“What are Macros?”
While discussing nutrition with frequent gym ‘rats’ and the common dieter, I’m surprised at how many times I’ve been asked, “What’s a macro?” I figure I’d would use this blog post to tackle this question with a well drawn out explanation hopefully making it less confusing. The term “macro” is short for macro-nutrients, which means large source of nourishment. These are the nutrients you need or consume in a larger quantity compared to micro-nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. There are four macro-nutrients, protein, carbohydrates, fat and fiber. Fiber is commonly overlooked when people refer to macros even though it really shouldn’t be. For the sake of weight loss and just the general diet, I’m going to break each macro down into it’s own topic, excluding fiber, so I can thoroughly discuss each to give you a better understanding of it’s role in the diet.
A dinner of mine packed full of macros.
Any of a group of complex organic macromolecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and usually sulfur and are composed of one or more chains of amino acids. Proteins are fundamental components of all living cells and include many substances, such as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies, that are necessary for the proper functioning of an organism. They are essential in the diet of animals for the growth and repair of tissue and can be obtained from foods such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, and legumes.
By now, everyone should know what protein is. Any time we consume any kind of meat we are getting protein. Even vegetarians get a supply of protein from beans, grains, and even some vegetables. Protein is mainly used by the body for building, maintaining and even repairing muscles and other tissues. Protein is the most abundant molecule in the body, next to water. Protein is not only found in all cells of the body, but it is the major structural component of these cells, especially muscle. Proteins also are utilized in membranes, such as glycoproteins. When broken down into amino acids, they are used as precursors to nucleic acid, co-enzymes, hormones, immune response, cellular repair and molecules essential for life. Last but not least, protein is also needed to form blood cells.
Protein also plays a major role in response to exercise. The building blocks of protein, or amino acids, are used to build new tissue, like muscle, as well as repairing tissue that has been damaged. Even though rarely, protein can also be used as fuel when caloric supply, carbohydrates or even lipids are inadequate. As fuel, protein contains an energy rating of 4 calories per gram. When there is a lack of carbohydrates, protein can go through a process called gluconeogenesis. This is where the protein is converted to glucose and metabolized. In the case of inadequate carbohydrate intake coupled with insufficient dietary protein, or calories, you actually run the risk of burning your bodies lean tissue (muscle) through the process of gluconeogenesis. This brings me to the next topic, Carbohydrates.
Any of the group of organic compounds consisting of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, usually in the ratio of 1:2:1, hence the general formula: Cn(h20)n. Examples include sugar, starch, cellulose and gums.
Carbohydrates are easily the second most hated macro-nutrient out of all four. One of the most common misconceptions about carbohydrates, even though there are dozens, is that if eaten, they are what is causing the body to store fat. It is true that overeating carbohydrates can increase body fat by suppressing fat oxidation and when lipid supply is inadequate, carbohydrates can be converted and stored as fat. The main problem here is that people don’t understand that it is the overall calorie intake that actually determines if you gain or lose weight. If you recall what I mentioned above, even though it rarely ever happens, protein can also be converted and stored as fat.
Generally, there are two types of carbohydrates. You have simple carbohydrates (sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, and lactose) and you have complex carbohydrates (starch, dietary fiber). The classification of carbohydrates depends on the chemical structure of the food, and how quickly the sugar is digested and absorbed. Simple carbohydrates have one (single) or two (double) sugars and complex carbohydrates have three or more sugars. So remember, ALL CARBS HAVE SUGAR. Also remember that just because they have sugar, this doesn’t mean they are going to make you fat. Sugars, or any other single element that makes up what we eat, aren’t the culprit as to way we gain weight.
Now, when referring to carbohydrates you might hear someone mention the Glycemic Index (GI). Basically, GI measures the effects carbohydrates have on blood sugar levels. That is a very in-depth topic to cover, so I’ll leave it for another post.
Moving along, carbohydrates are utilized by the body in more ways than one and are very essential in the diet. Carbohydrates are one of the main fuel sources for the body. They supply immediate fuel for activity, sustained energy for aerobic activity and are a major energy source for high intense activity like weight training. Like protein, carbohydrates contain an energy rating of 4 calories per gram. If you remember back in the Atkins Diet days, everyone was going low carb claiming that cutting out carbohydrate sources would result in less fat stored. These diets both failed and succeeded for a couple of reasons. People who were cutting carbs out of their diet were really just consuming less calories overall. If you understand “calories in vs calories out”, you should be able to see why they were successful in losing weight.
Even though there was success with this methodology, there were also three major problems that seemed to occur with this style of dieting. People basically threw calories out the window and decided that since they were no longer eating those ‘fat storing carbohydrates’, they could eat as much as they wanted and they would be fine. This caused people on these low carb diets to continue overeating and still see an increase in body fat. As for the people who were consuming fewer carbs while sustaining a low calories diet, they saw an increase in lethargy and a loss in lean muscle tissue, which resulted in a slower metabolism. As you can tell, this is not what most people want from their diet.
Not only are carbohydrates important for all of the reasons mentioned above, they are also the primary fuel for the Central Nervous System (CNS). Along with lack of energy and loss of lean tissue, acute carbohydrate depletion may cause tunnel vision. nausea and irritability. Weight training, cardiovascular activity and even just plain everyday activity is easier to do when the energy needed is there for supply. This is why carbohydrates are important in your diet. Many of these reason are also why lipids are important to have in your diet.
A fatty or waxy organic compound this is readily soluble in nonpolar solvent (e.g. ether) but not in polarsolvent (e.g. water). Its major biological function involve energy storage, structural component of cell membrane, and cell signaling. 
Lipid is basically just a fancy term for the word fat. Fat has to be the most hated macro-nutrient of them all. I hear people all the time saying, “If you eat fat, you’re going to get fat.” This leads to a bunch of low fat diets and a sky rocket in sales of ‘fat-free’ foods. It must be true that if you don’t eat fat, you can’t store fat, right? WRONG. If you’re this far in my post, you’ve already read that both protein (even though rarely) and carbohydrates CAN be converted to, and stored as fat.
So, why is such a hated nutrient actually needed in the body? Well, you simply cannot survive without some fat in your diet. Fat is necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. It is also needed for proper neurological function, healthy skin and hair, protecting vital organs, and to help keep us warm. Fats are broken down releasing glycerol and free fatty acids in the body. Glycerol can be converted to glucose by the liver and used as a source of energy. Like carbohydrates, fats are a main energy source for the body, containing 9 calories per gram of fat. Aside from being an efficient energy supply, fat is stored on the body without the presence of water, making it less in weight. This means the human body can store more energy while carrying less weight with fat than any other source of energy (carbohydrates or proteins).
Now, to understand lipids, you first need to know the different types of lipids. Fats are broken down into different categories:
Saturated – Found in animal fats (meat, dairy, eggs) and some plant sources (coconut, palm, palm kernel oils)
Monounsaturated – Found in canola oil, olive oil, nuts, peanut oil and avocados.
Polyunsaturated – Found in safflower, sesame, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils.
Omega-3 – This is a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. This is found in fish, fish oil supplements, flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, soy, avocados and canola. Small concentrations are also present in green leafy vegetables (kale, collard greens) and certain algae.
Trans-unsaturated – Found in processed foods and oils (margarine, baking shortening, hydrogenated oils, fast food, fried food, peanut butter, snack foods and baked goods, etc).
Now, in terms of which are good and which are bad for you, this generally leads to a series of arguments from different view points on fat. Arguments which I don’t feel the need to address at the moments. So, I’ll leave it up to you, the reader, to decide which fats are good and which fats are bad for you.
As seen with the low carb craze, people generally think ‘fat free’ gives them the option to eat as much as they want since fat is not present in that food. What people don’t understand is that ‘fat free’ doesn’t mean ‘zero calories’. These ‘fat free’ foods still contain either, if not both, carbohydrates or protein. So, even though fat is not in these foods, people tend to still over consume calories by doubling or even tripling their portions. This can lead to an overabundance of nutrients which will be converted and still stored as fat. This is why, most of the time, fat free diets do not help people lose weight. It all goes back to the simple rules of calories in vs calories out.
Macros are the major nutrients our bodies get from the foods we eat. They are all essential and play a key role in our body. Labeling one as ‘bad’ and cutting it out from your diet, generally isn’t the best way to properly lose weight and can lead to a lack of certain vitamins and/or minerals that our bodies need. Eating too many calories from any food source will still cause you to gain weight, not just carbohydrates or fats. Focusing mainly on calorie intake while maintaining healthy levels of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, will more than likely yield better results in terms of weight loss and body composition.
Remember, anything consumed in excess amounts is bad for you.
Another amazing blog to check out if you want scientific views on nutrition and fitness is Dylan Klein’s.