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To Count or Not to Count: What Are Macronutrients?

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Macronutrients and micronutrients are two terms tossed around the diet and nutrition world like confetti on New Year's. But what are they exactly? And why should we care about them? We have some answers.

If you've spent any time in the nutrition world or trying to lose weight, you've likely had the terms "micronutrients" and "macronutrients" tossed at you. Are you counting your macros? Were your micros good today? For the average person looking to eat better, lose weight, or just shape up their routine menu, the idea of counting a list of numbers and calculating each meal to meet goals can be a little overwhelming. But you may not need to. Read on to learn more about the two terms and how they could be useful for your food and fitness aspirations.

Macronutrients a class of compounds (nutrients) that humans consume in the largest quantities. They provide us with the bulk of our energy (i.e., calories). Sometimes referred to as "macros," the three main categories of macronutrients are carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Alcohol can also provide a large amount of bioavailable energy, although it is not a necessary diet component. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Carbohydrates and protein each provide 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram.

The total calorie amount of any given food comes from calculating the macronutrient ratio. For example, if a peanut butter and jelly sandwich has 35 grams of carbohydrates (35 grams x 4 calories = 140 calories), 9 grams of protein (9 grams x 4 calories = 36 calories), and 12 grams of fat (12 grams x 9 calories = 108 calories), the total calorie amount of the sandwich is 284 calories.

Micronutrients, on the other hand, include most of the vitamins and minerals the body requires in trace amounts. These nutrients enable the production of enzymes, hormones, and other substances essential for proper growth and development.

In sports, fitness, and bodybuilding, macro counting (or tracking) has gained popularity as a means to lose, gain, or maintain body weight or alter body composition. As opposed to simply counting calories for weight loss, monitoring your intake of carbohydrates, protein, and fat can actually affect more than just pounds lost. For example, inadequate fat intake can negatively impact hormone production and leave you feeling hungry. Inadequate protein intake during a calorie deficit could result in a decrease in muscle mass, which could then lead to increasing physical weakness and possible immune compromise.

Figuring out the optimal ratio of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in the diet is highly individualized. It can depend on exercise or training regimen, age, sex and personal goals. Macros are most easily counted by downloading a mobile app, such as MyFitnessPal, which utilizes both the USDA and restaurant nutritional information for easy calculations.

Do we support macro counting? We support the premise of it, which is being more aware of what is in your food and using that information to eat better. The daily task of measuring your food can be tedious, and unless you have a reliable food scale and measuring tools, tracking items such as meat, produce, and dairy can be tricky. The truth of the matter is that there is no one system that works well for everyone. If you find that macro counting helps keep you on track while making you feel healthy, energized, and not deprived, than go for it. If you don’t want to get bogged down in the numbers, than focusing more on quality and portion sizes may be better suited for you.

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Either way, I believe what is of higher importance is focusing on wholesome foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, nuts, and whole grains the majority of the time, and enjoying less nutrient-dense treats in moderation. All foods can fit into a healthy, active lifestyle and having balance is key.