What are Macronutrients, and What Do They Mean for Your Diet?

If you frequent health forums or fitness blogs, you’ll have read the word “macros” before.  The word is short for macronutrients. That leads to the question, “what are macronutrients?”

The macronutrients a person consumes are what the body needs to function properly.  They are the nutrients from protein, fats, and carbohydrates that make up a person’s daily nutrition.

The amount of macronutrients, and ratio of one to the other is what people alter to achieve a certain result.  For example, lowering carbs and fats while ramping up the protein is what body builders do to gain more muscle.  Runners will cut protein while increasing carbs to give themselves a rush for a big race.

what are macronutrients

What is Protein?

You’ve probably heard about how influential protein is to gaining muscle, but it also gives you healthy skin, hair, nails, eyes, and organs.  Protein gets into the cells and helps the body regulate what is healthy to let into the cells themselves, and what should be repelled.  They can be used to transport some cells to other locations where they’d be more useful, too.

Protein is broken down into amino acids and peptides which are used for a variety of tasks within the body.  Chemical reactions in your body are achieved with the enzymes from amino acids and peptides.

protein, peptide, and amino acid absorption

The USDA has recommendations for the amount of macronutrients a person should have per day.  When you see your food labels, you’ll notice that the USDA regulates how food companies report the ingredients in their products.  It’s all based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.  Protein provides the body with 4 calories per gram.  The USDA recommends 5 to 35% of a person’s calories per day should come from protein.

There are proteins in processed foods, but the bad ingredients far outweigh the good ones, so you should be getting your protein from natural sources like lean meats, beans, and plant sources.

What are Carbohydrates?

The body requires fiber to operate and work efficiently.  Fiber comes from a variety of carbohydrates.  The USDA recommends that people should eat 45-65% of their calories in the form of carbs.  This statistic can freak out people who have been warned that carbs are bad for you.  Keep in mind that there are actually two kinds of carbohydrates; complex and simple.

complex vs simple carbs

Complex carbs are ones that take the body a while to digest.  They are normally foods like squash, beans, and whole grains.  Fruit is considered a simple carbohydrate, but is still essential to a healthy diet.  When making the choice between food like white pasta, which is a simple or bad carb, or brown rice, which is a complex or beneficial carbohydrate, you’ll want to pick brown rice.

It can be tough to understand the difference between processed, simple carbs, and complex ones.  It’s usually best to stay away from white foods like pasta, white bread, or crackers.

What is Fat?

In terms of why your body needs fats from foods, it uses fat to absorb vitamins.  Dietary fats will include saturated as well as unsaturated fats.  One type of fat is good for your body and one isn’t great at all.  This is what can be confusing to most people who strive to remove fats from their diet when they’re trying to lose weight.

Saturated fats come from animal sources like steak, hamburger and pork.  Unsaturated fats are derived from plants.  There are also trans fats that are considered poison for the body. They raise the bad cholesterol in your body, and should never be included in a healthy diet.  There are also fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 that are good for a healthy body.

saturated-vs-unsaturated-fat

There should always be a balance between the good macronutrients.  Even though you might want to eliminate fats from your daily intake, the USDA concludes that all of the macronutrients are vital in combination with the others.  They advocate that daily calories from fats should account for 20-40% of the person’s daily calories.

Good fats are found in nuts, avocados, olives, seeds and healthy oils like olive oil, flaxseed oil, and sesame oil.

What’s Wrong with Focusing on Macronutrients?

Overall, there should be a healthy balance of these macronutrients to ensure that no key element is missing from your diet. Most of the time, diets will talk about the need for more protein and less carbohydrates, but they won’t explain the difference between good and bad carbs.

Good-Carbs-vs-Bad-Carbs

Conclusion

The needs of your body specifically are vastly different from the person next to you.  The amount and percentage of macronutrients will depend on how much exercise you get on a daily basis.  For extremely active people, you have to ensure that you’re getting the right amount of proteins, carbs, and fats in your diet.  If you’re more sedentary, you won’t need as many calories and you will need to keep the bad nutrients to a minimum.  Your health can also influence the balance of percentages when it comes to the macronutrients in your diet.

Jeanette Kierstead

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Jeanette Kierstead