If you follow any fitness influencers on social media, or even if you’re just vaguely interested in the space, you’re bound to have come across the term ‘macronutrients’ or just, ‘macros’. It may seem like some new-fangled term coined by the industry, but what it represents is actually rather simple.
Nutrition Expert, Chandni Haldurai, helps us dive in and see what macronutrients really are.
So, what does the term ‘Macronutrients’ refer to?
Macronutrients refer to the nutrients that our bodies require in large amounts (that’s why the term ‘macro’), in order to maintain the body’s day-to-day functions. And the great part is, they’re most likely already present in your diet in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
What roles do these macronutrients play in our bodies?
Carbohydrates are sugars or polymers of sugars such as starches, that can be broken down through a chemical reaction with water into simple sugars. These give the body energy and aid brain and muscle function.
Proteins are large molecules composed of amino acids that our cells need to function properly. The regulation of body cells, tissues, and organs depends on them.
Fats or lipids are nutrients that add flavor and texture to the food you eat and are crucial for normal bodily functions. It supplies our bodies with energy while also aiding other nutrients with their roles.
So, how do you balance your macros?
Carbohydrates fall into two different categories:
These contain just one or two sugar molecules which make it easier for the GI tract to digest and absorb, thus quickly spiking blood sugar levels. They are present in their natural form in fruits and milk, and are not completely unhealthy.
However, simple carbs in candy, soda and syrups are made with processed and refined sugars and do not have vitamins, minerals or fibre. They are ‘empty calories’ and can lead to weight gain.
Also known as polysaccharides, these have three or more sugars. They are often referred to as starchy foods and include:
- Nuts, such as peanuts
- Fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn or bananas
- Whole grains, such as brown rice, wholewheat bread, rolled oats
- Legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils
These take time to digest, steadily increase blood sugar levels and provide more sustained energy thus making them a healthier choice.
How many carbohydrates do you actually need?
Carbs should make up about 45-65% of your calorie intake for the day — most coming from complex carbs.
Proteins can be classified into the following categories:
There is a general misconception that plant-based sources don’t contain enough protein. However, the truth is that most plant-based foods tend to have a good amino acid profile.
Lentils, beans, pulses, and legumes are rich in plant-based proteins and they are also rich in fiber and minerals. Peas, in particular yellow peas, have an exceptional amino acid profile. Raw legumes are ideal for sprouting and consuming.
When it comes to animal-based proteins, some may feel that they are unhealthy as compared to plant-based sources. But, animal protein generally has a high biological value, i.e. it contains a sufficient amount of amino acids to form all the proteins your body needs.
Lean protein such as chicken breast, egg white, fish would be the best choice for the health-conscious.
How much protein do you actually need?
Recommending exact amounts of protein for a person is difficult, because a range of factors such as age, gender, activity level, and status play a role.
For an average adult, the recommendation is to consume at least 0.8-1 g of protein for every kilogram of body weight per day. In other words, an adult weighing 70 kg should aim to eat at least 58-70 g of protein every day.
Fats or Lipids
Fats can be categorised into several different types:
- Trans fats — a sub-type of unsaturated fats that act like saturated fat
How much fat do you actually need?
Here’s what to keep in mind regarding consumption of fats.
- Total fat consumed: less than 30% of total percentage of energy intake- For example : if you are on a 1500 kcal diet then 30% of 1500 gives about 450 Kcal which is ~50 grams of fat per day (as 1g of fat gives 9 kcal).
- Choosing 2-3 teaspoons of oil daily and ½ a litre per month per person is adequate for a healthy lifestyle. Whole sources of fats that can be included are avocados, nuts, seeds and oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and sardines.
How is Nutrient Tracking different from Calorie Counting?
While calories are a measurement of energy going into the body, macronutrients are the key nutrients that your body needs to survive. Focusing solely on the former can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Thus, tracking each is important to healthy living.
What’s important to note is that macronutrients give you an idea of where calories come from and what they do to your body once you've consumed them. For example, a handful of nuts and a few pieces of chocolate might have the same number of calories - but each one’s nutrient profile is vastly different.
To sum up
The food we eat has a direct impact on our health and how we feel on a day-to-day basis. Macronutrients are just one of the many nutrients we need to keep our body functioning as it should - but as they say, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The key to healthy living is therefore in balance, and in an awareness of what’s in the food we eat.