“Macros” are short for “macronutrients,” and refer to the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats that make up our foods. Some foods might be primarily one macronutrient, whereas other foods may contain all three macros. For example, chicken breast is high in protein, whereas salmon is high in protein and healthy fats.
Calories per gram:
- 1g Protein = 4 calories
- 1g Carb = 4 calories
- 1g Fat = 9 calories
Sometimes people struggle to understand calories versus macros. Macros are simply the different building blocks that make up our calories. And the foods we choose to eat each day certainly matter! Consider a diet that encompasses lots of fast food, processed food, soda, and candy… versus a diet that encompasses mostly real whole foods, lots of high-quality animal proteins, healthy fats, tons of fruits, veggies, fiber, and so on. Over time, we would likely have two very different health outcomes (:
Many people get hyper-focused on tracking their calories but take no interest in their macros. We love macro tracking as it can provide clear and concise data that we can manipulate to elicit whatever our desired outcome is.
Macro #1: Protein
Protein helps us build muscle, carry good body composition, and keeps us satiated and full. Adequate protein intake is the key to looking good and maximizing our time in the gym. Whether we are in a muscle-gaining phase, a fat-loss phase, or just simply maintaining right where we’re at, eating ample protein is a must.
We also need protein to live. Every cell in our body contains protein; we have to eat protein to repair our cells and make new ones. By eating enough protein every day, our body can function properly and produce enzymes, hormones, and antibodies to keep us safe and healthy.
How Much Protein Should I Eat?
Current research suggests: “if you’re of healthy weight, active, and wish to build muscle, aim for 1.6–2.4 g/kg (0.73–1.10 g/lb) in grams of protein.”
^^ We’re looking at getting about ~0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound bodyweight, for most active individuals.
If higher body fat, we’d recommend aiming closer to the bottom of the range (~0.8 grams). Leaner individuals with more muscle might aim closer to body weight.
Note that when we say “grams of protein”, we are looking at the nutritional content of our food. This is different from the literal weight of the item we are eating (:
For example, 4 ounces of raw chicken breast has about 24 grams of protein. Now, let’s say we’re aiming for 120 grams of protein for the day. That means we would have to eat about 20 ounces of chicken throughout our daily meals! We highly recommend eating a variety of protein sources throughout the day, but you get the idea.
Historically, people are pretty terrible at getting adequate protein each day. If you’re not tracking your protein, you’re probably not getting enough of it. No sweat if you’ve never tracked your protein before, or if you know you’re not currently getting enough of it. Good things take time, and your nutrition will likely be no different. Baby steps!
Hack: try increasing how much protein you’re getting by simply adding 1-2 oz more meat to each of your meals.
- Leanest Sources – Chicken Breast, Chicken Breast Tenderloins, Ground Turkey (99%), Ground Chicken, Tuna Steak, Chilean Sea Bass, Mahi Mahi, Atlantic Cod, Tilapia, Sea Scallops, Deli Turkey, 0% Greek Yogurt, Protein Powder, Egg Whites
- Lean Sources – Ground Bison (96%), Ground Turkey (96%), Ground Beef (93%), Sirloin Steak, Filet Mignon Steak, Shrimp, Pork Tenderloin, Deli Ham, Trout, Catfish
- Fatty Sources – NY Strip Steak, Ribeye Steak, Chicken Thighs, Chicken Wings, Chicken Sausage, Ground Turkey (90%), Ground Beef (85%), Ground Bison (85%), Ground Lamb, Ground Pork, Atlantic Salmon, Sardines, Eggs, Bacon, Full Fat Greek Yogurt
- Plant-Based Sources – Lentils, Quinoa, Green Peas, Chickpeas, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Pinto Beans, Almonds, Peanuts, Nut Butters, Plant-Based Protein Powder
Macro #2: Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates (more commonly known as carbs), help fuel us during workouts, support our recovery from workouts, and can support digestion via dietary fiber. Carbs are also delicious! (:
If you love being active and/or enjoy high-intensity exercise (like HIIT, Spin, CrossFit, Weightlifting, and Orange Theory), it’s SO important to eat enough carbs. This will support your exercise, lifestyle, and activity so you can look and feel great!
It’s worth mentioning that low-carb eating in women can sometimes be a contributing factor to hormone issues. It’s important to consider if this is something we’re currently struggling with right now.
How many carbs you can tolerate in a day is going to vary greatly depending on your activity levels, your workouts, your digestion, your age, etc. But in general, the more active you are, the more carbs you likely need.
How Many Carbs Should I Eat?
As mentioned above, this is going to vary person-to-person depending on your job, activity levels, and workouts. If you’re reading this, we assume you enjoy being active. Therefore, a good starting point might be 1.5 – 2.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight.
- Fruit – Apples, Apricots, Avocado, Bananas, Berries, Cherries, Dried Fruit, Figs, Grapefruit, Grapes, Jicama, Kiwi, Mango, Melons, Nectarines, Oranges, Papayas, Peaches, Pears, Pineapple, Plums, Pomegranates
- Veggies – Asparagus, Beets, Bell Peppers, Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Celery, Corn, Cucumber, Eggplant, Endive, Fennel, Green Beans, Kale, Leeks, Lettuce, Mushrooms, Okra, Onion, Parsnips, Plantains, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Radish, Rutabaga, Rhubarb, Romaine, Snow Peas, Squash, Sweet Potatoes, Swiss Chard, Tomato, Zucchini, Yuca
- Grains and Breads – Bagels, Bread, Chickpea Pasta, Oatmeal, Pancake Mix, Pasta, Quinoa, Rice, Rice Cakes, Tortillas, Frozen Waffles
- Other Options – Breakfast Cereal, Beans, Candy, Crackers, Chips, Granola, Honey, Lentils, Maple Syrup, Pretzels
Macro #3: Fats
That brings us to our final macro in the discussion of macros, which is dietary fat. The 1990s did us a real disservice by fear-mongering the consumption of fat and spreading the message that “fat makes you fat.”
Healthy fats are a great source of energy and are crucial for vitamin absorption (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K). They will also help you feel satiated and full after meals. Not getting enough healthy fats or quality sources of fats can contribute to hormone issues, menstrual cycle issues, skin problems, depression, and more.
How Much Fat Should I Eat?
It can be pretty common to see menstrual cycle irregularities and/or loss of menstrual cycle if we’re consistently only getting ~35-50g of fats per day. For this reason, a safe bet is to set fat goals at no less than 20-25% of total calories. Said another way: make sure to get a minimum of ~60-70g per day. As always, your mileage may vary and you’ll need to test to see where you feel best! (:
- Oils and Butters – Ghee, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil, MCT Oil, Grass-Fed Butter, Nut Butters
- Nuts and Seeds – Almonds, Avocado, Brazil Nuts, Cashews, Coconut, Hazelnuts, Macadamia Nuts, Peanuts, Pistachios, Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds, Walnuts, Olives, Sunflower Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Seeds, Pecans
- Animal Sources – Eggs, Bacon, Cheese, Full-Fat Milk, Heavy Cream, Salmon, Fatty Cuts of Meat (Ribeye, Roast, NY Strip), Sardines, Yogurts, Ground Meats (85%), Ham, Lamb
Looking For More Help?
Need more help with tracking your macros? Check out Paragon Founder LCK’s 130-page nutrition ebook, The Ultimate Guide to Nutrition, Muscle Gain, Fat Loss, & More.