When it comes to diet and nutrition goals — whether for healthy weight-loss, endurance, or building muscle — macronutrients are getting a lot of buzz.
But what are “macros”? And how do they impact one’s body? Fitness and nutrition blogs have endless content on tracking macros; some even offer macro calculators! But the concept can still be confusing, especially when some nutritionists can’t even agree on the best way to calculate macros.
Given all of the information circulating about this hot topic, we had a lot of questions. To answer our burning queries, we tapped two nutrition experts for their knowledge about the subject of macronutrients.
Keep scrolling for your everything guide to counting macros.
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What are macros?
First and foremost, “macros” are short for macronutrients. There are three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. “Macronutrients are the essential nutrients that are necessary for survival,” says Ariel Rasabi, a registered dietitian at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, Florida. “Essential nutrients are those that our body is unable to produce on its own, meaning we must get them through diet. In combination, all of these nutrients help our body and organs to function properly.”
What purpose do macronutrients serve?
Carbs, proteins, and fats are used for a variety of specific bodily processes, says Leah Silberman, a registered dietitian and founder of Tovita Nutrition in New York City. “Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which provides energy for our cells. Proteins are broken down into amino acids or dipeptides, which then may help repair muscles from daily wear-and-tear,” says Silberman. “Our brains actually prefer glucose as their primary source of fuel. Healthy fats are used to store energy, provide protection for our organs, assist with absorption of fat soluble vitamins, and so much more.”
What is the correct ratio of macronutrients?
In short, macronutrient ratio is dependent on a variety of elements, including age and lifestyle. “I believe the amount of macros we need each day varies from person to person,” says Silberman. “Someone who is really active may need more of certain macros than someone who is sedentary. Children need different amounts than adults. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all formula.”
With all things considered, for adults, there’s a recommended range suggested. “According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, adults should get 45% to 65% of their calories from carbohydrates, 20% to 35% of their calories from fat, and 10% to 35% of their calories from protein,” says Rasabi. “As a clinical dietitian, I have seen firsthand how these ranges can vary widely depending on each individual, their medical history, and their diet history.”
What to eat for perfect macros
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, there are options containing carbs, protein, and fats. “An example of something that contains all three macros could be a whole-egg vegetable omelet using pasture-raised eggs,” says Silberman. “The whole egg provides fat and protein, while the veggies provide some carbohydrates.”
Snacks can also contain carbs, protein, and fats. Rasabi recommends whole milk Greek yogurt as a great way to get all three macronutrients. Just be sure to read the nutrition label to ensure the macros are on point and there are no hidden sugars. A good quality yogurt may have 11 grams of fat, nine grams of carbs, and 20 grams of protein, according to Rasabi. “This would make for an excellent post-workout meal,” she adds.
How to accurately count and calculate macros
Conducting first-hand research is helpful, and credible internet sources such as the USDA can serve as a guide, too. “The best way to assess macros is by reading labels,” says Rasabi. “I always encourage my patients to avoid reading the health claims on the front of packages and go straight to the [nutrition] label. The nutrition label contains all the information that you need to make an informed decision. Doing research is always helpful, as long as you make sure that everything you read is coming from a credible source.”
Rasabi also supplies a cheat sheet: “Carbohydrates are found in grains, starchy vegetables, fruits, legumes, and dairy. Each gram of carbohydrate contains four calories. Fat is found in oils, nuts, nut butters, meat, fatty fish, and avocado. Each gram of fat contains nine calories, which is helpful when trying to make a meal more satiating. Foods that are rich in protein include eggs, meat, fish, dairy, soy, beans, and lentils. Each gram of protein contains four calories.”
There are also macro calculators online.
Before you start calculating macros
Speak with your nutritionist or physician to find the best ratio for you, because everyone’s body is different. “Before recommending your diet to a friend or following the advice of an influencer on social media, consider that you may be doing more harm than good,” says Rasabi. “Learning about macros is a great introduction into nutrition, but there are many other factors to take into consideration when making lifestyle changes.” It never hurts to consult your dietician, nutritionist, or physician before making alterations to your diet.
Written by Hilary Sheinbaum