You might’ve heard people talking about it on social media or when you’re out with friends: are you counting your macros? Counting or tracking macronutrients might be all the rage these days- but what is this trend really, and is it helpful or is it just a fad?
What are Macros?
Macronutrients, or “macros” as they are more often called, are nutrients that the body requires in large amounts: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Macros are in contrast to another type of nutrient our body needs: micronutrients, the vitamins and minerals that our bodies need in small amounts. Notice here that I said that macros are nutrients that your body requires. Fad diets might encourage you to cut out whole food groups, but true nutrition is really about a balance of all three of these groups (yes, even carbs!!)
Whole books have been written on macronutrients, but a high level overview here will give you the quick and dirty you need to know hype from nutrition.
First up, the long loathed Carbohydrate. Carbs are possibly the most hotly debated and misunderstood macro. This is because carbs are actually our body’s main source of energy. These molecules made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen fuel both our our brain (affecting mood, memory, and decision making) and our muscles (used as a quick energy source, they also enable fat metabolism). They are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products.
Next up, the also feared Fats: Feared and avoided by people for decades (especially in the low fat craze of the late 80’s and early 90’s- do you all remember??), fats are things like triglycerides, cholesterols, and other essential fatty acids that are necessary for a multitude of functions in our bodies. They store energy, insulate us, protect our vital organs, act as messengers, and help proteins do their jobs. They also are key in growth, immune function, reproduction, and help the body stockpile vitamins A, D, E, and K.
The always lauded Protein: There are many different types of protein, but they all help us grow, build muscle, fight off infection, and repair injuries. Proteins are molecules built of amino acids. Our bodies need 20 different amino acids to survive and thrive, 9 of which we have to obtain from food (these are called essential amino acids, because our body cannot make them). Protein is found naturally in poultry, beef, yogurt, cheese, legumes, and yes-- even vegetables!
How to Calculate Your Macros the Right Way
The idea with tracking your macros is that you aren’t depriving yourself, you’re fueling your body in the most efficient way possible. Counting your macros involves understanding what your unique needs are for carbs, fat, and protein, and then eatin in a way that supports that ratio.
Everybody is different, and every body is different, so there isn’t just one recommendation out there for what your ratio of carbohydrates to fats to proteins should be.
Trying to sift through all the misinformation can also be confusing. Are you getting enough protein? What percentage of complex carbs should you be eating? The other problem with online calculators is that they can’t take into account your truly unique situation. They might ask if you workout, but not what type of workout, for example. All of this matters.
If you’re just starting out, it may be helpful to get in touch with a registered dietitian who can talk with you about your specific needs and goals, and calculate your ratio for you. Another option would be to try one of the meal planning apps out there, many of which will calculate and help you track what your ratio should be:
Pilates and nutrition go hand in hand, and tracking your macronutrient intake (as opposed to calorie intake) can be one excellent way to stay on top of your health.