“Macro” is a Greek word that means “large,” which, in the context of nutrition, relates to the size of the nutrient and its importance in energy balance. In basic terms, this balance can be defined as “energy in” (calories are taken into the body through food and drink) versus “energy out” (calories being used in the body for daily energy requirements). Energy is the core of nutrition and health, and the foundation for this energy comes from the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Guidelines for Macros
A micro-based diet looks at the percentage combination or ratios of carbs, proteins and fats in a person’s diet rather than total calories count alone. These traditionally have been set as percentages for total calories, falling somewhere within the following USDA guidelines:
- Carbohydrates: 45% – 65%
- Protein: 10% – 35%
- Fat: 20% – 35%
These guidelines provide a very broad range for each of the macros. So — how do you determine which ratio or range is right for you and your particular needs and goals?
Recent research has helped to narrow these ranges quite a bit. Below is a snapshot of some basic recommendations for macros.
Carbohydrates – Provide fuel during high-intensity exercise & for the brain and spares protein to preserve muscle mass during exercise.
1 gram = 4 calories
- For active individuals (general fitness): 45% – 55% total carbs per day (3-5 grams/kg body weight).
- For medium to high intensity training (1-2 hours/day, 4-6 days/week): 55% – 65% total carbs per day ( 5 – 8 grams/kg body weight).
- For weight loss or decrease body fat: 45% – 50% total carbs per day ( 3-4 grams/kg body weight. Note: choose lower-glycemic carb sources particularly later in the day).
Protein – Used for building, repairing and maintaining body tissues. It’s also involved in metabolic, transport and hormone systems. Additionally, protein is a component of enzymes that regulate metabolism.
1 gram = 4 calories
- For active individuals (general fitness): 10% – 15%t total protein per day (0.8 – 1.0 grams/kg body weight).
- For medium to high-intensity training (1-2 hours/day, 4-6 days/week): 20% – 30% total protein per day ( 1.5 – 2 grams/kg body weight); equivalent to 5 – 10 servings of quality protein sources per day.
- For weight loss or to decrease body fat: 25% – 30% total protein per day ( 1.5 – 2 grams/kg body weight). Note: a protein shake of approximately 25% – 30% of calories has been shown to boost metabolism by up to 80-100 calories per day, compared to lower-protein diets.
Fat – An energy reserve that protects vital organs and serves as insulation and transport of fat-soluble vitamins.
1 gram = 9 calories
- For active individuals (general fitness): 25% – 35% total fat per day (0.5 – 1.0 grams/kg body weight).
- For medium to high intensity training (1-2 hours/day, 4-6 days/week): Approximately 30% total fat per day (0.5 – 1.0 grams/kg body weight). Note: Choose minimal to low-fat pre- and post-workout nutrition to allow for better digestion and absorption of carbs and proteins.
- For weight loss or decrease body fat: 20% 25% total fat per day ( 0.3-0.5 grams/kg body weight). Note: choose higher sources of unsaturated and essential fatty acids such as fish oils, nuts/seeds, vegetable oils, etc.) to support the immune system and metabolism.