You may have heard the term macronutrients or counting macros in wellness blogs and diet plans. But what are macros and how can they help you on your health journey?
Counting macros is an approach to calculating how much fat, protein and carbs to eat in a day. Whereas calculating calories in and calories out (CICO) just looks at the total number of calories, looking at macros goes deeper. Counting macros is a great way to track the nutritional density of your diet. It also helps ensure you are getting enough of what your body needs to optimize your daily performance.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about macronutrients, the benefits of counting macros, recent studies, delicious recipes to try and more.
What are Macros?
Every day, you feed your body three macronutrients: protein, fat and carbohydrates (carbs). These are the three main buckets of macronutrients that fuel your body. Each macronutrient provides a specific amount of energy (calories) per gram. In the case of macronutrients, this is as follows:
- Fats: Approximately 9 calories per gram
- Proteins: Approximately 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates: Approximately 4 calories per gram
By knowing these values, you can calculate the total caloric intake from each macronutrient and ensure that your daily calorie consumption aligns with your dietary goals, whether it’s weight loss, maintenance or muscle gain. Let’s take a deeper look:
There are different types of dietary fats, including saturated fats, unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and trans fats. You can get your daily macros from any fat source, but choosing healthy fats like avocados, olive oil and fatty fish1 and getting a dose of omega-3 fatty acids will be a better contribution to your well-being, than, say, deep-fried onion rings.
Healthy fats play a crucial role in your health. They are a concentrated source of energy, aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and providing the building blocks for cell membranes and hormones.2
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein molecules. There are 20 different amino acids. Your body can synthesize some of them (non-essential amino acids) but must get others from the food you eat (essential amino acids).3
As a vital component of every cell, protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass, healthy skin and hair. It aids in supporting weight management, as it helps you feel full and satisfied, reducing the likelihood of overeating.
You can get protein from animal and plant-based foods, like turkey, eggs, Greek yogurt, quinoa, tofu and legumes.
Carbohydrates serve as a primary energy source for the body, providing fuel for daily activities and exercise. Additionally, dietary fiber, a type of carbohydrate, supports digestive health by aiding in the removal of waste products from the body.4
Carbohydrates can be simple or complex and vary significantly in quality. Whole, unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes provide valuable carbohydrates along with essential nutrients. On the other hand, processed and sugary foods can negatively impact your health.5
You consume a different mix of these three macronutrient categories, depending on your food intake each day. Every food you eat also contains micronutrients, the nutritious elements of food. So even though two types of foods may be equivalent in terms of certain macros (3 ounces of chicken breast and 3 ounces of deep-fried chicken tenders both have 8g of protein), they aren’t feeding your body in the same way.
So why would you choose to count your macros? It’s like a more insightful way to count calories. You’re not only taking into account your daily calorie intake, but you’re considering where those calories come from. In other words, macronutrients are what’s inside those calories. Plus, counting macros means you have more flexibility in choosing what to eat than if you were simply counting calories. Even if you feel like indulging in a treat, if you stay within your daily macro allowance, you’re still on track.
Benefits of Counting Macronutrients
Counting macros can help you learn more about what’s in your food and how it affects your body. Here are some top ways that counting macros can be beneficial:
Greater satiety than CICO (calories in, calories out)
When you eat a balanced meal with the right macronutrient ratios, you're more likely to feel satisfied and less inclined to overeat. Counting macros may help you become more in tune with your body's hunger and fullness cues.
Optimal workout gains
Counting macros can help you get the most out of your post-endurance training. Consuming the right amount of protein can quicken recovery, maintain muscle mass and improve muscle damage6. For athletes, this could make all the difference in reaching body composition goals.
Flexible Food Choices
Counting macronutrients doesn’t dictate which foods you need to eat, just the nutritional makeup of that food. That means you are free to choose what best fits your taste and lifestyle, which makes counting macros easier to follow.
Data-Driven Decision Making
No need to leave your diet to guesswork. Tracking macros provides quantitative data about your food choices and nutritional intake. This data can help you track your progress, make informed adjustments to your diet and understand how different foods affect your body.
Counting macros is an approach that even the scientific community has taken note of. Next, discover studies that involve macronutrients and their effects on our bodies.
The Science-Backed Benefits of Counting Macros
According to a recent scientific study, reducing your protein intake in early middle age and late middle age could reduce the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s Disease7. Researchers noted that the ratio of macronutrients has a strong influence on health and can potentially affect longevity. As an example, the diet of centenarians in Okinawa is made up mostly of low fat and protein relative to carbohydrates.
Another study looked at how the low-carb, high-fat diet has gained popularity in Korea as a means to lose weight.8 However, this new trend encouraged low-carb eating without taking into consideration the quality of the fat and protein sources. This study highlighted the need to focus on the quality of macronutrients, and not just quantity, to achieve health benefits.
And finally, researchers found that a low-carb diet was associated with important improvements in weight loss, lipid profiles, blood pressure and the reduction of medication among patients with type 2 diabetes9. Researchers noted that modifying macronutrient intake can be done inexpensively alongside routine care, which offers hope for continued research and application of this method.
The Bulletproof Approach to Macros
Eating high-quality foods along with a balanced approach to macronutrients is a great place to start on the road to better health. At Bulletproof, we believe that it’s important not only to meet macronutrient needs but ensure that they come from nutrient-dense sources.
Bulletproof Diet Macronutrients
The Bulletproof diet views food as fuel and encourages the consumption of high-quality fats as your main energy source. We also advocate critical thinking when it comes to nutrition and personalizing your wellness plan according to what feels best for you.
This diet is like following a keto diet, which includes low-carb and high-fat food, but with special attention to the quality of food. Plus, we also advocate intermittent fasting and optimizing your diet with supplements. The Bulletproof diet is all about counting macros rather than calories and fueling your body with nourishing food.
If you want to count your macros according to the Bulletproof diet, the general recommendation breaks them down as:
- 50%-70% of calories from quality fats
- 20% from veggies
- 5% from fruit or starch
- 20% from protein
There are various types of keto diets, but they all promote high-fat and low-carb foods. The breakdown of macros on keto is:
- 75% from fat
- 20% from protein
- 5% from net carbohydrates (total grams of carbs minus grams of fiber)
If you’re not perfectly following this breakdown, don’t worry. Striking the right balance for you is all about trial and error and finding what works best for your body.
If you want to try a paleo diet, you get a bit more leeway for carbohydrates. An example of the macro breakdown on a paleo diet is:
- 50% fat
- 25% protein
- 25% carbohydrates
You can start there and then adjust accordingly. If you’re new to limiting your carb intake, it could be easier for you to ease into the paleo diet because it allows for a greater variety of food.
Finding the Right Macros for Your Goals
There are so many factors that can affect the way you choose to break down your macros: your health goals, your age and your lifestyle are just a few. Before you begin any new diet, think through the reasons why you want to make a change. Is it to lose weight? To get more energy? To be more conscious of what’s in your food? Take the time to make a plan that suits your needs. And, if in doubt, speak to a registered dietician who can help develop a diet that makes sense for you (plus, they can assist in keeping you accountable).
We’ve rounded up some of our top recipes for high protein, healthy fats and low carbs. Create this week’s meal planning with tasty new dishes you’ll want to try again and again.
Bulletproof Coffee Recipe
21 Protein Desserts You’ll Want to Make Again and Again
Salmon Protein Bowl With Broccoli and Leeks
24 High-Protein Breakfast Recipes to Power Your Day
Break Your Fast With Quality Fats: Fuel Up With These 20 Recipes
Pumpkin Pie Fat Bombs
10 Low Carb Snacks to Make Today
14 Keto Brownie Recipes Under 5 Grams of Net Carbs
Best Keto Bread Recipes So Good, You’ll Forget About Carbs
There is no one-size-fits-all plan for how much of each macronutrient is optimal for everyone. In fact, people around the world have survived (and even thrived) on various macronutrient ratios10. But, what is clear is that the macronutrient makeup of our diets directly affects our health. This includes our likelihood of developing diseases. To create your macronutrient plan, speak to your healthcare professional to develop a diet that makes sense for your lifestyle.
Yes, especially carbs because your digestive system breaks them down into glucose (sugar) and then releases them into the bloodstream. As for proteins, they can also affect blood sugar levels, but to a lesser extent. Some amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) can convert into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis.11 But this conversion is typically not significant enough to cause spikes in blood sugar. And finally, dietary fats have little direct impact on blood sugar levels. They can be blood-sugar friendly. Eating fatty foods can slow the absorption of carbohydrates, which may lead to a more gradual rise in blood sugar after a meal.
You’ve got a few options to make your life easier. There are a ton of apps available. If you want to go low-tech, you can track your macros with a pen and paper. Check the labels on packaged foods and use a kitchen scale to weigh your servings for more accurate calculations. You can also enlist the help of a registered dietician, who can develop a personalized meal plan for you.
Carbohydrates, specifically simple carbohydrates, like those found in sugary snacks, candies, sodas and many processed foods are often referred to as “empty” because they contribute to calorie intake without offering much nutritional value. They provide calories (energy) but very few essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber or protein.
Studies show that as you age, it is beneficial to adjust your macronutrient ratios.12 When you’re younger and more active, it makes sense to need more protein to build and maintain muscles. When you’re older and more sedentary, protein may not be as important. As you go through different stages of your life, consider evaluating with a registered dietician what your body needs and adapting your diet accordingly.