What the heck is a “macro” anyway?

If you have tried to lose weight, get fit, or even just read an article in a magazine recently, there’s a good chance you will have heard of “macros”. Everyone talks about “counting their macros” nowadays, but do you know what they are?

It’s quite simple really. “Macros” is short for macronutrients. That might not help much but it just means the nutrients that we need to consume in large amounts, i.e, proteins, fats and carbohydrates. (as opposed to micronutrients – nutrients we need to eat in small amounts, such as vitamins and minerals).

The average person (not on a special diet due to a medical condition) should aim to get 50-55% of their calories (kcals) from carbohydrates, 30-35% from fats and 10-15% from proteins. You can manually work all this out if you are tracking your food intake – carbohydrates and proteins provide 4kcals per gram whilst fats provide 9kcals per gram. However, it’s a lot easier to use a free app such as myfitnesspal, which also calculates roughly how many calories you should be eating a day (though I will do a post about that later – I want to focus on food quality rather than quantity for now) . If you read my previous post about having a balanced diet and want to start making some adjustments, you might find it helpful to start tracking your food to see where your intake is at the moment. If your macronutrient percentages are roughly okay, then have a look at the foods that make up those numbers and see if there are any healthy swaps you can make e.g, swap white starchy carbohydrates for wholegrain versions. If not, try and reduce things you are having too much of – maybe grill or bake instead of fry to reduce fat – and increase your intake in areas where you are lacking. If you stick to the recommendations in the Eatwell guide your macros can’t go far wrong! I’ve highlighted which foods are good sources of which macros below, but please contact me if you have any questions.

Proteins.

Practically everything has some protein in it. The best sources are eggs, dairy, meat and soya bean, with lentils, chickpeas and wheat not far behind. Proteins are made up of amino acids and there are 9 amino acids we need to eat every day. Animal protein and soya beans contain all of these essential amino acids but if you eat a good variety of foods, you can get all the amino acids you need from other sources.

Fats.

As well making up the bulk of most spreads and oils, fats are also present within foods such as meat, cheese, nuts and seeds, and are added to processed foods such as chocolate and crisps. If you need to reduce your fat intake, try and reduce fats from the sources outside the Eatwell plate (processed foods) rather than cutting down on healthy fats or foods that provide other important nutrients, such as dairy and nuts.

Carbohydrates.

Sugar is a carbohydrate, but you should aim for the bulk of your carbohydrates to be from starchy foods, and ideally from wholegrain sources such as wholemeal bread and brown rice. Fruits and vegetables are also a source of carbohydrate and you should aim to eat at least 5 portions a day. Obviously, fruit is sweet. This is because it contains natural sugar. Unless you are diabetic though, (in which case you need more specialist advice) don’t worry about that too much for now. Get in the habit of choosing healthy snacks first, and we’ll worry about tweaks later. Fruit and veg contain other nutrients and fibre, and will always be a better choice than an unhealthy snack.

So, that’s the gist of “macros”. You can count them if you want to, and if you’ve been advised to eat specific amounts of one or more of them, you might want to get an app to make your life easier. However, you don’t have to. If you want to improve your diet trying to eat in line with the Eatwell Guide is a great start – and there is no maths needed!

I’ll be doing future posts about each of the macronutrients – which one are you most interested to hear about? Let me know below and I’ll do that first!