What are "macros" anyway?

If you've been around me for any length of time or if you've been following my blog, there's no doubt that you've heard me talk about macros. I thought it would be appropriate if I took a step back to help you understand just what macros are. Understanding what macros are will give you the needed foundation to understand all of my future posts as well as dieting in general. The good news is this actually is a simple thing to learn!

So, what are macros? Macros is an abbreviation for the term macronutrients. The general definition for macronutrients is any of the nutritional components of the diet that are required in relatively large amounts. Macro means large and nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, and for other body functions.

There are three macronutrients: dietary fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Some consider alcohol and water to be macros as well but alcohol isn't needed by the body and water has no Caloric value so we won't talk about those here. As a final note about alcohol, for those that are wondering, there are 7 Calories per gram of alcohol. If there are people who just really want to know how you would track alcohol, I can cover it in a different post but it's not relevant for now. 

Now, we've narrowed our definition of macronutrients, for this conversation, down to carbs, fats, and proteins. So how many Calories do each of these have? There are 4 Calories per gram of carbohydrate, there are also 4 Calories per gram of protein, and there are 9 Calories per gram of dietary fat. Along with having the name "fat", and the fact that fats contain the highest Caloric value, there's no wonder why people often misconceive that fats make you fat. As a quick note, dietary fats and body fat are not the same thing and no, eating fats do not make you fat. 

So why do you care about what macros are? You care because everything you eat is made up of Calories and those Calories are divided into macros. Let's do a few examples. 1 ounce (28g) of boneless skinless chicken breast contains 1.2g of fat and 9.6g of protein. 1 ounce of walnuts contains 18g of fat, 4g of carbs, and 4g of protein. 1 oz of red potato contains 5g of carbs and 1g of protein. 

Now that we've done a few food examples let's figure out the macros for a simple meal. For this meal lets have 4 ounces of chicken and 5 ounces of red potato. Before you say it, yes, I understand that this is a bland meal. I just want to provide the simplest example possible for now. Let's total each food item's macros up individually, then add them together.

Chicken (4oz):
1.2g fat*4oz=4.8g fat
0g carb
9.6g protein*4oz=38.4g protein

Red Potato (5oz): 
0g fat
5g carbs*5oz=25g carbs
1g protein*5oz=5g protein

Total macros in the meal:
4.8g fat (from chicken)+0g fat (from potato)=4.8g fat
0g carb (from chicken)+25g carb (from potato)=25g carb
38.4g protein (from chicken)+5g protein (from potato)=43.4g protein

Now that we know the macros for the meal, let's calculate the total Calories.
Calories from fat: 4.8g*9Cal/g=43.2 Cal
Calories from carbs: 25g*4Cal/g=100 Cal
Calories from protein: 43.4g*4Cal/g=173.6 Cal

Total Calories in the meal: 43.2+100+173.6=316.8 Calories

There's three cool things about tracking macros. 1) As you can see from this example, by tracking macros you're actually tracking Calories too because, as we discussed earlier, macros are made up of Calories. 2) Tracking macros, rather than just Calories, is a more optimal approach to setting up a diet. 3) Not only is it more optimal, it's actually easier because you get to skip the last two steps in that example. 

Note: Now, I know I said that understanding macros is a simple thing to learn but I also understand that I've been doing this for five years now and you might be just starting. What's simple for me now, may be hard for you to start with and that's perfectly okay. If you found this difficult to understand, don't worry. Stay tuned and I will be uploading a YouTube video tomorrow covering this same topic with a few more examples.

As always, thanks for reading and don't forget to comment, like, and share!