If you have fitness friends and social media you’ve heard people talking about “macros”. Macros, short for macronutrients are the three major nutrients that make up the calorie content of food- Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat. Each macronutrient has a specific calorie content per gram:
Protein- 4 calories
Carbohydrates- 4 calories
Fat- 9 calories
Although weight loss is ultimately determined by calories, it’s important to realize that weight loss doesn’t always equate to an improved body composition or health. Depending on your goal you should be focusing on macronutrient ratios and not only calories.
Protein is a major macronutrient in meat, dairy, eggs, and fish. Protein is also found in high quantities in many cereals and whole grains as well as nuts, seeds, legumes, and can even found in some fruit. It’s no irony that the Greek word “protein” means “primary” or “in the lead” as it’s such an important macronutrient. Protein is used in our body to build and repair skeletal muscle tissue. You also need it to make enzymes and hormones.
There are many benefits to a high protein diet. High protein diets have been shown to increase lean body mass, be highly satiating, and improve fat loss. Protein supplementation has been shown to promote muscle hypertrophy and enhance gains in muscle strength in both untrained and trained individuals. Evidence also suggests that protein supplementation may accelerate gains in both aerobic and anaerobic power . Protein is also shown to help keep you from feeling hungry. It does this by reducing levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite . Protein can improve fat loss due to its high thermic effect. In other words, it requires more than 2 times more energy to metabolize than carbohydrates or fat This means your body will burn a lot more calories in the digestion of protein than it will carbohydrates or fat.
Carbohydrates are sugars, fruits, vegetables, fibers, and legumes. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source for immediate energy and can even be stored for energy to be used later . Carbohydrates also help preserve muscle and are important or optimal brain function. When consumed, carbohydrates are broken down by the body into sugars. One of these sugars, glucose is broken down and converted to glycogen, a polysaccharide that’s stored in the liver and muscles for energy . Glucose is also delivered to our brain cells, impacting memory, emotions, and learning.
Like proteins, fats can be found in a large variety of foods including meats, dairy, nuts, seeds, and even fruits. Like carbohydrates, fats are an important energy source for the body. Fats also help balance hormones, manage inflammation, and are important for brain function. Fat is the main source of energy for long duration exercise. The process of using fat as energy can take upwards of 6 hours and therefore isn’t as efficient for immediate energy as carbohydrates. Hormones are composed of both fat and cholesterol. For this reason, dietary fat is critical for hormone balance. There are also several fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K that need fat for absorption. Without proper absorption, the body may suffer from nutrient deficiency and therefore create further hormone imbalances. Omega-3, a fat found primarily in fish oils is known to lower bodily inflammation as well as to lower blood triglycerides, protecting against heart disease and lowering blood pressure.
As you can see, each macronutrient has a specific purpose. Depending on your type of training and goals, you may need to focus on certain macronutrients over others. If weight loss is your primary goal, protein can play a critical role in the process due to its satiating and calorie burning properties. As discussed carbohydrates are the most efficient form of immediate energy while fat is best for long duration exercise. Macronutrients are also important for hormone health and if your diet is severely low in fat for instance, you could suffer from nutrient deficiency and hormone imbalance.
Simply put, managing calories is crucial for weight loss while focusing on macronutrients is the key to improving the way you look and feel during the process of weight management. The ideal situation is one where both macronutrients and total calories are taken into consideration. For optimal aesthetics, health, and performance you should know the amount of calories needed for your weight and adjust your macronutrient ratios to manage how you get there.
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