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What Are Macros: The Beginner's Guide

If you pay attention to health and nutrition trends, you have almost certainly heard of macros. This is especially true if you are attuned to real information as opposed to fad diets. Discussions about macros fill the news pages for nutrition and fitness guides. By now, you probably wonder what are macros?

“Macros” is really just a shorthand for macronutrients. These are the primary nutrients we need to for basic health and the more we get, the healthier we become. Staying fit requires a steady and balanced intake of macros. 

This guide will provide the basics of macros. What are macros? The benefits of macros. How many macronutrients do we need? And how do we get macros into our diet?

What are Macros?

If you already have an idea of what macros are, the question you are likely asking yourself is what should my macros be? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question.

Your macros intake and maintenance varies according to your physiological makeup and your fitness goals. Do you want to just maintain physical fitness, or are you the type of person who does high-intensity training for competitive athletics? The answers to these questions will determine your macro levels.

Again, macros are micronutrients. They are the basic nutritional elements of a healthy diet.

Here is a general run-down of what macros are:

Protein

Most of us have a basic understanding of the importance of protein. But we cannot stress enough how central protein is as a macronutrient. Protein is the elemental building block of body tissue, muscles (including your heart), and other physiological systems. Protein is necessary for hormone production and this is the basis for how our bodies are regulated. Without a balanced and protein-rich diet, we will suffer serious complications to our physical health.

Fat

It gets a bad rap, but fats are crucial to our health. For decades, now, people have blamed fats for weight gain and the problem of morbid obesity, among many other serious health problems. However, fat is an important part of our diet. Fat can actually improve blood cholesterol levels. It is crucial for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. The key to fat as a macro is to pay attention to how much fat you consume. While fat is a necessary macro, sitting down to a plate of bacon and potato chips is not the right way to go with fat intake.

Carbohydrates

This is another macro that people generally try to avoid. The truth is, carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet. Too many carbohydrates, like too much of just about anything, is bad for you.

If you eliminate carbs altogether you will begin to suffer headaches and you will notice a drastic loss of energy. You will also begin to crave carbs, and that will lead to binging. You will accomplish nothing by completely avoiding carbohydrates. Exercise in itself requires carbs, and exercise will burn carbs. Carbohydrates are an essential macro.

Counting Calories vs. Counting Macros

Until recently, the conventional belief was that we should count calories, limit our intake of fats and carbs, and exercise. This simple formula will make us fit and trim. It turns out that this is not only an oversimplification, but it is also potentially (and dangerously) wrong.

Macros contain calories. All three groups of macros are filled with calories. We need calories to do just about anything. A calorie is a unit of energy stored and a unit of energy expended. If you are counting only calories toward being thin and healthy, you will end up burning calories at the expense of every other part of your health.

It is possible to get all of your calories from one macro. But that is also dangerous. It means you can derive all your caloric intake from carbs, and we know that is a bad idea.

Your body needs specific amounts of each macro to build and repair muscle, develop strength, and lose weight. The balance of macros set against your physical expenditures will determine your fitness goals.

What we learn from this is that it is much better to count macros than calories. If you get a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fats, and you maintain an active lifestyle that includes exercise, you will lose weight, build muscle, and generally feel better. Counting only calories may make you thin, but it could make you sick. The worst-case scenario of only counting calories is that the shortfalls of macros will make it impossible to sustain your weight and your fitness programs.

Counting macros is the best way to stay healthy, build muscle, and keep in shape.

How to Count Macros

As we said above, there is no simple and set formula for determining your macros. Your macro intake depends on several factors: your age, weight, and activity level. You also need to set realistic fitness goals.

The first step is to determine how many calories your body requires. This is called your basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimum number of calories your body needs to perform basic life functions.

The science of BMR is quite complex. It accounts for the complexities of age, weight, gender, and metabolic processes. But there is a standard formula. The standard formula for figuring out your BMR is the following:
Women:
BMR = 655 + (9.6 × weight in kg) + (1.8 × height in cm) – (4.7 × age in years)
Men:
BMR = 66 + (13.7 × weight in kg) + (5 × height in cm) – (6.8 × age in years)

 

The BMR will serve as the starting point for how you will determine your macro count. With this information, you can work out a schedule of macro intake and activity which will set up a balance of macros vs. expenditure per day. If your goal is to lose weight, set up a schedule whereby you consume fewer calories than the BMR requires. If you are trying to build muscle, you will need to consume more calories than the BMR.

The next step is to set macro levels. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) gives a detailed list of the minimum levels necessary for each macro. You can determine your levels with the help of a trainer or your doctor. As an example, the recommended minimum level of protein is 0.75 g per kilogram of weight. If you are an 80 kg man (about 176 pounds), you need to consume a minimum of 176 g (a little over 6 ounces) of protein per day.

Depending on your fitness goals, you would adjust your intake based on the above numbers. The distinct advantage of counting macros instead of calories becomes apparent when you figure in the other macros.

Remember, your goal is to maintain a specific caloric level from within your macro count. This means that if you happen to be something of a carb lover, you can derive your calories more from carbs than from the other macros. Likewise, you can balance things out in carbs if you are someone who goes heavy on proteins. The point is to maintain a carb intake level while counting the levels of macros rather than simply counting calories. This process is much healthier, and it is much more satisfying.

Benefits of Counting Macros

Some of the benefits of counting macros should already be evident. Just the ability to indulge in the foods you like rather than living by the calorie count is a major advantage. But the benefits of counting macros are many:

  1. You are less prone to deficiencies in nutrients and negative effects. When you focus entirely on counting calories, it is far too easy to lose sight of your nutritional intake. It is possible to get all of your calories from cookies, and we know that is a bad idea. By counting macros, you are focused on nutritional balance and the caloric value of your nutrition. This necessarily means that you are paying close attention to the kinds of foods you are eating.

Tracking macros can prevent the negative health effects of malnutrition. Counting macros means involves a balance of foods in your diet in combination with an active lifestyle. This is simply a much healthier way of staying fit, losing weight, and gaining muscle.

  1. You can influence your metabolism. Since all three macros influence each other in terms of how your body burns calories, they also influence the way your body metabolizes the macros. Each macro is metabolized, broken down and converted into energy, in specific ways. As your body adjusts to the levels of macros you consume, your metabolism adjusts accordingly. In time, your body will adjust your metabolic rate in accordance with the macros you eat. What this means over time is that you will no longer hold onto fats in the same ways as you once did. When you are counting calories only, your body will hold onto certain macros in order to have stores of calories. If all that is available is fat, then your body will hold onto it. Counting macros will train your metabolism into using things in healthy ways and this leads to long-term benefits in the form of being fit and trim and healthy.
  2. You will be able to build muscle. Each macro plays a different role in the production and maintenance of muscle tissue. As you exercise, your body requires carbohydrates to produce energy that makes it possible to exert yourself. Muscles are made from proteins and amino acids. Fats are involved in the production of hormones that contribute to building muscle. By counting macros properly, you give your body the necessary ingredients to build and maintain muscle more efficiently.
  3. Counting macros can help you control your appetite. The combination of balanced nutrients and the controlled caloric intake you gain form counting macros naturally helps you control your appetite. It is widely known that protein in itself helps suppress appetite. Proteins tend to make you feel full longer, and they facilitate the release of a chemical your body that naturally suppresses appetite. Combined with a balance of macros, your body is able to suppress the release of a hormone called ghrelin that is known as the “hunger hormone.” This combination also helps regulate insulin production. The net result is that your body effectively learns to control your appetite.

The benefits of counting macros are multifaceted. Within each obvious benefit, there are collateral benefits derived from the process of counting macros. You don’t just lose weight, for example, you gain muscle and you control your appetite. Counting macros is an interdependent process with multiple benefits.

Drawbacks of Counting Macros

The drawbacks to counting macros have more to do with the work involved in staying on top of this process. Counting macros involves paying attention to multiple factors and this is involved.

It can be labor-intensive. You must balance the macros according to your activity level, age, weight, gender, and fitness goals. This can become something of a mathematical problem. Also, some proteins are healthier than others. The same goes for fats and carbs. Choosing the right micros can also be a chore.

Counting macros necessarily means getting involved in the science of nutrition. Let’s face it, it is easy to look at product labels and count calories. Counting macros does not come with these kinds of shortcuts. You need to do some serious research into your own physiology and into the types of foods you eat.

Wrapping things up

For years we were told to count calories. Then for just as many years, we were paying close attention to fats and carbs, often avoiding both. While many people learned to lose weight and even stay fit doing these kinds of counts, there was no long-term benefit to counting calories, fats, and carbs. Unless you wanted to be on a permanent fad diet, these things just did not work.

Counting macros, on the other hand, involve sound balanced nutrition. Yes, there is some math to get started. But once you have a handle on your own physiology and your fitness and exercise goals, counting macros works to maintain health, stay fit, and build muscle.

Macros are nutrients. They are the basic things we need to be healthy. What is more, by counting macros you can eat the kinds of foods you like. No more fat-free everything. You can eat fats (and carbs and proteins). You just need to pay attention to how much you eat.

In the long run, counting macros will help your body adjust to the macros you are eating. In time, you will only want to eat what you are supposed to eat.

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