Skip to main content

What are macronutrients? Understand the key to healthy eating

Your complete guide to protein, fat, and carbs

Meal prep
Ella Olsson / Pexels

Macronutrients are the fundamental components of our diet that provide us with the energy required for daily activities and support various bodily functions. Understanding macronutrients and how to use them to our advantage is crucial for achieving and maintaining optimal health and wellness. 

Many more people have been focusing on macronutrients as a new approach to nutrition, examining the basic building blocks of food. Delve into the world of macronutrients, exploring their importance, role in weight loss, and how they can be manipulated to benefit our overall well-being.

Assortment of vegetables.
Vanessa Loring / Pexels

What is a macronutrient?

Macronutrients, often referred to as “macros,” are the three essential nutrients that make up the bulk of our diet: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Each macronutrient serves a unique purpose, contributing to the proper functioning of our body and supporting various physiological processes.

  • Protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, as well as for making enzymes and hormones.
  • Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. They are broken down into glucose, which is then used by the cells for energy.
  • Fat is also a source of energy, but it also plays other important roles in the body, such as helping to absorb vitamins and minerals and protecting the organs.

The specific amount of each macronutrient you need will vary depending on your individual needs, such as your activity level and overall health.

Boiled eggs on toast.
Foodie Factor / Pexels

What are macros?

Protein

Protein is a macronutrient composed of amino acids, often described as the building blocks of life. These amino acids play a crucial role in maintaining and repairing tissues, producing enzymes and hormones, and supporting a robust immune system. 

Protein is so important that many people have come up with ideas like the high protein diet to focus on consuming more of them. Lots of protein is great, especially for building muscle, but just remember your body needs the other parts of a macro diet too.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body. When consumed, they are broken down into glucose, which fuels our cells, muscles, and brain. They’re common in grains and starchy foods like potatoes, as well as fruits and vegetables.

While there are simple and complex carbohydrates, both serve a vital function in our diet. However, the type of carbohydrates we consume can impact our blood sugar levels and overall health. Simple sugars, like glucose and sucrose, are usually unhealthy, and you may want to try to cut them out of your diet.

Fat

Fat is often misunderstood as a nutrient that should be avoided, but in reality, it is crucial for several bodily functions. Dietary fat provides essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own. They are necessary for brain health, hormone production, and cell membrane structure. Additionally, fat aids in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and contributes to the feeling of satiety after a meal.

Fruit salad in a bowl.
Josh Sorenson / Pexels

What is the difference between a macronutrient and a micronutrient?

While macronutrients are required in large amounts to provide energy, micronutrients are essential in smaller quantities for various physiological processes. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals, which play essential roles in immune function, bone health, and metabolism. While macronutrients supply energy and serve as the building blocks of our diet, micronutrients are like little helpers, ensuring all bodily functions run smoothly.

An egg, blueberries, almonds, and avocado.
Jenna Hamra / Pexels

What are the macros for weight loss?

When it comes to weight loss, understanding macros is crucial, but it’s essential to recognize that everyone’s nutritional needs are unique. Protein plays a particularly significant role in weight loss due to its satiating effect and its ability to preserve lean muscle mass during calorie restriction. However, both carbohydrates and fats are essential for a balanced diet, and it’s not necessary to eliminate either completely, as some fad diets suggest.

Determining the right macro ratio for weight loss can be complex and may require experimentation to find what works best for each individual. Adopting a “macro diet” approach, where macronutrient intake is tailored to personal goals, can be beneficial. Prioritizing protein and incorporating a balanced mix of carbohydrates and healthy fats can help achieve sustainable weight loss and overall well-being.

How much protein should I eat?

The recommended daily protein intake varies based on factors such as age, activity level, and individual goals. For example, athletes and individuals engaging in intense physical activity may require higher protein intake to support muscle recovery and growth.

Generally, though, the very minimum amount of protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of your body weight or 0.36 grams per pound. For example, someone weighing 150 pounds should eat, at the very absolute least, 54 grams of protein per day. This is the kind of bare minimum that you can get sick if you fall underneath. 

For a more realistic estimate, you can try around 0.8-1 gram per pound, which is about 1.8-2.2 per kilogram. For the same 150-pound person, that’s 120 grams per day. This is a good estimate of the requirements for doing most tasks and getting a reasonable amount of exercise. More exercise? More protein intake.

Person holding up an apple and donut.
Andres Ayrton / Pexels

What happens when you omit one macronutrient from your diet?

Eliminating any macronutrient entirely from your diet can have adverse effects on your health and well-being. Carbohydrates are often the first to be targeted, but doing so can lead to a lack of energy, mental fog, and nutritional deficiencies, as well as constipation and muscle cramps. Fat restriction may lead to inadequate absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids.

While protein deficiency is less common, it can lead to muscle wasting, impaired immune function, and delayed wound healing. Rather than eliminating any macronutrient, the key to a balanced and healthy diet is moderation and focusing on the right sources of each nutrient.

Slices of sourdough bread
Cats Coming / Pexels

Which macronutrient gives you the most energy?

Out of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates provide the most energy. When consumed, they are broken down into glucose, which is readily available to fuel our cells and supply energy for physical activities and mental processes. Properly balancing carbohydrate intake is essential for maintaining stable blood sugar levels and avoiding energy crashes.

Christine VanDoren
Christine is a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with an undergraduate degree from Missouri State University. Her…
These are the best keto snacks when you’re on the go
Stay in ketosis on your travels with these low-carb snack ideas
beef jerky sticks in black container on wooden table

When you’re on the go, you’re surrounded by carb-loaded snacks, junk foods, and sugary temptations that skyrocket your blood sugar and kick you out of ketosis. You can’t head to your pantry, cupboards, and fridge for your favorite grab-and-go keto snacks and goodies. The good news is there are more low-carb options available today at your local convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores, and even some restaurants. It’s also helpful to plan ahead when you can and bring keto-approved snacks with you in a cooler box or bag. Here are the best keto snacks to chow down on when you’re on the go.
1. Cheese

Plenty of cheeses are filling, high in protein, and low in carbs, including gouda, cheddar, goat’s cheese, full-fat cottage cheese, and blue cheese. For example, a one-ounce serving of mild cheddar cheese has 9 grams of fat, 7 grams of protein, and under 1 gram of carbs, which is a perfect choice for the keto diet. Steer clear of low-fat, no-fat, and highly processed cheeses. 

Read more
5 high-volume, low-calorie foods to make cutting easier
Lose body fat with these high-volume, low-calorie foods
cauliflower-rice

The "cutting period" of your diet and fitness routine requires a decrease in calories for a prolonged period to lose body fat while maintaining your muscle mass percentage. Once you switch from the bulking phase to the cutting phase, your body has to quickly adapt to running on much less energy consumed from food.
The cutting phase focuses on consuming lots of lean protein, nutrient-dense vegetables, and whole grains -- helping to keep you full while still maintaining a calorie deficit. Although this sounds easy, cutting can often leave you ragingly hungry with little to turn to when it comes to snacking. That's why consuming high volume low calorie foods is a great strategy to keep you full while keeping you on track with your diet. Discover our 5 favorite low calorie high volume foods to try during your next cut.

What is a high volume low-calorie food?

Read more
Is walking backwards on a treadmill beneficial? What you need to know
What to know about walking backwards as exercise
Sporty man training on walking treadmill at home, closeup

You'll only need to spend a few minutes examining the rows and rows of treadmills at your local gym to see a variety of approaches to cardiovascular fitness -- from power incline walking to running. While there's no right or wrong approach to fitness, how do you know which cardio routine is best to help you achieve your health and wellness goals?

One interesting workout you might see is a person walking backward on the treadmill. At first glance, this appears silly and, frankly, a waste of time. But is there some real science behind this trend? We break down both the benefits and limitations of walking backward on the treadmill and how to know if you should give it a try.
Why do people walk backward on the treadmill?

Read more