If you are new to the fitness world, I’m sure you have heard or read the word macro or macro-nutrients during your first fitness online searches.
So what are they?
Are they important?
Should you be tracking them?
Well I’ll break it down for you while keeping it relatively simple.
To start I would like to point out that in a perfect world you would track your macros (and hit your daily targets) every single day, in and out. In a pretty good world you would hit your protein target (which is one of the three macro-nutrients…I’ll get to that) and you would also track and hit your target calorie intake. Finally, in a world where you have a job, classes, 2 kids, a dog… anything that takes up most of your day, well then hitting your calorie intake goal and not eating complete shit will suffice.
The three macro-nutrients
As you can see above there are three macro-nutrients. When you track your macros and set a “target”, all you are doing is aiming to consume the big three (protein, fats and carbohydrates) in a certain ratio. Each macro-nutrient is used for different purposes by the body. Depending on your goals, you may need one more than the other.
So what do they do?
Due to the importance of protein in the world of building muscle we will focus on this bad boy first.
What types of food contain protein? – Protein is commonly found in animal food products. So when you are chowin’ down on some wings during happy hour…well at least you are getting in some protein. On a more serious note, it can be found in any product which originates from an animal.
So you just had a chicken breast for dinner? PROTEIN.
You had a few slices of roast beef on your sandwich at lunch? PROTEIN.
Eggs for breakfast you say? PROTEIN.
Also, foods such as nuts and legumes contain protein (peanuts, black beans, etc.)
So body…what are you using all of this protein for? – Well to start off, each gram of protein contains 4 calories. So lets say a guy says he consumes mehhh I don’t know… 200 grams of protein a day. Well 200g x 4 calories = 800 calories alone from protein. So now we are starting to see where calories and amounts are coming from, but back to protein!
Proteins are composed of amino acids – I don’t want to over complicate things, but amino acids are just organic compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur and oxygen. That last fact.. forget it, it doesn’t help you in your fitness journey.
OK.. amino acids… so what? – Well bros let’s keep it simple, if proteins are the building blocks of muscle and amino acids are the building blocks of protein, then amino acids are pretty important. So in order to build muscle you must consume enough protein which will break down into enough amino acids!
So how much is enough? – I’ve heard it all to tell you the truth. Studies have shown that 0.8 grams per kilogram (or 2.2 lbs for us Americans) of bodyweight is enough, but then other studies have shown that over 2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight may be appropriate for highly competitive athletes. Honestly, when I was a college athlete I took in around 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, not per kilogram… per pound. Probably a bit of an overkill, but hey it seemed to work for me. To play it safe just take your weight in pounds, multiply it by 0.8 to 1 and stick to it. For example, your a guy that weighs 150 pounds soooo… 150 x 0.8 = 120 grams or 150 x 1 = 150 grams of muscle building protein.
One last tid bit – Protein is known to keep you “fuller” for a longer period of time. So if you happen to be an over-eater, try eating a protein packed breakfast. Also, if you can’t fight the urge to snack… swallow down some nuts or beef jerky (might smell weird at the office), but you get the idea. This will help you fight cravings and that oh so strong urge to chow down on carbs 24/7.
Despite that last sentence, carbohydrates are not the enemy…if you consume them in correct amounts.
What types of food contain carbohydrates? – Any food containing sugar, starches or fiber. In other words, any food you want to eat ever.
Those bread sticks? CARBS.
Grandma’s pasta? CARBS.
Sweet potatoes? CARBS.
Fruit…? CARBS. (sugars remember?)
Why do our bodies need carbohydrates? – Once again I’ll start off by letting you know that each gram of carbohydrates will net you 4 calories. Sounds familiar you say? Correct. Carbohydrates contain the same amount of calories per gram as protein. To be overly simple, carbohydrates are used as energy for your cells. Carbs are broken down into glucose which your cells can then use as fuel. So now that that’s out there let’s move on.
Carbohydrates are not all equal! – I know I totally just flipped the script, but listen up. I’m sure most of you have heard of simple carbs and complex carbs. Well here is a little simple explanation.
Simple Carbohydrates – Sugars. They are usually made of one or two sugar molecules. Super quick source of energy due to their ability to be rapidly digest. For example, emmmm… skittles.
Complex Carbohydrates – These guys are made up of what you could call a strand of sugar molecules. This structure is much more “complex”… get it? Usually complex carbs contain a larger amount of fiber compared to its simple counterpart. Also, complex carbs are digested much slower than simple carbs. A nice example of this would be the oh so amazing sweet potato.
So how many grams of carbs should you be taking in a day? – The amount varies depending on the individual and his or her exercise habits. Some very active athletes consume over 300 grams a day ( 1200 calories… 300g x 4 calories, remember?) while others who may only train 2-3 times a week are looking at much less due to the fact that their cells do not need as much energy.
I keep it simple. For me (192lbs. / male / 5’10” / train 4-5 times a week), I go with a big ol’ 375 grams of carbs a day. I know, I know…. that is a lot, but here me out. I consume around 3000 calories a day. Of that 3000 calories about 768 calories (really rough “about” there) are coming from protein. I take in 192 grams”ish” of protein which at 4 calories a gram is 192×4= WHAM 768. That’s near 25% of my daily caloric intake. I also try to keep my fats around 25%, but we will cover that later. That leaves 50% for carbs which is 1500 calories daily. So at 4 calories per gram we are looking at 1500/4= 375 grams or carbs a day. Just to let everyone know… I’m not pounding skittles and snickers and washing it down with a coke… I just eat a ridiculous amount of brown rice and yams.
I want to open up with this statement. Dietary fats do not, I repeat! DO NOT result in an elevated body fat percentage. The fat you eat does not automatically become that stuff jiggling around your mid section. That’s just not how it works.
So if fats aren’t making us fat what are they up to? – To start, fats are actually our body’s most efficient energy source. Unlike both proteins and carbohydrates, a gram of fat contains 9 calories. That is more than double the calorie count of the other 2 macros. Fats also help the body regulate hormones. Healthy brain function is also directly related to fat consumption. Hey you need help absorbing vitamins, body? Well fat can help you there too. One last thing… fat is an essential nutrient. Yeah, we need it to live.
What types of food contain fats? – Animal products. Fish. Oils. Butters. Nuts. Nut butters. The list goes on and on. So just keep that peanut butter handy my friend.
I’m just going to keep this simple – Keep your fats around 20-25% of your daily caloric intake. Stay healthy and gain all of the benefits mentioned above by consuming enough fats. That’s that on that.
So super quick recap
- Proteins = building blocks of muscle
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
- 0.8 to 1 multiplied by your body weight in pounds will give you the grams of protein you should consume daily
- Carbohydrates = energy for your cells
- 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories
- If you are training hard go ahead and use carbs as 50% of your daily caloric intake.
- Fats = Just look above, they are awesome
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
- Keep it to 20-25% of your daily caloric intake
So take this new found food knowledge and pair it with a decent weight training routine cough.. cough… https://easymuscle101.com/2017/10/01/simple-upper-lower-4-day-routine/ to start transforming your body into something you are proud of.