Understanding what you feed your body is paramount to overall health.
In the world of fitness, macros and micros have become buzzwords. It is common to hear bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts counting calories following rigid diet and workout plans. Gym culture tend to be more cautious of macros. However, for the large majority who do not necessarily watch their diets nor find time to hit the gym, macros and micros sound no more than technical or medical terms which hardly mean anything. So what exactly are macros and micros? And do they really matter if you’re not gunning to be the next Mr. Olympia?
To break it down, macros and micros are short hands for macronutrients and micronutrients. It’s the two main types of nutrients that living organisms need to produce energy, grow, and reproduce. Macronutrients are nutrient from food that we consume in large quantities to create energy and fuel physiological activities. The primary macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat. Technically, water is the fourth type of macronutrient as we need to consume it in large quantities and has various important function in metabolism, temperature regulation, body structure, and more.
Carbohydrates are broken down to glucose, the body’s preferred source of fuel. In other words, as long as there’s glucose in the blood, our bodies are designed to use it for fuel. Fat is another source of energy, and is the most energy-dense providing 9 kilocalories per gram compared to only 4 kcal per gram given by carbohydrates and protein. Fat is used primarily to store energy in the body and is considered a building block for cell membrane and helps with important hormonal functions. Don’t fall into thinking that fat is all bad and that you should entirely eliminate it from your diet.
Lastly, protein builds, repairs and maintains muscles. In fact, it is needed for almost all metabolic process. Our body’s enzymes and hormones, which is needed to regulate itself, are made up of protein too.
Micronutrients on the other hand, as its name suggests, are nutrients needed in small amounts, classified traditionally into vitamins and minerals. Trace elements, phytochemicals, and antioxidants that are found in natural food sources—most commonly fruits and vegetables, are also considered micronutrients. Micronutrients, though needed only in small quantities, play a major role in maintaining overall health. They act as cofactors for essentially all of our body’s processes. They aid in the production of enzymes, hormones, and proteins that are critical to body and brain function, and help with the regulation of metabolism, heartbeat, and bone density. To put it bluntly, without micronutrients, our body’s processes cannot move forward which can lead to serious health problems.
Why Track Your Nutrients?
Tracking macros intake, specifically measuring the ratio of protein, carbs, and fat consumption, is an increasingly popular trend in the fitness community. It’s geared towards reaching specific body composition or fitness goals. As everyone’s goals and preference are different, tracking macros is a great way to have better control of one’s fitness journey.
For example, if you want to focus on getting lean and building muscle, you need certain amount of protein to enable muscle growth. If you have intense training or an athlete, you need enough carbohydrates to fuel your performance. As several factors such as gender, body type, activity level and fitness goals play a role, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule when it comes to macros. Macros should work together and complement each function, so finding the right balance of percentage of protein, carbs, and fat is the main objective of tracking them in the first place.
Tracking micronutrients is a bit trickier as there are so many and so minute. Registered nutritionist-dietician, Mica Araneta, suggests browsing through the micronutrient content of food to build awareness and familiarity. There are websites and Apps like Wholesome that can help track both macros and micros for better food decisions. More than being mindful of what you put in your mouth, tracking nutrient intake will lead you to exploring more food types and knowing their importance.
Mica also reiterated that food from nature is smart. Wholefoods contain macros and micros in synergy with one another for the body’s optimal use. Hence the need to limit processed food intake and to opt for fresh food instead. “This synergy is something that processed food or even supplements and pills cannot simply replicate,” she added.
How to Start Tracking Your Macros
It is a good practice to track one’s nutrient intake, especially your macros. Nutrition and fitness go hand in hand, and is basically a science. Working out is only half the formula. Ensuring that your body gets the right nutrients it needs is as important to achieving your goals and maintaining overall health.
For beginners, tracking what you usually eat is the first step. Log and monitor your food intake for the first few weeks. Familiarize yourself with the quality and quantity of your usual meals and start adjusting to match your objectives. According to ‘Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intakes for Filipino (RENI),’ Filipinas aged 19-29 weighing 51 kilograms need at least 1,860 calories per day, of which protein should make up at least 58 grams or about 15%. Depending if you want to lose, gain or maintain weight, you can start adjusting your macros ratio. An acceptable benchmark for weight loss is 25-35% protein, 40-50% carbs and 5-15% fat. While it is difficult to assign a single value to everyone and getting an expert to make a personalized plan is still the best, referring to RENI is a good start.
Tools like kitchen scale, measuring cups and food-tracking Apps are helpful if you want to commit to counting your macros especially at the beginning. Take time to read and understand food labels. The more you make yourself familiar with the nutrient content of the most common food you eat, the easier for you to estimate and remember that an egg contains about 6-7 grams of protein, and a 100-gram chicken breast more or less gives you 30-35 grams of protein. Adjust your ratio to what matches your goals, and observe how your body reacts to the changes.
Sample Filipino meal following 35% protein, 50% carbs, and 15% fat ratio
Whether you’re dreaming to become a fitness model or simply aiming for a healthier lifestyle, tracking your nutrient intake will benefit you in the long run. Being aware helps you take control of your own mind and body, and leads to smarter choices too.
“My only advise is to try and deepen relationship with food. Get to know food, analyze why certain items are good together. If tracking your macros and micros helps you get to know food and their importance better, do so. I’d like to emphasize though that tracking should be done with a sense of curiosity rather than with a feeling of dread,” Mica concluded.