The term macro stands for macronutrient and most commonly refers to carbohydrates, proteins and fats. However, macronutrients encompass the vitamins and minerals present in your food as well. Every food you eat contains a combination of carbohydrates, proteins and fats and make up the calories in any food. Too much or too little of any macronutrient can lead to poor health.
The reason I track and follow a macro-based eating plan is because when you manipulate macronutrients you can achieve optimal body composition. Most conventional “diets” such as Weight Watchers, Nutri-System and Slim Fast focus strictly on restricting calories but do not pay attention to the balance of macronutrients. While you can lose weight on these diets, it is difficult to achieve a lean, muscular physique and you may struggle with low energy, strength and athletic performance. A macro based eating plan allows you to choose the foods you love and taste good to you while altering your body composition. You are not pigeonholed into eating premade, expensive, chemical laden foods. In addition, if you gain an understanding of what macros are and how they affect your body, you can create your own fat loss program. Here is a breakdown of each macronutrient:
Protein supports the growth of the body and is essential in building muscle and contains 4 calories per gram. Protein is also the second largest source of stored energy (second to fat cells) because of the large amount of muscle that is a steady source of amino acids (Institute of Medicine, 2006). Protein to include in your diet:
Lean red meat (sparingly), lean poultry and fish
When thinking about protein, most people think about meat such as beef, chicken or turkey. However, there are many non-meat sources of protein such as:
Plant based protein powder, eggs, shellfish, tofu, legumes and nuts.
I try to eat at least one non-meat source of protein per day but others might choose more. I know a lot of women have a hard time eating meat 4-5 times per day. One of the best whey protein powders I have ever tried is by Devotion Nutrition. I typically use the Angel Food Cake sweetened with Stevia as it is more versatile than Brownie Batter. I make shakes, protein pancakes, protein fluff and other baked treats with it.
A plant based protein powder I enjoy is by Orgain:
Fats are the macronutrient that get the worst rap, but they are essential for survival. Your diet should focus on monounsaturated fatty acids which are heart healthy and help support “good cholesterol.” In addition, polyunsaturated fats such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential because they are not produced by the body and must be obtained through diet or supplementation. Typical Western diets contain too much omega-6 fats, which promotes inflammation and too few omega-3 fats. (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014). Types of fats to include in your diet:
Vegetable oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, salmon*, mackerel*, tuna* and canola oil.
* Indicates omega 3 fats. If you don’t get omega-3 fats through your diet, consider taking a fish oil supplement of at least 2000 mg per day. I use this one from Amazon:
Saturated fats should be limited in your diet as they are associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014). While coconut oil is a plant based source of saturated fat, it is a great source of lauric acid and has beneficial antibacterial, antifungal and cholesterol lowering properties. Saturated fats include:
Fatty meat, lard, dairy and tropical oil (palm, cocoa and coconut)
Trans fats have been taken off the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “generally regarded as safe” list due to the high association with atherosclerosis and should be avoided at all costs (Chen, C.L et al., 2011). Trans fats to avoid:
Processed baked goods, margarine, frozen foods, fried foods
The main function of carbohydrates is to provide us with energy and contain 4 calories per gram. However, not all carbohydrates are created equal.
Simple carbohydrates are small compounds broken down quickly, providing a quick burst of energy. Foods high in simple carbohydrates, like sugar, cause our blood glucose to increase rapidly requiring a more concentrated hormonal response to clear the glucose from our bloodstream. Over time, a diet high in simple carbohydrates tax the system and can lead to diabetes. In addition, simple carbohydrates do not keep you satiated as long as complex carbohydrates due to how fast they are processed by the body. The exception to this is fruit, while it is a simple carbohydrate, it contains fiber and does not cause the sharp spike in glucose levels (National Academy of Sciences, 2005). Simple carbs include:
Glucose, sugar, dairy, fruit, honey and malt sugar
Refined carbohydrates cause a similar reaction as simple carbohydrates as they create a sharp increase in blood sugar followed by a quick crash. These types of carbohydrates are made by stripping whole grains of their most nutrient dense parts leaving a refined product that has a longer shelf life but lacks fiber (National Academy of Sciences, 2005). These include:
White flour and rice which are made into most processed breads, chips and crackers.
Complex carbohydrates are larger compounds that require more time to be broken down. In addition, they include starches and fiber and are the best form of carbohydrate in weight management (National Academy of Sciences, 2005). Complex carbs include:
Whole grains such as brown rice, oat, whole wheat, barley, vegetables and beans/legumes.
Carbs are my favorite macronutrient! Before I underwent my body transformation about 5 years ago, I was a carb junkie and ate all of the wrong ones. I loved refined carbohydrates in the form of processed chips, crackers and breads. I will never forget the time I was being trained for a new job and I could barely keep my eyes open at 8 in the morning. My breakfast of choice was a bagel with butter. As describe above, this type of refined carbohydrate causes blood sugar spikes. While it made me full, my body burned through the food so fast leaving me lacking energy. Once I had a better understanding of how to choose the right carbs, they became essential fuel for my workouts and provided sustained energy while I lost body fat.
If you are interested in adopting a macro based eating plan but are not sure where to start, I can help! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss details and pricing.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2014). Position of the academy of nutrition and dietetics: dietary fatty acids for healthy adults. J Acad Nutr Diet 114, 136–153.
Chen, C. L., Tetri, L. H., Neuschwander-Tetri, B. A., Huang, S. S., & Huang, J. S. (2011). A mechanism by which dietary trans fats cause atherosclerosis. Nutr Biochem 22(7), 649–655.
Institute of Medicine, Meyers, L. D., Hellwig, J. P., & Otten, J. J. (2006). Dietary reference intakes (DRIs): The essential guide to nutrient requirements. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
National Academy of Sciences. (2005). Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.