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Meet Your Macros

Nutrition is hard. Couple that with the amount of conflicting information floating around on the internet these days and it’s impossible to know if you’re doing it right. That’s where we and this upcoming blog series comes in. Over the next few days we’re going to tackle one of the grey areas in nutrition, and that’s macro nutrients. Today we’ll go through a quick, broad overview of the different macros followed by a closer look at each one individually throughout the course of the series.

What are macro nutrients?

There are three (four, kinda) macro nutrients that we consume throughout the course of a normal day. Each one provides our body with something different than the other two. Let’s run through the three major macros with a brief synopsis of how our body handles them:

Proteins: The building block macro. Very rarely used as an energy source unless nothing else is available for use. One of the most important macros in terms of muscle maintenance and muscle building. Should be consumed every time you’re eating (snacks, meals, every thing). There are 4 calories per gram of protein. Protein is very rarely ever turned into body fat, but again, in terms of balance and the law of diminishing returns, it doesn’t make sense to overeat protein, but from a caloric intake perspective, it’s very important that you’re getting enough.

Fats: One of the most overlooked, under eaten and villainized macros. A slow source of energy mainly used up during steady-state cardio. This macro is incredibly slow to absorb and should be avoided during meals bordering your workouts (pre and post). Fat eaten doesn’t turn into body fat (in a direct sense, at least), in fact, it takes fat to burn fat. There are 9 calories per gram of fat. Once upon a time, our bodies were built to be fat burners. Over the course of our existence (mainly in the last couple decades, during the height of our obesity epidemic; hint, hint) our bodies have begun to prefer carbohydrates. This is mainly due to the amount of fats we’re not consuming. Our bodies have adapted, however, it’s begun to cause catastrophic problems, especially as we continue to be more and more inactive. Overeating fats should never be done from a caloric intake perspective. Every gram of fat we overeat is 9 calories floating around that’ll eventually have no where to go. I should state, however, that I rarely worry about anyone overeating fats, especially these days.

Carbs: The most controversial of the macros. Classified as a non-essential macro, meaning you could literally never eat a carb again and still be able to function (not recommended, however). Carbs are a very fast source of energy used in high intensity exercise as well as weight training. Carbs are stored within your muscles as glycogen, which is necessary to complete intensity based exercises and weight training. Carbs should be avoided or consumed sparingly during meals that do not border your workouts; 90-95% of your daily carbs should come 2-4 hours before your workout as well as 2-4 hours after your workouts (high intensity workouts). There are 4 calories per gram of carbs. The issues surrounding carbs is twofold: The biggest comes from the sheer fact that in most “bad” food, carbohydrates dominate the other two macros in terms of grams per serving, throwing off a balance we’re going to be talking about. A 400 calorie meal when balanced correctly between the 3 macros is much different than a 400 calorie meal of oreos. More than half the calorie content of an oreo comes from carbohydrates, leaving us incredibly unbalanced. The second issue is in how our body uses carbs. They’re our preferred energy source for high intensity exercise, however, the amount of high intensity exercise the normal human gets on a daily basis is quite low. High amounts of carbs, even if they’re good carbs, without completing the tasks necessary to use them, leads to a lot of free floating, unused carbohydrates. Our body doesn’t have many choices outside of storing them, usually as body fat.

Alcohol is technically a fourth macro nutrient because our body handles it differently than any of the other macro types. however, we’ll save an in depth alcohol discussion for another time as it’s something that should be used in extreme moderation or avoided completely if you’re looking to maximize your weight loss and/or fitness level.

Which macro is the best for weight loss? Which macro should I avoid?

We get asked these questions a lot, and the answer is very simple: it’s about balance. All three macros have their place and should be consumed within your daily diet. Avoiding one or consuming more of one is never advisable. This is why you should never look at a calorie as a calorie. Our bodies are not fantasy football, you’re not allowed to trade fat calories for carb calories to equate a caloric output that Myfitnesspal told you was right for you. In a perfect world, every meal would consist of a certain amount of all 3 macros. We all know, however, that we do not live in a perfect world. With how our current day to day schedules are set-up, we need time set aside to workout. 8-9 hours of sitting in a cubicle plus (hopefully) 7-9 hours of sleep doesn’t leave us with a whole lot of active time; our normal, daily tasks just aren’t enough. Because of this, macro balance is more of a juggling act, rather than just being a simple x amount of each macro at each meal. We’ll dive deeper into the total amounts necessary for each macro when we break them out individually, but to put it simply, let’s use the following rules:

  1. Consume protein with every single meal (snacks = meals).
  2. Eat as many or as few meals as necessary, as long as you’re consuming enough of each macro.
    1. I personally eat about 6 medium-ish meals a day (post workout shake included). I struggle to consume a lot of food at one time, so breaking up my macros over 6 meals/snacks helps, and also helps curb hunger.
  3. If your upcoming meal is going to be within 1-3 hours prior to or after your workout, consume fewer fats and more carbs.
    1. If you’re working out with us, you’ll burn more carbs as fuel since we utilize intensity and weight training over steady state cardio.
    2. Also, because fat is so slow to absorb, if you consume too much, your body will prioritize digesting the fats over allowing you to workout (in other words, have fun throwing up or spending the workout feeling like it’s about to come out the other side).
  4. If your upcoming meal isn’t going to be within 1-3 hours prior to or after your workout, consume fewer carbs and more fats
    1. Fats will keep you fuller for longer and your body will naturally burn more fats than carbs doing our daily tasks as they’re better for sustained energy, rather than short bursts like carbs.
    2. When excess carbs are taken in and unused as energy, they have a tendency to sit around and will eventually turn into body fat if they have no where else to go

Let’s breakdown my normal day to help paint a beautiful nutrition picture (note: i work out at night, so keep an eye on my carb intake throughout the day):

  • First Meal (Breakfast)
    • 4 servings of fats (~60 grams)
    • 5oz of lean protein (~30 grams)
    • 1 handful greens (~1 cup green vegetables for micro-nutrients)
    • 0 carbs
  • 3-5 hours later (big range of time, I always try to eat when I’m hungry)
    • 4 servings of fats (~60 grams)
    • 5oz of lean protein (~30 grams)
    • 1 handful greens
    • 25 grams of carbs (1 banana = ~25-27 grams, for reference)
  • 1-3 hours prior to my workout (usually about an hour and a half prior, this is the meal to really play around with depending on how it makes you feel during your workout)
    • 2 servings of fats (~30 grams, half of a “normal” meal)
    • 5oz of lean protein (~30 grams)
    • 1 handful greens
    • 50 grams of carbs (keep it simple, fruit is a very good option here)
  • Immediately after workout (shake form)
    • 30g whey protein
    • 75g carbs (i use gatorade powder here, 100% sugar carbs to drive that insulin up and increase nutrient uptake)
  • 40 minutes after workout (roughly, doesn’t have to be exact. I’ll sometimes wait another 30 minutes until I’m hungry)
    • 1/2 serving of fats (~8 grams)
    • 5oz of lean protein (~30 grams)
    • 1 handful greens
    • 100g carbs (time for the big boys; rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread)
  • Bedtime (I do a smoothie)
    • 4 servings fats (~60 grams)
    • 30g casein protein (slower absorbing than whey, perfect for bedtime. more about this coming in the protein blog)
    • 100g carbs (fruit is easiest, I’ll also throw oatmeal in my smoothie for slower absorbing carbs)

A major points to emphasize. I’m a 28 year old, 195 lb male who’s looking to maintain/mass and my macros reflect that. If you’re trying to lose weight or cut, your macros would look significantly different. I’m just using my personal daily feasts to show you how your meals should be balanced. My fat intake is through the roof because fats are easier calories, which is important when trying to put and keep weight on.

Another major point of emphasis is the quality of macros. Eating enough of anything is pretty easy if you allow yourself to eat anything. I could fulfill a couple meals all at once with a trip through the McDonalds’ drive through. The hard part comes from eating quality. Understanding what qualifies as a fat, a carb and a protein helps, because a lot of the time just having a list of ideas makes eating healthy that much easier. Realizing that while nuts can be considered high in protein, they should always be considered a fat as that’s their dominate macro nutrient. The only foods that really stretch over more than a single macro are dairy and eggs. Everything else falls under a single macro nutrient and should be considered as much. Sure, there’s protein in quinoa and oatmeal, but it’s a carbohydrate and should never be eaten to fulfill your protein quota. Can it count towards it? You bet, but you’ll never try to measure out enough quinoa to fulfill your 20-30 grams of protein required in a meal. It should also be of note that I never, unless I planned on eating bags of them, factor vegetables into my carbohydrate count. A cup of spinach equates to something like 7 calories and you’ll probably burn more than that in the 15 minutes it takes you to chew it.

On the same topic, the hardest meals to plan for are the meals with little or no carbohydrates as there’s literally carbs in everything. Salads are huge here. Incredibly easy to hit your fat goals with quality dressings and nuts on top of the salad as well as easy to hit those protein goals by throwing a bunch of meat on top. No carbs for breakfast? Easy, skip the oatmeal and have an omelete. While I try to stay creative to make sure I don’t get bored, eating a lot of the same things day in and day out for each meal really helps keep you on track in the long run. The less you have to think or plan in the moment, the more successful you’re going to be. If you think back to what some of your worst meals are, it’s the ones where you’re too tired to cook and grab something easy like frozen pizza or hit a drive through on your way home.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, throw them in the comments below and I’ll talk it out with you. Otherwise hit us up on facebook, email or grab me in the gym. I love talking about food.

Tomorrow we’ll go in depth with my personal favorite macro; protein.

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