What are Macronutrients, Why They’re Important, and Do You Need to Track them?
Updated: Mar 24
You’ve heard of macronutrients, but what exactly are they? How do they benefit your health?
You’ve also heard of tracking macros. What does that actually mean and why would someone track them? Is this something you need to do too?
Nutrients in our food fall into two main categories - Macronutrients and Micronutrients.
Macronutrients are nutrients your body needs in large amounts, hence macros, which are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Macronutrients provide your body energy, or calories, needed to maintain body functions and carry out the activities of daily life.
Micronutrients are the nutrients your body needs in smaller amounts and are classified into two main categories: vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients are also essential for life and health, but they’re needed in relatively small amounts hence, “micro.” Examples of micronutrients are vitamins A, C, D, E, and K. Minerals such as potassium, iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc. Listen to my podcast, What Are Micronutrients & Why You Should Care to learn more.
So, back to the matter at hand.
Macronutrients are the structural and energy-giving caloric constituents of our foods, they’re what our bodies run on. There are 3 categories of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Each macronutrient provides an important role in the body.
What do each of these macronutrients do for our health?
1. Carbohydrates give your body immediate energy
Carbohydrates are the body's quickest and easiest source of fuel, and the preferred source of energy for your brain.
Carbohydrates provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy used to support bodily functions and physical activity.When you eat carbs they are either used for immediate energy or stored in your muscles or liver as a reserve source of energy.
2. Protein helps rebuild and repair your body's tissues.
Protein provides amino acids, which are essential for building muscle, skin, blood, and important structures of the brain and nervous system
3. Fats are the most calorically dense macronutrient so they’re your source of long-lasting energy. Fats are essential for vitamin and mineral absorption, aiding in reducing inflammation, and Fat is important for achieving satisfaction or feeling satiated. Fat is vital for brain development, cell function, hormone balance and they provide insulation for tissues and protect your organs. Check out my podcast, “Don’t Fear Fat.”
Did you know that all foods contain all 3 macronutrients? Yes. However, foods are generally labeled by their primary macronutrient.
Examples of healthy carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates, which are found in fiber-rich vegetables like squash, beets, broccoli and fruit such as apples and blueberries. Healthy carbohydrates in the form of whole grains include quinoa and oats, legumes like lentils and garbanzo beans, and if you can tolerate it, dairy is a healthy carbohydrate.
Examples of healthy protein
Most foods contain some amount of protein but animal-based foods such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy are the most complete source of protein. Compared to plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds, animal protein contains all 20 amino acids, which are easier for the body to absorb and utilize compared to plant-based protein. Focus on consuming organic and grass fed, wild caught, and pasture raised when possible.
Examples of healthy fats
Fat is mainly found in oils and animal products such as omega 3 rich salmon, sardines and mackerel, nuts and nut butters, olives/olive oil, avocados/avocado oil, duck fat, coconut oil, butter, organic pastured eggs, bacon, grass-fed beef.
What should you be eating? The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Dietary Guidelines does have a recommended an “Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges” (AMDR) for adultsL
Carbs: 45–65% of your daily calories
Protein: 10–35% of your daily calories
Fat: 20–35% of your daily calories
Please keep in mind these are guidelines and that nutrition and wellness is bioindividual so there is no one formula that fits everyone.
Some people need more protein than others or some people need more carbohydrates than others and so on, but the goal is to eat a well rounded balance of these three macronutrients.
What is tracking macros and do you need to do it?
Counting macros is the process of tracking how many grams of each macronutrient you consume per day. People count macros for different reasons but generally it’s about eating the “right” ratio of nutrients and to help with their fitness or wellness goals.
If and when you do track your macros, remember that it’s extremely important to be aware that each of us has specific needs and the macronutrient ratios will vary based on each individual’s age, activity levels, sex, and so many other factors and circumstances.
Humans have existed and thrived for a few million years. Did our ancestors track macros or count calories for that matter? Nope.
Please keep in mind that our bodies are amazing and smart. When we slow down and listen to our bodies regarding hunger, fullness, and satisfaction, it can be transformative.
You can feel good, lose weight and reach your wellness goals without tracking or counting macros.
What’s more important is to look at the quality of your food choices and focus on real wholesome foods found in nature, and stay away from processed foods and foods that are inflammatory to you.
Contrary to diet culture and some diet practices, it’s my belief that we do need all three macronutrients. I also don’t track macros, or count calories, and I do not advise my clients to do so either.
I believe that the amount of attention you can pay to counting, weighing, measuring and recording your food, can leave you feeling less connected with your body.
Plus, focusing on tracking can fuel any already unhealthy or obsessive thoughts or habits in people who may have a history of eating disorders or people with a strained relationship with food, or perfectionist thinking.
So, if you’re looking to live healthily and feel good in your body, I believe that you must first learn to prioritize yourself and your needs, cultivate self-compassion and develop a lifestyle that suits you and your goals, interests, and needs that includes eating a wide variety of wholesome foods that will keep you feeling energized and nourished.
For more, listen to podcast epidote 117, What are Macronutrients, Why They’re Important, and Do You Need to Track them?
March 22, 2023