If you have been following me for any bit of time you will already know I specialise in flexible nutrition. Specifically I use what I call the Flexible Macro Approach - flexible nutrition meets behavioural nutrition coaching. So safe to say macros are a big part of my approach and understanding them can help elevate your nutrition game if you implement a flexible dieting approach.
So what is a macro?
Well, macros is short for macronutrients and they are the building blocks of our foods which collectively make up our caloric (energy) intake.
That’s as simple as it needs to be. They are the legos for your lego house that is your nutrition.
They are the currencies that make up your bank account budget that is your calorie budget.
And when it comes to macros you need to understand the basics before you even think about the specifics. And where better to start then learning about what each individual macro is and why they are important.
There are 3 macros and a “fourth macro” - hence why I call it the 4 Dimensions of Macros. Let’s delve deeper into these so you can walk away more informed and ready to start your nutrition journey on the right foot!
Code name: Mr & Mrs Popularity
Calorie density: 4 calories per gram of protein
Protein is the most popular macro - i’m literally yet to meet a client who fears it or talks badly about it. It is also the most stable macro for the simple reason that when you set your target protein you rarely need to adjust it.
So what does protein do? I will keep things simple and relevant to body composition change (assuming that is the reason you are reading this). First and foremost it helps with recovery from exercise - helping you repair muscle damage you sustained working out and living your life.
Secondly, protein is important for the sheer purpose of ensuring you rebuild, build, and retain lean muscle mass. When you are trying to lose weight you need to ensure you don’t lose muscle mass - protein does its thing. When you are trying to build muscle you need protein to not only repair damage but also then initiate protein muscle synthesis (on a background of a calorie surplus of course) - again proteins purpose comes to fruition.
The third reason that protein is a useful friend on your nutrition journey towards your peak physique is simple: satiety. Improving satiety to be more specific!
See protein is quite filling (think back to a time you went crazy on the roast turkey at a family celebration and felt as full as a party balloon) which can be useful when you are creating a calorie deficit and eating less.
Why? Well you don’t need me to tell you that eating in a deficit makes you more hungry so if you can manipulate your macros to be more satiating then that’s a WIN!
This is why I get my clients to eat more protein than the general guidelines would have you believe you need. Higher protein intakes have clear benefits and form the backbone of my nutrition approach. However, it goes without saying that there is a ceiling to it too (it’s just not as short as you may have thought).
Code name: The unjustified “villain”
Calorie density: 4 calories per gram of carbs
Carbs...well what can I say without first saying it’s probably the most hated macro at this moment. Everyone and their dog is hating on carbs because of the belief it's the reason we gain weight - blaming carbs on the obesity crisis, for example.
However, this is not true. A calorie surplus causes weight gain, not carbs. If you eat too many calories from any of the 3 macros you can put on weight. This is science. This is physiology. Don’t hate on carbs...they can be your friend.
Why? Well time to discuss why carbs are important (and their purpose).
Firstly, you need to understand that carbs are your primary fuel source for your body. They are the petrol for the engine that is your body. So therefore it is easy to see why you would thrive on having some carbs in your diet.
Carbs will help fuel your workouts, your activities of daily living, and your sport (if you partake). So removing carbs can obviously impact performance as well as how energetic you feel. That is why all my active clients are eating some quantity of carbs - some more and some less obviously (#individualisation).
In addition, please note that beyond performance (and with some carb intake established), the amount you need to ‘fit your macros’ is truly dependant on preference and how much protein and fats you need - aka think of carbs as somewhat of a ‘filler macro’ in many scenarios. However, for athletes and the active individual who is conscious of performance...carbs have a much more important role and quantity raises in significance.
Code name: The new favourite
Calorie density: 9 calories per gram of fats
And finally the third macro. The new favourite on the block. The one and only. The hero of keto. The one that used to be demonised but now embraced ...fat.
Fat has had an interesting journey. It survived the low fat trends of the 90s and early 00’s only to come out the other side stronger and moved loved than before. The reason being the sudden surge in popularity of the keto diet and other low carb diets galore.
Is this justified? Nope not one bit. In an ideal world all macros would be considered equally as important from the beginning. But that wouldn’t serve the fad diet industry so here we are now vying to establish a healthy relationship with all 3 macros.
As I mentioned earlier, weight loss depends ultimately on a calorie deficit (not how much of each macro you eat). Muscle building depends on a calorie surplus first and foremost...not on your macro distribution. That’s the number one truth I want you to get from this piece if you grab nothing else.
But...fat love and fat hate aside, let’s talk about why fat is important and what it does (in the context of body composition nutrition).
The main thing you need to understand about fat is:
See fat is involved with hormone production and supports cell growth which makes it crucial not only for health but also for optimal fat loss by regulating “fat burning” hormones such as thyroid hormone. Fats are also essential for the absorption of some vitamins such as the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
That is why you need a minimum amount and why going “too low” with fats can actually impede your body composition manipulation potential (i.e. not enough fat = reduced thyroid regulation = reduced fat “burning”).
And I know you! Right now you are reading this and wondering, “well what is enough fat in the diet, Aleksa?!”...well don’t stress I’ll tell you.
At least 15% of your total calorie intake.
The “Fourth” Macro
Now time to go beyond the 3D...and unto the 4th dimension of macro nutrition.
Nah all jokes aside, let’s now go into what I call the “fourth macro” - alcohol.
See alcohol is NOT an actual macronutrient. It is actually a toxin (yes I know you love it but it is harmful to your body) but it has a calorie density. In other words, yes alcohol does contribute to your daily caloric intake.
It is for this reason that I consider it the “fourth macro” - because it contributes to your daily intake and can most definitely influence your weight loss/weight gain. Yet many people start tracking macros without tracking and accounting for alcohol.
This is crazy.
Why? Y tho? Y U DO DIS?
Alcohol has 7 calories per gram.
That’s more than protein and carbs and just a bit less than fats. In other words, alcohol is quite calorically dense and when you couple it with the fact people usually drink it on top of their normal daily food intake, it’s easy to see how the calories can add up (and add up unknowingly).
However, it doesn’t end there. Yes alcohol is high in calories. You probably already knew that to some degree (although many mistakenly believe its the “sugars” and carbs in alcohol that are the biggest issues).
It’s the way alcohol influences the metabolism of the other 3 actual macros that is something you need to consider. Rest assured though, calorie balance still dictates but if you are in a surplus and you are drinking a lot of alcohol alongside caloric meals, then you are in a position to become more efficient at storing body fat (efficient is not what you want in this area).
Why does this happen you may be asking...well it’s because your body wants to get rid of the toxin (the alcohol) and prioritises that before processing the other macros so it essentially puts it on hold. This makes it easier to store protein (to a lesser degree), carbs, and fats (much more easily) as body fat because it’s just kinda..sitting around...collecting dust (and let’s pretend dust makes you want to store these for later in the form of excess body weight). Cringe analogy but hey! You get the point.
Hope that makes sense?
Shoot me a message if it doesn’t and i’ll help.
Well there you go. Now you know about the 4th dimension of macros...protein, carbs, fats, and alcohol (the pretender but nonetheless the saboteur).
In today’s post I have given you the lowdown of what you need to know about the specific macros to help get you started! Hopefully it all makes more sense now as there is a lot of BS out there.
However, it is also important to note that this is only the basics and there is more to learn but you need to start somewhere and what better place then understanding what on earth these macros actually are.
Now go on and start tracking some macros (if you want of course...i’m not your boss).
Any questions? Please leave a comment below or email me directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Dietitian & Nutritionist. The aim of this blog is to provide value and spread quality evidence-based nutrition information to counter the BS floating around.