What are Macros?
by Tobias • 6 minutes read
Last updated: 20 Dec, 2022
Here at Do Not Donut, we are big proponents of the Calories In Calories Out (CICO) and the If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) ways of eating. Numerous studies have shown that the most important aspect in losing, gaining or maintaining your weight is the amount of calories you consume in relation to the amount of calories you expend.
We believe that you also have to include the IIFYM addition to the CICO diet as, quite rightly, if you regularly consume your daily calories in exclusively carbohydrates you may not gain or lose weight but you certainly won't be healthy.
Carbohydrates are just one of the three main macronutrients that your body needs and today we'll be explaining what they are, what they do and why you need them in your diet.
What are the 3 macronutrients?
The 3 macronutrients, in no particular order, are carbohydrates, fat and protein. These are the three components needed for a healthy and balanced diet. Each of the three can be further broken down into their respective components and we'll go into more detail for each one below.
Every gym goer's favourite macro, Protein is responsible for a lot of vital chemical processes in your body, but the main function we are concerned about in regards to maintaining a healthy body is protein's ability to maintain and build muscle. Without adequate protein you will not be able to gain or retain muscle mass. It's recommended that every day you eat 1 gram of protein per lb of your goal weight, so if you are currently 300lbs but want to weigh 190lbs then you would eat 190g of protein. Similarly, if you weigh 150lbs and want to weigh 180lbs you should aim to eat 180g of protein a day. Try to spread this out throughout the day as it gives your body a better chance of absorbing as much as possible. There are some that think they should eat even more protein but whilst there is a link between high protein diets and high levels of muscle, without an effective regimen protein alone won't build any more muscle. Also be aware that not all protein is created equally, there are different bioavailabilities of proteins, which is essentially how well your body breaks down the food into protein that can be used in the body. Broadly speaking animal proteins are easier for the body to use, though there is value in bean and rice proteins when eaten together.
For more information about Protein check out our article all about protein.
The villain of the 90's, whatever the food was, they made a low-fat version. Yoghurt, cheese, cake, crisps, you name it, they made it. But fat doesn't necessarily deserve this bad reputation. Without fat a lot of the bodies natural processes couldn't happen. There is still lots of debate between nutritionists on what could be considered an unhealthy or healthy fat. There does however seem to be some common agreements. Monounsaturated fats, like those from Avocados, olive oil and nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts are considered healthy fats. Hydrogenated fats, also called trans-fatty acids, such as those found in vegetable shortening and margarine are almost entirely considered bad fats and should be avoided. Importantly for men and women who want to gain muscle and get stronger, hormones are created from fat, hormones including Testosterone and Oestrogen, which are both vital for the building muscle and maintaining a healthy body weight. Unsurprisingly, with 9 calories per gram, fat has the most calories per gram of all the macronutrients so it does need to be eaten in moderation. But for someone who is physically active a safe goal is to aim to make 30% of the calories you eat come from fat. So if you were to aim to eat 2000 calories, that would be about 600 calories from fat, or about 66g of fat.
For more information about Fat check out our article the full story on fat.
The last macronutrient, carbohydrates. Last for a reason, as it is simply the least important. Carbohydrates are broken into sugars, specifically glucose. But the body can also create glucose, in a process called "gluconeogenesis". This is the creation of glucose from lactate, pyruvate, glycerol which are fats, and certain amino acids which come from protein. That isn't to say carbohydrates don't serve a useful function, as it's definitely a quicker and more efficient process to get sugars from carbohydrates and when you are talking about big lifts and explosive power, speedy energy release is key. For this reason we would recommend to use your remaining caloric allowance on carbohydrates. So for someone eating 2000 calories a day, aiming to weigh 180lbs, would mean they eat 180g of protein which is 720 calories from protein, 600 calories from fat. This leaves the last 680 calories to come from carbohydrates, which at 4 calories a gram equals 170g of carbs.
For more information about Carbohydrates check out our article what are carbohydrates.
The most important aspect to a macro counting or calorie counting diets is to make an accurate assessment of your current weight and your goals. If you would like to lose weight you would eat in a calorie deficit, that is, to eat less calories each day than your body burns. To gain weight you would eat at a calorie surplus. The first step therefore is to work out your daily caloric needs, by using a TDEE calculator, which stands for Total Daily Energy Expenditure. You simply put in your age, height, weight and activity level. It then tells you how many calories you should eat each day to maintain your current weight. As a rule of thumb you should eat 250 more calories than that to gain weight, or 250 fewer calories to lose weight.
After you have your calorie goal, you should then work out your "macro ratio". This is the amount of fats, proteins and carbohydrates you should eat. Different sources recommend different amounts, which are normally written as 40/40/20 or 40/30/30. Of course in reality these vary day-to-day but they are useful goals to have.
To continue the example used above;
- TDEE - 2250 calories
- Goal - Weight Loss, from 240lbs to 180lbs
- Daily Calorie Goal - 2000 calories
- Daily Protein Goal - 180 grams (720 calories)
- Daily Fat Goal - 66.6 grams (600 calories)
- Daily Carbohydrate Goal - 170 grams (680 calories)
To leave you with one final point on the macro diet, start gradually. If you are severely over or under weight change your calories gradually, definitely no more than 250 calories a month. And however quickly you want to lose weight and however small you want to get please be sensible, eating 500 calories a day will almost certainly lead to weight loss, but your overall health will suffer and in extreme cases can lead to hair loss and menstrual problems in women. In the same way, if you are a scrawny 160lb man and want to be a 230lb behemoth, eating 6000 calories will certainly do that, but you will likely put on a lot of excess fat too and will put your health at risk.
If in doubt follow the NHS guidelines of 2500 calories for men, 2000 calories for women. If you aren't seeing the results you want after a month of consistent eating and regular weighing, perhaps once a week or once a month, then just adjust the calories you are eating and the ratio you are eating them in. Remember, healthy living is a marathon not a sprint.
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