This useful guide breaks down everything you need to know about macros, including how to track them & how to calculate how many you need per day.
Wesley Delbridge, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics remarked in his interview with the US News, “What I think is missing from the common American diet is that we aren’t focused on getting all of our macronutrients (macros) for every meal and snack. People wake up and have a granola bar and an apple for breakfast and think they are doing well. Not to knock apples, but without fat and protein in that breakfast, too, they are just going to be starving and tired in an hour.”
Sounds like you? It’s time to read on.
Everyone knows the old saying: ‘You are what you eat.’ If we’re not fueling ourselves correctly, how can we expect our bodies to react the way we want them to? Pretty logical, isn’t it?
Today, when we’re more conscious than ever, the phenomenon of calculated intake of food is becoming ‘normal.’ And it is precisely this thinking that is leading to a paradigm shift—we’d like to call it ‘the modern, diet-focused fitness movement.’ And hence, the topic at the forefront of this movement is ‘macros’.
What Are Macros?
Macro is short for macronutrient. These are big-picture nutrients, like protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as opposed to micronutrients like Vitamin B12, Thiamine, or Iron, for instance. They’re also more specific than the conventional measure of ‘simple calories.’
One could say that macros are like the middle ground: they let you break down your foods into categories that have varying importance depending on context, but you also won’t get lost in the weeds trying to balance hundreds of hard-to-pronounce-and-understand vitamins and minerals.
The key macros are the same as those mentioned earlier.
These three macronutrients make up the breadth of all the foods we eat, from meats to grains, vegetables to dairy and even sweets. Each plays a crucially important role in our health, fitness, and general well-being. It is, however, crucial to develop a thorough understanding of each if you’re looking to walk down the ‘macros’ lane. (We will take a dive into them, one at a time, and explore what they do as part of our day-to-day diets ahead in the article).
What’s a Macro Diet?
Firstly, let’s understand that diet and nutrition isn’t a one-size-fits-all concept. You’ll need to experiment and see what works the best for you. Moreover, people often drift towards fiddling with different diets for two reasons—it helps evade the boredom and it helps the body get all food types (starving your body of any one type of food for a long period of time is far from a good idea).
So, for those concentrating on shedding the extra pounds or becoming more conscious of their everyday food choices—keeping a tab of macros over calories might do the trick. They call it IIFYM—translating into ‘If It Fits Your Macros.’ This is a rather flexible diet route because it allows you to consume all kinds of food, but with accountability. You’ve got to stay with the ‘macro limit’. (Reminder of adulting, isn’t it?)
So, what’s the macro limit? It’s easy to understand. You’ll be allowed to consume specific grams of protein, carbs and fat—but how you choose to consume them is up to you. You choose your meats, grains, veggies and sweets—only to be mindful of the total allowance. Hence, just make ‘it fit your macros.’
How Many Macros Should I Eat?
The answer is a three-step process.
Step 1: Calculate daily calorie intake
If you already know how many calories you need to consume based on the many factors like age, gender, weight etc., then you can proceed to step 2. Else, this tool will make life easier and help you get a total for your calorie intake.
Step 2: Convert calorie intake into macros intake
There are established macronutrient ratios to suit your body’s needs (see the image below). The ratio you choose will help determine what food group(s) the desired calories will come from. For now, let’s use the ratio of 30% proteins, 40% carbohydrates, and 30% fat.
Step 3: Calculate daily intake
Using the above ratio, let’s calculate the daily intake of food. Assume that your total calorie intake is 1800 calories per day and we are using the ratio 30:40:30 (proteins, carbs, fat).
- 30% of your calories must come from proteins. Hence, 1800 x 0.30 = 540 calories
- There are 4 calories/g of protein
- Hence, 540/4 = 135 (this is the total amount in grams for your intake of proteins)
- 40% of your calories must come from carbs. Hence, 1800 x 0.40 = 720 calories
- There are 4 calories/g of carbohydrates
- Hence, 720/4 = 180 (this is the total amount in grams for your intake of carbs)
- 30% of your calories must come from fats. Hence, 1800 x 0.30 = 540 calories
- There are 9 calories/g of carbohydrates
- Hence, 540/9 = 60 (this is the total amount in grams for your intake of fats)
Seems like a lot? If you’re not sure how to track macros, just use this macro calculator to find out the intake of your macros (in grams) for each day.
Note: Macros aren’t constants. As you lose/gain weight based on your circumstances, you reach different stages in your diet and hence, your food intake needs to undergo a change as well. So, when you hit your goals, rework your macros (like you would with calories). Isn’t this fun? You are in charge and you get to manipulate your diet based on your needs.
Now that you know all about the macros-based diet, let’s get back to the three food pillars. The information below will help you understand what kind of food you should include in your daily meals.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, and each amino acid has an important task in building the cells of our body and providing us with our energy, either in the form of fatty acids or directly as protein. Healthy protein is arguably the most important macro in any diet. This is because of its role in healing, maintaining, and recovering the cells in our muscles, heart, brain, and bones.
Enzymes made up of proteins also support the functions of regulating metabolism, appetite, and gut health, all of which are major contributors to fitness and diet health.
While it is certainly important to get enough protein, and to consume it at the right times, unused proteins are stored as fat and cannot be burned as easily as carbohydrates for energy, thus make it inexcusable to manage our protein intake judiciously.
Finding good protein is easy: meat, dairy, legumes, and even some grains contain all or some of the proteins we need on a daily basis. Fish, poultry, eggs, chickpeas, quinoa, and soybeans are all examples of common foods with high protein content. Including some or all of these in your weekly meal plans will ensure your protein intake is well-balanced and healthy. And what’s even better, protein-rich foods tend to be delicious! Chicken tikka masala, anyone?
Carbohydrates are the easiest macro to consume and they’re found in almost everything. These are what you take in when you’re carbo-loading before hitting the gym or dashing out for a long run. Pasta, cereal, bread, most vegetables, rice, starches (such as potatoes or yams), and many, many more foods all consist primarily of carbohydrates.
Sugar, too, is a carbohydrate, which gives you an indication of the role it plays: energy! Carbohydrates are fast, easily accessible energy sources that our body can metabolize directly into the necessary sugars. In need of tons (almost instant) boosts of energy—go for carbs!
However, not all carbohydrates are the same. In fact, most simple sugars and simple carbs are highly controversial: not only do they likely contribute to weight gain, but research and discoveries illustrate that, as a source of energy, they are simply not as efficient as once thought to be.
The debate surrounding carbohydrates is still ongoing. What is not debatable, however, is their breakdown into two broad categories: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are the basic sugars and sweeteners we find in most store-bought foods, from refined sugar to soda pop to strawberry jam. Most ‘snack foods’ like cookies, crackers, and chips are high in simple carbohydrates. This is cheap, easy energy, but the benefits are often fleeting, and the excess is always stored as fat.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are the starches and fibers in our food. Potatoes, for instance, and foods high in dietary fiber, constitute examples of complex carbohydrates. These are more than just simple sugars–they’re connected to proteins, healthy fats, and vitamins/minerals alongside the sugars. Not only does this make them a more balanced option than simple carbs, but it allows the energy they provide to be used without consuming them in excess.
Low-carb diets have been trending for a while now, and macro dieting is beginning to move away from the carbohydrate genre as well. But it’s just as important to know what not to eat! So, don’t forget to remember the sources of simple carbohydrates!
Fats are the most notorious and misunderstood macro of all. Despite what your knee-jerk reaction may tell you, fats are critically important for your health, and many fatty foods are very healthy (some types of fish, for instance).
As a norm of the past we have grown an aversion to fats and were continuously taught to deflect them in all ways possible. Truth be told though, there is no need to dread or escape them. As with most macros, it’s all about ‘balance’.
Fat provides our bodies with a long-term store of energy. When we’re out of carbohydrates, what do we turn to? That’s right: fat. In fact, running your body deficit of carbs to burn all that stubborn stuff off is a highly adopted method (popularly termed as keto)!
We recommend moderation though. Burning too much and not taking any in as part of your diet will be detrimental. Fats are the protective macro: they line our organs, musculature, and skeletal systems. They also provide the fuel for day-to-day bodily functions, like breathing, and they’re extremely important for a healthy and functional brain!
As with proteins and carbs, there are many types of fats, each contributing differently to our bodies. The two that most people have heard of are saturated and trans fats. Neither are considered particularly healthy, as they both lead to an eventual increase of your cholesterol level, but trans fats are specifically the ‘monsters.’ Most modern nutrition experts agree that avoiding all trans fats is a good idea. Saturated fats can be taken in minimal-to-moderate amounts. So, if they’re mostly harmful, why are we talking about fats at all?
Because there are healthy fats, too! Unsaturated (mono and poly) fats, as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are becoming more and more well-known, and that’s because they have benefits attached to them. They play a role in maintaining a healthy immune system, ensuring organ health, and maintain cholesterol at healthy levels. Things like fish, eggs, certain oils (such as sunflower), and other foods (olives, avocados, etc.) are all rich in healthy fats. There is a limit, of course, but just because they’re ‘fats’ doesn’t mean they should be avoided at all costs!
We hope this deep dive into the world of macros has helped make sense of the important aspects of diet and health. Ready to for mission ‘healthy and fit?’
PS. At Sukhi’s, we do our best to ensure that through all our delicious food offerings, we provide you with an adequate blend of macronutrients. Not only will you enjoy all of our meals, but your body will thank you for them!