Macronutrients 101 – The Basics

One of the biggest issues that I’ve seen with women who have recently embarked on their fitness journey is the calorie counting obsession. Often people become so obsessed with counting calories that it’s hard for them to understand why they aren’t seeing results, especially when they bring exercise into the equation. The problem isn’t the calories but the quality of the calories you consume.

Understanding macronutrients completely changed my outlook and I was more cautious of fueling my body with nutrient dense food. As a result, I started to see my body change, develop lean muscle and burn fat more efficiently. By adopting the macronutrient  approach you will slowly start to realize that not all calories are created equal.

What are macronutrients? 

Macronutrients are essential molecules apart of the human diet that contribute to that caloric content of foods. These are primarily protein, carbohydrates and fats. Quantities vary in foods and the unit of measurement is generally grams (g).

Remember this: Calories= Protein (x4) + Fat (x9) + Carbs (x4) 

Protein

Provides 4 calories per gram 

Generally speaking, foods high in protein and fiber will keep you feeling fuller for longer which can in turn reduce your calorie intake. Protein has many uses in the body from producing hormones and enzymes to muscle synthesis. Protein is required in order for muscles to undergo growth and repair-this process is known as anabolism. Some people believe that if they eat above their daily recommended protein intake they will build more muscle. However, this will not make your muscles grow any faster or help with fat loss. There is only so much protein that your body can utilize on a daily basis for muscle synthesis.

I am a vegetarian and I usually receive a lot of questions regarding some of my main sources of protein. Below I have listed some of the best sources of protein for vegetarians & vegans with the appropriate protein value per serving.

Legumes: 
Kidney beans 7.5g/ 1/2 cup
Black beans 8g/ 1/2 cup
Chickpea 7g/ 1/2 cup

Seeds:
Sunflower 7g/ 1 /4 cup
Pumpkin 9g/ 1/4cup
Flax seeds 2g / 2tbsp

Nuts:
Almonds 6g/ 1 oz
Pistachios 6g/ 1 oz
Walnuts 4.7g/ 1oz

Dairy:
Eggs 6g/ egg
Greek yoghurt 10g/ 150g
Feta cheese 14g/ 1 cup

Grains:
Oats 6g/ 1 cup cooked
Quinoa 4g/  1/2 cup cooked
Brown Rice 2.5g/ 1/2 cup cooked

Soy products:
Tempeh 22g/ 1/2 cup
Tofu 9g/ 4oz
Silk Protein Nutmilk 10g/ 100g (I’m obsessed with this stuff)
Edamame 8.5g/ 1/2 cup

Spreads: 
Peanut Butter 8g/2 tbsp
Refried beans 6g/ 1/2 cup
Almond butter 7g/ 2 tbsp

Fat

Provides 9 calories per gram

Fats are a vital nutrient needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (D, K, E, A), blood sugar regulation, hormone regulation and many more. Fat is a backup fuel source (carbohydrates are our main fuel source). We tend to burn fat when we are at a basal resting state.

The amount of fat we consume in our diets will differ from person to person. Some people will have a higher energy expenditure therefore they will need to increase their fat intake in order to meet the energy demands of their body.

One of the most common misconceptions out there is that if you eat a lot of fat it will make you fat. I will be the first to admit that before I did my own research I was definitely a believer of this. People are quick to opt for fat-free alternatives not realising that the problem isn’t necessarily the fats. If you are not maintaining your caloric balance you will gain weight.

Great fat sources:
Coconut Oil 14g/ 1 tsbp
Olive Oil 14g/ 1 tbsp
Avocado 21g/ 146g
Egg yolks 4.5g/ 17g

Carbohydrates

Provides 4 calories per gram

Carbs are vital for performance, health and improved body composition. It was only until I altered my carbohydrate macros and increased them greatly that I started to see the results I wanted from my training. With the intense workouts that I do weekly I needed to have a steady supply of carbs to fuel my body.

Carbs are usually broken down into two categories: simple carbs (consisting of one or two sugar molecules) or complex carbs (made up of a chain of sugar molecules ).  Fiber and starch are two examples of complex carbohydrates.

Foods that have a high glycemic index (such as white bread, cookies etc.) can lead to an acute spike in blood sugar. This will give you a quick burst of energy however soon enough you will fall victim to the well-known ‘sugar crash’. This is one of the many reasons why it’s important to opt for whole grains as they take longer to digest as opposed to processed grains.

Main sources of dietary fiber: 
Fruits
Vegetables
Nuts
Beans
Whole grains

Main sources of starch: 
Whole wheat bread
Cereal
Oats
Rice


Alcohol

Provides 7 calories per gram

Now before you get excited, alcohol is categorized as a macronutrient as it provides 7 calories per gram but it does not offer any other health benefits. Alcohol can destroy tissues and it is toxic in high amounts. However, since it does provide energy it is considered a macronutrient altough it does not provide any other benefits.

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Counting calories vs counting macros

So the laws of thermodynamics still apply when solely counting calories- it’s basic science. If you remain in a caloric deficit yes you will lose weight. However your weight loss journey can come to an abrupt halt if you ignore macronutrients.

If you consume an insufficient amount of protein whilst maintaining your caloric deficit this can cause you to lose that hard earned muscle. If you are not consuming enough fat this can directly influence your hormones that assist with your continued weight loss. Carbohydrates are so important during training and if you do not consume enough this can have a negative effect on your training. Counting macros allows you to focus on fueling your body with quality calories.

To make a long story short, it is not about how many calories you consume but that quality of the calories. Even if you are on a strict low calorie diet you could eat 5 packs of donuts and hit your caloric intake but you will not get the vital nutrients you need. By ensuring you are including the necessary macronutrients in your diet that make up your daily caloric intake you will start to see changes both mentally and physically.

 

How do I calculate my macros?

Firstly, you need to figure out your optimal consumption that is tailored for you! An easy way of doing this is using the ‘If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)’ calculator. You can find it here

This calculator makes it a lot easier by calculating your daily macro intake depending on your age, weight, lifestyle etc.

 

How should I track my macros?

OK you now know your macros that make up your caloric intake, now it’s time to track them. Staying on track and being consistent is a game changer when you want to lose weight. The one thing that I cannot stress enough is portion control! It is time to invest in a food scale to help ensure that you are not overeating or undereating. Your goal is to hit your macro target daily. I will be the first to admit that the food scale scared me at first. I thought I would be overly obsessed with weighing every little thing. However that was not the case. It gave me a good insight on how to portion my food and I roughly know what serving size to use in order to obtain the macros needed. You may get to a point where you find that you will not need the scale anymore. It is just a starting point and I highly recommend it for beginners. You can purchase a food scale here.

When you continue to track your food you can see what food sources are more nutrient dense than others. Another game changer for me is the fitness app known as MyFitnessPal. You can manually log or scan barcodes on food and log them in your daily diary. You can also hit the ‘nutrient’ tab and see if you are on track with your daily macro target. You can download the app here for iPhone or Android.

 

Why should I count macros?

Everyone is different- no two people are the same. Your food preferences, nutrition, calories and hormones are likely to change on a daily basis. You give yourself more freedom with particular food choices by adopting a flexibile approach to dieting whilst also maintaining good eating habits and consuming nutrient dense food.

 

Does serving size matter?

YES! This is why I encourage you to purchase a food scale to help you on your fitness journey. This will make it easier for you to stay on track and can help you with your portion sizes. It is so important to pay attention to the information listed on nutrition labels. The serving size on the label is for one serving. This is important to remember as many products will have an average of 2-3 servings in one product. Underneath the serving size you can find how many servings are in that particular product.

For example, here is a bottle of Mountain Dew:

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Looking at the nutrition label you can make the assumption that the macros listed on the bottle are:

Fat: 0g
Protein: 0g
Carbs: 31g

A lot of people will assume that if they drink the whole bottle of Mountain Dew they will only consume 31g of carbs. However this is not the case.

The ‘Serving Per Container’ is 2.5. Thus, in reality the true macros for this bottle of Mountain Dew are:

Fat: 0 g (0g*2.5)
Carbs: 78 g (31g*2.5)
Protein: 0g (0g*2.5)

Be sure to read nutrition labels carefully. Some things such as vegetables and fruits may not come with a nutrition label. However, if you google it you are able to find it.

Meal prep, meal prep, meal prep!

Meal prepping is a huge key to staying on track and hitting your daily macro intake. It allows you to be in control of exactly what you are putting into your body on a daily basis which makes it a lot easier to hit your goals. Macronutrient tracking will take a little bit of practice but it is always better to plan your day in advance as it allows you to make slight adjustments if needed. Here are some helpful hacks thanks to MyFitnessPal:

High in carbs, low in protein: fruits and vegetables
High in carbs, low in fat: pasta, rice, cereal, bread, legumes, fruits, vegetables
High in fat, low in carbs: nuts, seeds, olive oil, cheese
High in fat, low in protein: avocado, olive oil, coconut milk
High in protein, low in carbs: eggs, meat, fish
High in protein, low in fat: nonfat Greek yogurt, cottage or cream cheese, turkey or chicken breast, lean ground beef, whey protein powder

At the end of the day it is all about education and awareness. People will continue to make the same mistakes that impact their progress because majority of the time some of them do not know any better. I was definitely one of those people. I really hope that this post has been helpful to those of you striving to live a better, happier and balanced lifestyle.

“Success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally. It comes from what you do consistently”. -Marie Forleo

Love Mel x


Melanie Moore is an island girl born and raised in the sunny Cayman Islands. She is a part-time Fitness Blogger based between Grand Cayman and Florida. She strives to educate women on different aspects of health and fitness and to help women understand how to create a healthy balanced lifestyle. She loves food, fashion and traveling. For all inquiries email: pushupsinparadise@outlook.com.