To give you a clear sense of the macro definition we are going to go straight to the source. No, I’m not talking about the fountain of youth or that weird guy in the Matrix with the beard standing in front of a bunch of 70’s TVs. We are talking about our good friends at the Food and Agriculture Association. In grade school, we learned food contains many different nutrients that help the body function well. We know that the body cannot produce these nutrients, so they must be procured from the food we eat. This is the official macro definition of macros aka “macro” nutrients because the body needs them in fairly large amounts in order to function properly; these are carbohydrates, protein and fats.1
Macro Definition: How Do I Benefit?
We are going to get a bit more granular and scientific in terms of each individual macro definition.
Proteins – the definition of this macro is fairly straightforward. Proteins provide amino acids and constitute most if not all of the cell structure including the cell membrane. They are the last to be used of all macronutrients. In order to define this macro further. In cases where food is extremely scarce, the muscles in the body, that are made up of proteins, are used to provide energy. This is called muscle wasting as in the old adage “I’m wasting away’. Just like their pal carbohydrates, proteins also provide 4 calories per gram.2
Carbohydrates – The body is fairly lazy in terms of its choices for fuel. The carbohydrates macro definition is fairly straightforward. Carbs provide the body with its main source of energy (4 calories per gram); the macro definition also tells us carbs form the major part of stored food in the body for later use of energy and exist in three form: sugar, starch and fiber.2 Here’ a fun little tidbit: the brain works entirely on glucose alone. When consumed in excess, the macro definition of carbs states that they are stored in the liver as Glycogen. To quote Biggie “if you don’t know, now you know”. Carbohydrates are important for fat oxidation and can also be converted into protein. What does that mean for you? Fuels the fat loss fire baby (say that three times fast).
Fats – are used in making steroids (no not those steroids) and hormones and serve as solvents for hormones and fat-soluble vitamins. The macro definition of fats states that they have the highest caloric content and provide the largest amount of energy when burnt.2 When measured by a fancy device known as a calorimeter, fats provide about 9 calories per gram of fat, making them twice as energy-rich as protein and carbohydrates. What does that mean for you? Extra fat is stored in adipose tissue and is burnt when the body has run out of carbohydrates.
Macro Definition: Your Diet
In short, macro diets determine caloric intake based on the percentage or total grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat one consumes. These diets are usually referred to as low-fat/high-carbohydrate diets, low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets, or moderate-fat diets. If you visit a nutritionist, they will most likely tell you these diets may range from 15% to 25% protein, 20% to 40% fat, and 35%-65% carbohydrates. What does this have to do with the macro definition? Read on.
Research shows the best diets for weight loss and the best diets for health are one and the same. Certain studies have shown most calorie-restrictive diets will produce weight loss within the first 6 months. You can also see noticeable Improvements in cardio benefits that will accompany this weight loss. As I tell my clients time and time again, adherence to the diet of choice markedly improves results. Going back to our macro definition from before, proportions and choices aid in adherence. Sticking to your diet of choice may not only improve initial results, but it may in fact be the factor which increases the possibility of long-term success.3
Larsen, T.M., et al., Diets with high or low protein content and glycemic index for weight-loss maintenance. N Engl J Med, 2010. 363(22): p. 2102-13.
Kenya D. Palmer, Caroline M. Apovian, in Nutrition in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease (Fourth Edition), 2017