Nutrition

What Are Macronutrients? Here's How to Find a Good Balance

3 min read

Learn about macronutrients and why they're the building blocks of a good diet.
Learn about macronutrients and why they're the building blocks of a good diet.

The name kind of says it all: Macronutrients are the nutritional compounds that we need the most of. Like micronutrients (aka vitamins and minerals), macronutrients help support pretty much everything your body does—we just need more of them to meet our daily needs.

Each type of macronutrient plays a uniquely vital role in your body’s daily functions—our energy-yielding metabolism in particular. You might already know that the three main macronutrients, or macros, are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (1). But how do each of these macronutrients lend support in the body?

Carbohydrates

The carbs that you eat each day are broken down to supply your body with glucose and other monosaccharides. Glucose is important because it can be metabolized into ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a type of cellular energy. This energy can help fuel exercise and support brain function, as well as power cellular processes like nerve impulses and muscle contraction.

Carbohydrates should represent 45% to 65% of your daily caloric intake, depending on how active you are (2). The more active you are, the more carbs you need to fuel your movement. Healthy sources of carbs include: (3)

  • Whole grains, such as whole wheat, steel-cut oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice
  • Whole fruits, including oranges and bananas
  • Beans and other legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas

Proteins

Dietary proteins support a wide range of processes in your body, including tissue production and maintenance, organ function, and enzyme support. They’re made up of a combination of twenty different amino acids: Your body breaks down proteins into individual amino acids and uses them like all-purpose building blocks. Amino acids can power new protein creation, serve as fuel, and support tissue production.

The National Academy of Medicine recommends taking in .8 grams of protein per kg of body weight each day—that adds up to about 7 grams per 20 pounds of body weight. Nutritious sources of protein include: (4,5)

  • Eggs, dairy, and meat
  • Some vegetables, including broccoli, corn, and asparagus
  • Whole grains
  • Beans, seeds, and nuts
  • Soy products, such as tofu

Fats

Healthy fats are an important part of a balanced diet. Fats help your body store energy, transport fat-soluble vitamins, and protect your organs.

Your daily caloric intake should be 20% to 35% from fat, although you should focus on unsaturated fats and limit saturated and trans fats whenever possible. Foods that can supply you with the fats you need are: (2)

  • Meat, fish, and dairy
  • Avocados
  • Oils, such as coconut oil and olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds

Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients

All of your daily nutrient requirements can either be classified as macronutrients or micronutrients. As we saw above, macronutrients make up the bulk of your daily food intake and are needed in large amounts to keep your body functioning.

Micronutrients, like vitamins and minerals, are needed in significantly smaller amounts. If you eat a diet with balanced macronutrients, there is a higher chance that you are getting many of the micronutrients that you need from the food that you eat—though not all, which is why we recommend filling the gaps with a quality multivitamin, like Essential for Women or Essential for Men.*

References:

  1. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Nutrition Glossary. Retrieved from FDA
  2. Manore, M. (2005). Exercise and the Institute of Medicine Recommendations for Nutrition. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 4(4):193–198. doi: 10.1097/01.csmr.0000306206.72186.00
  3. Carbohydrates. (2019, May 22). Retrieved from Harvard School of Public Health
  4. National Academies of Medicine. (2002/2005). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). Retrieved from National Academies
  5. Protein. (2019, October 28). Retrieved from Harvard School of Public Health

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