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 our health is concerned—and understanding the difference between macronutrients and micronutrients is always a good first step to building good nutritional habits.* Plus, it's a good idea to prioritize food sources when it comes to the nutrients that the body needs. School is in session below.
Macronutrients Are 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 are 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 our daily caloric intake, depending on how active you are.* (1,2)
Protein plays an important role in enzyme support and muscle protein synthesis. One crucial thing to understand is that proteins are actually made up of building blocks called amino acids—twenty amino acids used by the human body, to be precise. Nine of these amino acids are considered essential, which means they can't be made by the body—you have to get them through the diet. (One easy way to hit protein intake requirements is with a high-quality protein powder—ideally one that delivers a complete amino acid profile, like Essential Protein). When we consume protein, our 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, and fat-soluble vitamin transporting 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 always produce enough of them on our own—which is why it’s important to try seeking out external sources, primarily in our diet. The caveat is that many of us simply don’t meet our daily intake requirements for certain micronutrients from our diet alone, which is where a multivitamin can help out. (It’s just important that you choose one for your current life stage, since nutrient needs evolve over time).*
Quality Matters When It Comes to Macro and Micronutrients
That rings true for both macronutrients and micronutrients. After all, it makes sense that we’d want to fuel our body with high-quality nutrient forms, right?
From a macronutrient perspective, that means focusing on good-for-you, complete protein sources (for those looking for a plant-based protein source featuring a complete amino acid profile, check out Essential Protein); carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and legumes; and omega-3 fatty acids (over processed saturated fats). And when it comes to micronutrients, it means aiming to meet most of those needs through a well-varied diet of nutrient-dense foods—and taking a quality multivitamin that can help fill gaps.*