WHAT THE HECK ARE “MACRO’S” ANYWAY???
As a dental health professional and fitness enthusiast, I’ve known for a long time the importance of proper nutrition. But in the last year or so, I kept hearing the term, “MACROS” thrown around and I never really knew what it meant. With this post, I wanted to clear the air a bit and summarize what I’ve learned about “MACROS” which is simply a term used to describe the basic nutrients our bodies need to grow healthy and strong.
We all know that this time of year finds thousands of ambitious people desiring to become fit and healthy. There are countless Youtube videos, exercise programs, group fitness classes and gym memberships available to help teach a person how to get in shape. But what a lot of people don’t seem to realize is that our level of fitness is determined by about 10% of WHAT WE DO IN THE GYM and about 90% of WHAT WE DO OUTSIDE THE GYM. If we don’t keep track of what we put into our bodies, much of the hard work we do in the gym can just be thrown out the window!!!
So-What the heck are macros anyway?
Macronutrients–The three fundamental elements of nutrition our bodies need to survive, grow and thrive:
Proteins Carbohydrates Fats
The focus of this discussion is about your QUALITY OF LIFE and how it relates to your muscle health. Dr. Gabriellle Lyon @drgabriellelyon on Instagram, is a physician and founder of “Muscle Centric Medicine''. She has stated that, “WE AREN’T OVERFAT, WE ARE UNDERMUSCLED.” Skeletal muscle is like our body armor. It helps to combat inflammation and is the largest site for glucose disposal. She calls muscle our “Organ of Longevity'' and we have voluntary control over its development to positively contribute to the quality of our lives.
The most important INVESTMENT we could ever make would be making a daily commitment to take care of our most important asset...our body. But for most, this will require some degree of change.
By change I mean...CHANGE! You must literally CHANGE from who you have been into that person that you truly want to BECOME. If you are to become the better version of yourself, you actually must continue to CHANGE and find ways to keep tweaking yourself into becoming better and better every day. It takes EXTREME DESIRE TO CHANGE!
I’m not going to dwell on the attributes of “change” itself, which is mostly mental, but focus here on how to actually change your body composition into that of a stronger, healthier and fitter version of you. This post is simply for anyone who suspects they are a bit too soft or weigh too much and would like to learn how to shed some of those pudgy pounds. More importantly, ADD SOME HEALTHY MUSCLE!!!
Now, I mentioned that in order for you to change, you must literally become a different person mentally. WE ALL CAN CHANGE...BUT IT TAKES TIME. In order to move forward, you must know what got you to where you are. More than likely, to get to that new version of yourself you are going to have to change your HABITS AND DECISIONS that you've established throughout your life so far and start practicing a different way of living to get to that next level. If you continue what you’ve been doing, you will NOT become any different.
Therefore, it will be very helpful at this time for you to really START EVALUATING YOURSELF. How much do you exercise? How many meals do you eat a day? How much food do you eat each meal? What type of food do you eat in those meals? How much water do you consume?
It is vital that you understand what you are putting in your body. This lesson will discuss the “building blocks” of our bodies. This is where the term “MACROS” comes into play. MACROS!!!
We are talking about “Macronutrients” which are the main substances that our bodies require for us to ingest every day in order to live, grow, think and move. There are three main MACROS that I will discuss: Proteins, Carbohydrates and Fats. Just as a building requires concrete, steel or wood in order to stay upright and withstand environmental forces, our bodies need a delicate balance of each of the three main MACROS in order for us to stay ‘upright’!
This discussion will not get too deep into the weeds on the chemical nature of each of these MACROS and how they interact with one another. Rather, I will discuss the basic needs that a body must have in order to attain a lean physique for optimum health and longevity.
As discussed previously, your quality of life is a direct correlation to your muscle health. Why is that? It’s because, if you have a weak musculo-skeletal system, you are NOT going to be able to take care of yourself and complete normal daily tasks...not to mention enjoy going places and doing things that a healthy strong body can allow you to do. So what is a lean physique? I consider a person to have a lean physique if they have an ideal healthy body weight (not too light, weak and frail), with a fair amount of lean muscle... the ability to see a nice 6-pack of abdominals helps too!
But, what is the “ideal” body weight that a person should shoot for?
That is a tough question that one should probably speak with their PHYSICIAN, DIETITIAN or FITNESS PROFESSIONAL about. There are many charts online that discuss ideal body weight for someone your height. Online charts can be a good place to start, however, we have to take into account a person's skeletal weight and muscle weight as well...as there can be great variability from one person to another. This is where your doctor or other professional could help.
CALORIES Prior to discussing the individual MACROS, it is also VERY important to discuss CALORIES. CALORIES DO MATTER. We all must know how many calories we are taking in each day. There is some controversy in whether or not counting calories for weight control matters or not. But again, in general, YES...IT DOES! If you eat more calories than you are burning off, then you typically will be gaining weight in FAT. Now, of course, the bodybuilder type has the goal of ADDING body weight in the form of muscle. Therefore, increased caloric intake for a person that has an extreme exercise regimen is important for them to be able to add lean muscle while also being concerned with the delicate balance of not putting on too much FAT.
Let’s keep this discussion limited to the average person who wants to lose some excess fat in order to EXPOSE AND BUILD those underlying abdominal (and other) muscles!
WHERE TO START? Okay, so let’s not get too super scientific about this! It is all so personalized to each individual that there is NO PERFECT PLAN that would apply for everyone. But one thing IS certain for everyone–YOU MUST UTILIZE TWO WEIGHT SCALES EVERY DAY:
ONE for the food that you will be eating
ONE for your body
In order for you to know how much you are eating, you must know what it weighs in grams or ounces. This is important.
Each gram of FAT contains 9 calories.
Each gram of PROTEIN contains 4 calories.
Each gram of CARBOHYDRATE contains 4 calories.
Calories are the FUEL for your body, just as Gasoline is the FUEL for your car. If you put too much fuel into the gasoline tank of your car, it will come out immediately and run down the side of your car. If you fill up your body with too many calories, it could come back up the same way it went in, but more than likely, your stomach will expand a bit and allow more FUEL in than it needs. Do this too frequently and your body will do something that your car cannot do...your body CAN STORE THE EXCESS FUEL as FAT!!! This is why it is so important to know how much FUEL your body requires to survive and thrive. All extra calories that you do not need will be stored in the adipose tissues (fat cells) of your body.
PROTEIN In my opinion, protein is the most important MACRO. Protein is basically a compilation of 20 different amino acids that the body uses in order to build muscle. Actually, protein is needed for many various bodily functions. Different organs of the body require protein in order to function properly to keep us alive. Your brain, heart, blood vessels, intestines, skin and hair require protein to work effectively. The immune system also requires lots of protein to build all of the components required to protect our bodies from bacterial and viral infections. If we consume limited amounts of protein, these crucial systems will be “fed” first. Building SKELETAL MUSCLE is way down the list of importance. This is why, if we want to build strong bodies, we must consume enough protein to actually fuel those crucial systems AND our muscle cells in order for them to grow and get stronger.
This begs the question, “how much protein should we be eating”? It is known the average person should be eating from 0.75 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of their ideal body weight per day. Actually, 1.0 gram per pound is considered the Golden number, so let’s stick with that for simplicity. The body just can’t utilize much more protein than 1.0 gram per pound. Any extra protein is simply not able to be used for muscle growth.
EXAMPLE: A MAN WANTING TO WEIGH 180 POUNDS: Since 1.0 gram of protein contains 4 calories, we could estimate the person that would like to weigh 180 pounds should eat 180.0 grams of protein. This amount of protein would provide 180.0 x 4 calories...720 calories. This is a good place to start figuring how many calories one should be eating each day. He should start the diet by dividing the day into 5 or 6 meals while eating 30-40 grams of protein each meal.
Grams of protein
1 Whole Egg
1/2 Cup Egg White
1 oz Salmon
1 oz Chicken
1 oz Turkey
1 oz Sirloin
Whey Protein 50 grams
Historically, carbohydrates have been greatly misunderstood by the general population. A lot of people try to stick to “low carb” diets to lose weight. However, GOOD CARBS or “complex carbohydrates” are needed to HELP GROW MUSCLE. It’s the “simple sugars” that we should avoid. The term “carbohydrate” typically comes in two different forms–simple (or simple sugars) and complex (or starches).
Simple sugars provide NO nutritional benefit other than providing energy so they are often referred to as “empty calories”. These simple sugars can raise blood glucose levels quickly since they are digested so quickly. These types of sugars are found in many natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and milk. Simple sugars are also found in foods like white bread, cake, donuts, candy bars, chocolates, hard candies and soda. These are the types of foods we must avoid to lower blood glucose levels and prevent excessive weight gain.
Complex Carbohydrates are what we need! We know that when we ingest complex carbohydrates like vegetables, sweet potatoes, rice and oatmeal, our bodies release Insulin. Insulin is an unbelievably powerful ANABOLIC HORMONE. Insulin is a trigger for MUSCLE GROWTH when combined with resistance training and a relatively high caloric diet. Eating complex carbohydrates throughout the day will help to ensure that your body is secreting enough insulin to protect against muscle loss.
Complex Carbohydrates also help DECREASE CORTISOL levels in the bloodstream. Cortisol is a Catabolic hormone that inhibits muscle growth by breaking down molecules to release energy. If there is a higher level of catabolic hormones than anabolic hormones in the body, you will begin to lose muscle mass. Cortisol also causes fatigue...so be sure to eat enough carbohydrates!!!
HOW MANY GRAMS OF CARBOHYDRATES TO EAT PER DAY? Many people suggest scaling your carbohydrate consumption to your workload for the day:
Light workload or “off” day: 1 gram per pound
Moderate work effort: 1.5 grams per pound
Heavy workload: 2.0 grams per pound
Another method involves simply getting your Protein levels where needed first. Second, get your Fat levels where needed (discussed in the following paragraph). Then, fill the rest of your calories for the day with Carbohydrates. I prefer to keep the Fat levels in the diet to a minimum and maximize the amount of Carbohydrates to be utilized for energy production.
EXAMPLE: A PERSON WANTING TO WEIGH 180 POUNDS: Since 1.0 gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories, a person wanting to weigh 180 pounds should eat 180 to 360 grams of carbohydrates per day (AGAIN, depending on his/her energy expenditure). That amount of good carbohydrates provides 720-1,440 calories/day.
Grams in Carbohydrates
Grams in Protein
1/2 cup Oatmeal
2 oz Blueberries
1 cup Jasmine Rice
1 cup White Rice
1 cup Sweet Potatoes
1 cup (or 91g) Broccoli
Our bodies require some level of fat intake per day for the production of certain hormones. Fat also helps the body absorb Vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins are important for bone health, immune function and coagulation.
There are basically two different classes of fats: SATURATED and UNSATURATED.
SATURATED FATS are the “bad” kind. Too much in your diet can raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood which can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Foods containing saturated fats are meats, butter, cheese, cream, ice cream, cheese crackers, cakes and pastries. Avoid these if you can!
UNSATURATED FATS come in two forms: “Monounsaturated fats” protect your heart by maintaining levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. This type of fat can be found in Olive oil, avocados, and nuts like almonds, brazils, and peanuts. “Polyunsaturated fats” can also help lower the level of “bad” LDL cholesterol in your blood. Two main types are Omega-6 which can be found in vegetable oils like corn, sunflower seeds and some nuts. Omega-3 fats are found in fish like trout, mackerel and salmon.
The perfect amount of fat we should consume in our diets is not clear. A good starting point would be 0.4-0.5 grams per pound per day and then evaluate how you are feeling. One gram of fat has 9 calories (in comparison with proteins and carbs each having 4 calories) so the more limited amount is probably better as far as limiting excess fat deposition in adipose tissue...just don’t go much below 0.3 grams per pound per day.
Back to our example of an ideal body weight of 180 pounds. This person would be looking to eat about 72-90 grams of fat per day...which would provide 648-810 calories per day from fat.
Grams of Fat
1 Whole Egg
1/2 (50g) Avocado
1/4 cup Almonds
1 Tbsp MCT Oil
3 oz Salmon
1 Tbsp Natural Peanut Butter
So, the Calorie intake for a person who would like to weigh 180 pounds should eat:
720 Calories from PROTEIN
648 Calories from FAT (keep on the low end)
720-1440 Calories from CARBOHYDRATE (1.0-2.0 grams x 180 pounds x 4 calories per gram...depending on activity level)
Total of 2,088 to 2,808 Calories
Again, this is only a rough example and will change from person to person depending on the size you would like to attain. Input from your doctor, dietitian or personal trainer could help.
TRIAL AND ERROR
Once you have dialed in a certain amount of calories from each of the macros discussed, then comes the trial and error. You should weigh yourself each day, first thing in the morning to evaluate your progress. Day to day you probably won’t notice much difference. You may notice some drastic changes in the first week. It is not uncommon for someone starting a new diet to lose five to ten pounds of body weight due to water loss from eating cleaner. This is not likely sustainable from week to week thereafter. A healthy weight loss goal (after the first week of dieting) should be from one to two pounds per week. If you are not losing as much weight as you would like, then you can do one of two things:
Eat 100-200 calories less
Then again, monitor your weight loss. Make sure to record your weight every day in a journal and consider taking notes about things you’ve changed from week to week to help you keep track of what is working and what is NOT working. Healthy weight loss is a VERY SLOW process!!! You must be extremely patient and remember there is virtue in delayed gratification!
QUICK SIDE NOTE–CARDIO FOR WEIGHT LOSS
Although this article has focused on macronutrient intake for muscle growth, the basics for fat loss must also be discussed when desiring to attain a leaner physique. Doing hours of extra cardio exercise for fat loss is overrated. Look at the world’s leanest and most physically fit specimens...world class bodybuilders. The strongest and leanest bodies in the world DO NOT get that way through hours and hours of walking or running on the treadmill. Those lean physiques are built by consistent adherence to a VERY STRICT DIET. We shouldn’t have to consider a healthy diet as “very strict”, but it makes sense to consider that what we put in our mouths can make a huge difference in the ability to achieve our biggest goals. Think about this...you could eat one donut that has 300 empty calories. If so, it would require you to walk about 3 miles to shed those calories. Or, you could just not eat the donut at all. It is much easier to not eat junk in the first place. The hard part about that is having the DISCIPLINE and SELF CONTROL to be able to refrain. (WE WILL DISCUSS CHEAT MEALS ANOTHER DAY)!
REMEMBER THAT IDEAL VERSION OF YOURSELF THAT YOU SEE IN YOUR MIND!!! IMAGINE LOOKING AT THAT VERSION OF YOU IN THE MIRROR EVERY DAY! BE THAT NEW YOU! EVERY...SINGLE...MINUTE...OF...EVERY...SINGLE...DAY!!! YOUR FUTURE SELF AND FUTURE HEALTH WILL BE GLAD YOU DID!!!
Some helpful apps that can help you track your Macros: MyFitnessPal, HitMeal: Nutrition Coach, Noom, MyMacros+, LifeSum, Nutritionix Track, LoseIt!, CarbManager. Check these out if you're looking for ways to improve your health and track your Macros.