Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Firstly, let me apologise as it has been a few weeks since my last post. Since the gyms have opened it's been a bit manic but I wanted to take a minute away from the gym to talk about macros. Recently I have been seeing a lot of stuff about macros online and every time I log onto social media I see trainers and dietitians arguing over different diets and what food to eat so I thought I would write a quick article to help some of you understand macros, as it has a huge beneficial effect on both health and performance.
Firstly, let’s look at the two categories that food is broken into, these are macronutrients or ‘macros’ and micronutrients. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals the body needs. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It’s these macros that I wanted to take a look at today and talk about what they do and how they help improve your health and performance. Cause let’s face it we all want to be healthier and smash our PBs in the gym, on the track or out on the field.
Carbohydrates are really important to our health and performance as they provide the body with essential energy and they help keep your digestive system healthy. They are broken down into three main categories: simple, complex and fibre. Simple carbs are found in things like honey, jams, fruit juice and sweets. Complex carbs are found in rice, bread and pasta. Fibre is found in fruit and vegetables. Each gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories.
Sugars in simple and complex carbohydrates get broken down in the body to glucose which is then used as fuel to meet our daily energy needs, especially in our muscles and brain. Our bodies can also store some of this glucose in our liver and muscles as glycogen which can be called upon when we need a bit more energy such as when we are at the gym, playing sport or exercising. This is where carb-loading comes from. You might have heard this phrase before or read that athletes use this technique before big events but what is it? Basically, it’s when you overload on carbs 15-24 hours before a big game or event. This allows your body to store the excess energy so it is ready when you need it, therefore allowing you to have more energy to perform better.
Fibre is important to keep the digestive system healthy and performing at its best. This is because the body cannot break down fibre, so it is used to mop up all the waste in your body and get rid of it.
Protein is used in our bodies for growth and repair of our body tissues. When we consume proteins, they are broken down by the body during digestion into amino acids and then rebuilt to create muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones. How well the body uses protein can be determined by the quality of protein. There are two types of proteins: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins provide a better source of protein as they contain loads of amino acids which allows them to build better body tissues. They are found in foods like meat, fish, dairy, poultry and eggs. Incomplete proteins contain less amino acids and are found in foods like nuts, seeds and pulses. So, as you can imagine, for a healthy body and better performance it’s important to consume a good mix of complete and incomplete proteins so the body can repair and grow. Each gram of protein contains 4 calories.
Fats have a bad stigma attached to them but the truth is, fat is a vital part of a healthy diet. I think a lot of the confusion comes from these quick fix diets which are based around this idea that eating less fat = fat loss. Everywhere you look in the supermarket it’s low fat this or reduced fat that, it’s in our faces all the time. So let’s take a look at why we need fat and what it does.
Fat has a variety of important functions in the body. For example, it’s used to protect and insulate our organs, transport fat soluble vitamins around the body, as a source of energy and it helps to balance our hormones. The problem comes when we eat too much fat, as the unused fat in our bodies is stored as body fat which we spend hours in the gym trying to get rid of! Fat is really high in energy content compared to protein and carbs as it has 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram of protein and carbs. Most fats fall into either saturated or unsaturated fats.
Saturated Fats -
Saturated fats are mainly found in animal sources including meat and dairy products as well as some plant foods. For example, meat, eggs, butter, cheese, cream, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, coconut oil and palm oil.
Saturated fat has been proven to raise ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood which can increase the risk of heart disease and strokes. Therefore, reducing the amount of saturated fats in your diet is important. The UK government recommend that men should not eat more than 30 grams a day and women should not eat more than 20 grams a day.
Unsaturated Fats -
Unsaturated fats are broken into two main categories, Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can help lower your cholesterol.
Monounsaturated fats are found in animal and plant sources and help protect against things like heart disease as they maintain levels of ‘good’ cholesterol and reduce the ‘bad’ cholesterol. They are found in olive oil, peanut oil, rapeseed oil, avocados and meat. Polyunsaturated fats are found in fish and plant sources and are important for cell and brain function. They are found in oily fish, sunflower seeds, sunflower oil and flaxseed oil.
So what does this all mean and how much of each should I eat? Well that’s a good question and one I get asked quite a lot. The quick answer is that everyone is different and different body types need different macro ratios depending on what your overall goal is. For example, for a general gym goer, who is looking to get healthier and fitter, a ratio of 45% carbs/ 30% protein/ 25% fats is a good starting point. Then you can adjust it depending on your goal and how your body responds. An endurance athlete might have a higher ratio of carbs than say a bodybuilder who would have a higher ratio of protein, it all depends on your goal. If you have a specific goal in mind, then its important you get on the correct macro ratio so your body is getting enough nutrients to build and recover. There are loads of macro ratios available just type your goal in online and you will find loads of examples. Now you have your ratio what are you going to do with it and how do you work out how many grams of everything you actually need? Well that can seem tricky but in reality, it can be very easy.
Firstly set your calorie needs. (check out my earlier article on 'where to start with calorie calculators' or use an online calculator)
Secondly set your macro ratio. (can find it online depending on your goal or start with the one stated above)
Lastly use your ratio to workout the calories needed from each macro. (see below)
Example – For a general gym goer whose energy need is 2000kcals and is using a macro ratio of 45% carbs / 30% protein/ 25% fats we would work it out as follows.
Divide 2000kcals by 100 to give you 1% of your daily calories which is 20kcals.
Now use this to work out each of your calories from each macro.
45% carbs = 900 kcals (20x45)
30% protein = 600 kcals (20x30)
25% fats = 500 kcals (20x25)
Now use these numbers to work out how many grams of each you need per day. In this example it would look like this-
900kcals (energy from carbs) divided by 4 (4kcals per gram of carb) = 225 grams of carbs
600kcals (energy from protein) divided by 4 (4kcals per gram of protein) = 150 grams of protein
500kcals (energy from fats) divided by 9 (9kcals per gram of fat) = 55.5 grams of fats.
This example shows the daily intake in grams for each macro and how to work it out. You can also go online and search for a macro calculator which will do the same but it’s always good to know how it’s worked out. I know for a lot of people their macro consumption is more of a moderation approach than a strict diet but I hope this quick look at macros has given you some useful information that will help you on your fitness journey.
Thanks for reading and if you have enjoyed this article check out some of my other articles and interviews and let me know what you think. I am always keen to hear from my readers. On that note if you have any topics you would like me to cover drop me a message.