth Hormone.
- The repair of damaged tissue (a common side effect of exercise), as well as the expansion of existing muscle tissue to store more energy.
- A healthy immune system.
- The preservation of lean muscle mass, even if on a low calorie diet.
- A back-up source of energy in case of a carbohydrate deficit. Protein provides ATP energy, the only kind of energy your muscles can use. In cases where you don’t get enough carbs, protein gives your body enough energy to function while it activates stored fat.
You often hear of “complete” proteins, which refers to sources of protein that contain all nine amino acids needed to build muscle. However, there are dozens of amino acids, some of which may not be essential for muscle growth, but which play a role in many other bodily functions.
Protein clocks in at 4 calories per gram, on par with carbs. The only downside to many proteins is that they are usually fairly high in saturated fat (think chicken, beef, pork, etc.).
These are the macros, the three most important nutrients you can include in your diet. Now comes the fun part: figuring out how to count macronutrients so you’re getting the right amount of fat, protein, and carbs in your diet.
How to Count Macronutrients: Balancing Your Macros
Understanding how much of each macronutrient to eat is actually a bit more complicated than simply saying “eat this much meat and veggies every day”. The amount of each macro you need to eat depends on a wide range of factors:
- Your daily level of activity, as well as the TYPE of activity (Strongmen and marathon runners eat very differently from martial artists and Olympic bodybuilders).
- The activity level for your current day.
- The timing of your meals (depending on whether you eat your biggest meals early or late in the day).
- Fitness and diet goals (weight loss, weight maintenance, weight gain, fat loss, etc.).
- Body type (ectomorph, endomorph, or mesomorph).
- Gender (men need a different balance of nutrients than women).
All of these factors will determine your daily macro count, but not all of them are equally as important. There are three that really matter the most:
Women: Better at burning fat, have a harder time burning glycogen stored in muscle tissue.
Women can operate on a lower-carb diet than men, as their bodies are better able to use the fat they consume.
Men: Better at burning carbs, particularly the carbs stored in their muscle tissue; have a harder time with fat.
Men need more carbs and should reduce their fat intake, and should consume more protein in order to produce the ATP energy needed to fuel their muscles.
What is your ultimate goal in training? Are you trying to lose weight (read: burn fat), maintain your current weight/body mass, or pack on the pounds of muscle? Your daily macro count will change according to your goal:
For Fat Loss — Multiple studies  have proven that low fat diets are NOT the way to lose body fat. In fact, they’re the worst thing you can do! Increasing your fat intake and cutting carbs is the smart way to torch body fat.
A well-balanced fat loss diet should include:
- 40 to 50% protein
- 30 to 40% fat
- 10 to 30% carbs
As you can see, the less carbs you eat, the better!
Note: The % means the total number of calories you consume. For example, 40% protein diet means 800 of your 2,000 daily calories come from protein–or 200 grams of pure protein per day.
For Muscle-Building — To build muscles, you need A LOT of carbs. Together with protein, carbs are turned into ATP energy, the only type of energy your muscles can use. By eating a higher-carb, high-protein diet, you have everything you need to build serious muscle.
A well-balanced muscle-building diet should include:
- 40 to 60% carbs
- 25 to 35% protein
- 15 to 25% fat
Even though you do cut back on fat intake, your body still needs at least SOME fat. This carb-heavy diet will make it possible to gain muscle mass without adding body fat.
For Maintenance — If your goal is just to stay where you (no changes in muscle mass or body fat), a truly balanced diet is key. You need enough carbs and protein to keep up with your workouts, and you need some fat to ensure that your body doesn’t go into “starvation mode”.
A well-balanced maintenance diet should include:
- 30 to 50% carbs
- 25 to 35% protein
- 25 to 35% fat
With this balance, your lean muscle and body fat mass will remain consistent.
Not everyone can eat the same. Some people have an incredibly hard time gaining weight (hard-gainers), while others can’t seem to lose those last few pounds of fat. It’s vital that you eat according to your body type. So what type are you?
Mesomorphs — These are the lucky ones, with gifted DNA that makes them naturally muscular. They have hard, lean bodies with well-defined muscles, dense bones, and a beautiful body shape. They can gain muscle or lose fat with relative ease.
Their muscles can store a lot of glycogen, so a moderate level of carbs (20 to 50%) is good for a maintenance diet. Ideally, 30 to 35% of their calorie intake should come from fat, with 25 to 35% coming from protein.
Ectomorph — Also known as “hard-gainers”, this body type tends to be slender and lean, with very little body fat but far less muscle mass as well. Their fast metabolism makes it nigh impossible for them to gain weight, but they also have a hard time building big muscles.
For an ectomorph, carbs should account for as much as 60% of total calories, especially if your goal is to build serious muscle. Protein should account for no less than 25% of their diet, and they need very little fat (15 to 25%) to keep their bodies healthy.
Endomorph — These are the people prone to being larger and heavier than average. Their round or pear-shaped body stores more fat easily, but also has more muscle. They have a slower metabolism, meaning it’s very easy to gain weight and very hard to burn fat.
Carbs are an endomorph’s worst enemy! Ideally, carbs should be no more than 40% of their total calories, with up to 50% from protein and around 25 to 35% fat.
Understanding how to count macronutrients is just one more piece in the “fitness puzzle”. Counting macros won’t guarantee weight loss or muscle-building, but it will give you the knowledge you need to create a healthy diet and eating plan to push you one step closer to your goals.
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