Nutrition

Understanding the Difference Between Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients

4 min read

Macronutrients and micronutrients are the building blocks of your diet. But do you understand the difference between the two—and how they function in the body?
Macronutrients and micronutrients are the building blocks of your diet. But do you understand the difference between the two—and how they function in the body?

Make no mistake: Our bodies need a careful balance of both macronutrients and micronutrients to function. These two categories of nutrients are essentially the building blocks of our nutrition, working in tandem to ensure that a variety of our different systems are running at a cellular level—sometimes even smaller.

That said, knowledge is power where your health is concerned—and understanding the difference between micronutrients and macronutrients is always a good first step to building good nutritional habits. Plus, it's a good idea to know whether to prioritize supplementation or food sources when it comes to the nutrients your body needs. School is in session below.

Macronutrients are the nutritional compounds we need more of.

Specifically: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. They’re all essential for unique reasons, and play a major role in the way our body functions—specifically functions like energy-yielding metabolism.

The carbs we eat are broken down into glucose and other monosaccharides, which is metabolized into adenosine triphosphate, or ATP. If you remember from high school biology, ATP is a type of cellular energy used to fuel everything from exercise and brain function to cellular processes. A pretty big deal, right? As such, carbohydrates should represent 45% to 65% of your daily caloric intake, depending on how active you are.* (1,2)

Protein plays an important role in enzyme support, and muscle support to name a few. But one crucial thing to understand is that proteins are actually made up of building blocks called amino acids— twenty one amino acids used by the human body, to be precise. When you consume protein, your body breaks it down into these individual amino acids to serve a variety of different essential functions in the body—including a role in the production of more protein. Pretty cool.* (3)

When it comes to fats, not all are created equal. To make the most of fats’ role in supporting energy storage, fat-soluble vitamin transporting, and organ protection, it’s important to aim for quality varieties like omega-3 fatty acids over saturated and processed fats, which can have unwanted impacts. (Hint: Fish, avocado, and nuts are all good sources.)*

Micronutrients are tiny nutritional compounds with a big job.

Meet these small but mighty members of your team: Micronutrients can be defined as the vitamins and minerals that we may need in tinier amounts, but still play a wide-reaching role in different processes of the body. Consider vitamin D, which helps out with calcium absorption, bone health, and normal immune function. Or vitamin B12, which contributes to energy-yielding metabolism. Vitamin C is an antioxidant. Then there’s iron—a powerhouse when it comes to supporting blood health. The list goes on.*

The thing to know about micronutrients is that our bodies can’t alway produce enough of them on our own—which is why it’s important to try seeking out external sources, primarily your diet. The caveat is that many of us simply don’t meet our daily intake requirements for certain micronutrients in our diet, which is where a quality multivitamin can help out. (It’s just important that you choose one that’s tailored to your current life stage, since nutrient needs evolve over time.)

Quality matters

That rings true for both macronutrients and micronutrients. After all, it makes sense that you’d want to fuel your body with quality nutrient forms that it can actually use, right?

From a macronutrient perspective, for example, that means focusing on good-for-you carbs like whole grains, fruits, and legumes, or omega-3 fatty acids over processed saturated fats. And when it comes to micronutrients, it means aiming to meet most of your needs through a well-varied diet of nutrient-dense foods—and taking a quality multivitamin that can help fill gaps.*

References:

  1. 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
  2. ATP Definition. (n.d.). Retrieved from Nature
  3. National Research Council (US) Subcommittee on the Tenth Edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1989. 6, Protein and Amino Acids. Retrieved from National Institutes of Health

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