What are Macronutrients?

by | Updated: December 2nd, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

Anytime I scroll through my Instagram feed, I see someone mention “macros.” Their food is perfectly portioned on a plate, or they’ve snapped the ubiquitous selfie with a Quest bar and #macros, #onaquest #eatclean. Though this may seem like some weird diet fad, keeping track of macronutrients is nothing new and might have benefits for y-o-u…

Know Your Macronutrient Ratio
Need food to go? Find your perfect healthy bar to snack on between meals.


So, what are “macros”?

Macronutrients are chemical compounds that your body requires in large amounts (in contrast to micronutrients, which are required in small amounts). Macronutrients consist of essential and nonessential nutrients that supply your body with energy. They include carbohydrates, proteins, fats, macrominerals (aka electrolytes) and water. As you can tell, these macronutrients make up the majority of your diet.

Do I need to keep track of my macro intake?

The short answer: yes. The long answer: carbs, proteins and fats are caloric, providing 4, 4 and 9 calories per gram respectively. Consuming too many of these macronutrients means consuming excess calories. You see where I’m going with this, right? Counting macros is like counting calories to help maintain a healthy weight, bulk up for a competition or drop a few pounds before your next high school reunion. So, all around, keeping tabs on macronutrients is a good idea.

For those of you vehemently against counting calories, hear me out. A calorie is not a calorie is not a calorie. You could calculate that you need about 2,000 calories per day, but that number doesn’t say much. When tracking macronutrient intake, you’re getting into the nitty-gritty to determine the worth of those 2,000 calories. How many are from carbs, from protein or from fat? Depending on your goals, your ratios will vary, which leads me to…

How much do I need?

The average adult’s total calorie breakdown should look like this:
45-65% calories from carbohydrates
10-15% calories from lean proteins
20-30% calories from healthy fats

Endurance athletes, your macros might skew heavy on the carbs:
55-70% calories from carbohydrates
15-20% calories from lean proteins
20-35% calories from healthy fats

Trying to put on more muscle? Your body will benefit from increased protein intake:
40-50% calories from carbs
25-30% calories from lean proteins
20-30% calories from healthy fats

How do I get enough of these nutrients?

The only way to know you’re getting enough macronutrients to fuel your fitness goals is to do the math.

Step 1: Calculate your caloric needs (get the formula for that here).
Step 2: Use the macronutrient breakdowns above to determine the complementary mix of carbs, proteins and fats.
Step 3: Make a meal plan and write it down in a dedicated journal.

The last step is the most tedious, especially if you’ve never tracked calories or given much thought to macros before. To get you started, here’s a sample of what an endurance athlete might eat to fuel their day:

*The macros are written as calories/carbs/protein/fat.

Breakfast 459/89g/13g/7g
¾ cup oats
½ cup unsweetened almond milk
1 banana
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Lunch 414/53g/4g/18g
1 cup minestrone soup
Veggie sandwich: 2 slices whole grain bread, 1 ounce sliced avocado, ¼ cup fresh spinach, ½ cup sprouts and 2 tablespoons salsa

Dinner = 340/30g/33g/10g
4 ounces grilled chicken
1 cup curry-spiced steamed broccoli
1 medium baked sweet potato, seasoned with 1 teaspoon cinnamon and ½ tablespoon coconut oil

Cookies & Cream Quest Protein Bar = 180/22g/21g/7g
1 medium apple and 2 tablespoons maple almond butter = 272/27g/6g/17g

Workout fuel
1 packet GU Chocolate Outrage = 100/20g/0g/2g
1 scoop ARO Natural Chocolate Whey Protein Complex = 200/12g/20g/7g
1 Strawberry-Lemonade Nuun Tab = 4/0g/0g/0g

No matter what your specific macro needs are, remember quality over quantity. That means opting for foods that boast whole grains, no added sugar, reduced sodium (or no salt added) and a recognizable ingredients list.

Hungry for more? Leave your macro questions in the comments below, or Tweet me @Lottsomiles.