The Quick Guide to Macros: How to Stay in Balance
If you belong to a gym or take part in activities related to the "health community," you've probably been advised to count your macros and keep them in balance. Read on to discover what macros are and how to keep yours in balance.
What Are Macros?
"Macros" is short for "macronutrients." These macronutrients are a group of specific nutrients that your body uses for energy and to maintain its functions and structures. This elite group has only three members: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These are the substances your body needs in large amounts, which is why they're called "macro"-nutrients. Let's look at each of these macros.
Your body's preferred source of fuel is carbohydrates. It's easier for your body to convert carbohydrates, or "carbs," into energy that it can use right away than to convert protein or fat into usable fuel.
Your body breaks down carbohydrates into sugar, or glucose which is then either used right away for energy or it's stored for use later. When carbs are converted to sugars, they are further broken down into two different types:
- Simple carbohydrates. These carbs break down quickly in the body and impact blood sugar levels for a short time. Consuming simple carbs, such as sugary candy or juice, elevates blood sugar and energy quickly, but it drops shortly afterward.
- Complex carbohydrates. It takes longer for the body to break down and make use of these types of carbs. Complex carbohydrates impact blood sugar levels more steadily and for longer periods of time.
Proteins supply the amino acids your body needs for building muscle, brain tissue, blood, and the nervous system. They also play a pivotal role in maintaining the acid-base balance in the body. Your age, medical conditions, level of activity, and health goals dictate how much protein you need.
Proteins are classified into two types:
- Complete proteins. These provide your body with the amino acids that it needs. Good sources of complete proteins include meat, seafood, poultry, milk, and eggs.
- Incomplete proteins. These include many plant-based proteins and provide some of the amino acids your body needs, but not all of them. Some examples of incomplete proteins include seeds, nuts, and most grains.
Although many people try to avoid fats, dietary fat is an important energy source when your body is calorie deprived or physically starving. Fats are necessary for proper cell function, insulation, and protection of your vital organs. Different types of fats can be part of your daily diet.
- Saturated fats. These are fats that mostly come from meat and dairy sources. They are solid at room temperature.
- Unsaturated fats. This type of fat comes from plant sources and fortified foods. These fats are usually liquids, even when refrigerated.
Why Do Your Macros Matter?
Our bodies use macronutrients in large amounts, requiring us to consume enough of the three macros daily to maintain a healthy balance between the nutrition we take in and the energy we burn. Each of the three types of macros has its own benefits and serves its own purpose in maintaining a healthy body. For optimum health, we need to provide our bodies with a balance of macronutrients.
Foods High in Each Macro
Here are some of the best sources for the three macros.
- Breads, pastas, cereals, and baked goods
- Grains like rice, rye, oats, wheat, and barley
- Legumes like soy, peanuts, lentils, beans, and peas
- Fruits like apples, plantains, bananas, and mangoes
- Starchy vegetables like corn, winter squash, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
- Legumes like beans, peanuts, soy, peas, and lentils
- Animal meats like turkey, lamb, chicken, beef, and pork
- Dairy products like yogurt, cheese, whey protein, and milk
- Seafood, fish, shellfish
- Egg yolks, mayonnaise, nuts, and nut butters
- Fatty fish like salmon, anchovies, and sardines
- Full-fat dairy products like cheese, whole milk, cream, and yogurt
- Seeds like chia and flax
- Oils from fruits, nuts, and seeds
Notice that some foods overlap into more than one category. For example, nuts are a good source of fats and proteins.
What is the Optimal Macro Balance?
The optimum balance of macronutrients you need depends on the goal you're trying to achieve. Remember that macros are the components in food that your body requires to maintain its structures and systems. It needs these nutrients in a balanced amount as part of a healthy diet, so excluding or restricting any of them can throw your body's balance off.
To keep your macros in balance while getting the amount of each that your body needs, it's recommended that you track the percentage of your meals that contains each macro. The suggested ranges for macronutrient consumption to maintain balance are:
- Carbohydrates: 45 - 65%
- Proteins: 10 - 35%
- Fats: 20 - 35%
These ranges are for adults and are associated with a reduction in risk for chronic diseases. Adults who follow a diet that's outside of these recommendations have the potential to develop a nutritional deficiency disease.
If It Fits Your Macros
If your goal is to lose weight, but you don't want to feel like your diet is too restrictive or risk throwing your macros out of balance, the "If It Fits Your Macros" (IIFYM) approach may be just the thing for you. Rather than counting calories, IIFYM tracks the macros you consume. This allows for more flexibility in the foods you can enjoy.
IIFYM is simple with only two steps.
- Calculate your macros. This is how you determine how many grams of each macro you need each day.
- Meeting your macros. Track your food intake and adjust it as needed to stay within the range of macros you calculated for the day.
Tracking your macros is the bedrock of IIFYM.
How to Track Your Macros
The beauty of IIFYM is that you're allowed to eat anything if it fits your macros amounts. No foods or food groups are off-limits. Macro tracking can be used to gain weight, lose weight, or maintain weight. You can also track macros as part of other diet systems, such as intermittent fasting.
Whatever your fitness or health goals, macros tracking can be a big help. To get your own macronutrient levels in balance, start with the macronutrient calculator at Tiger Fitness.