What are macros?
The latest health trend, explained by the experts
‘Macros’ is the new buzzword on the block, but should you pay attention or is it a passing fad?
Consider nib your health partner when it comes to looking after your body and mind. So, when it comes to helping you understand the science behind optimising your diet, we engaged the experts to get the info you need.
Honeysuckle Health dietitian and Allied Health Coach Georgie Britton has plenty of experience teaching her clients how to count macros to achieve their weight-loss or fitness goals. We asked her for the lowdown on macros.
“Each food and fluid has a different percentage of macronutrients,” says Georgie. “While a slice of wholegrain bread includes all three macronutrients, it has a higher percentage of carbohydrates. Grilled chicken has a higher percentage of protein, and nuts have a higher percentage of fat. When people talk about their macros, they’re referring to the proportion of protein, fat and carbohydrates they’re eating on a given day.”
How to count macros
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends the following macro targets for general health and to reduce the risk of chronic disease:
45 to 65% of total energy intake should come from carbohydrates
20 to 35% should come from fat
15 to 25% should come from protein
“To accurately track your macros, you first need to calculate your total energy requirements – based on your age, sex, physical activity and health goals – and determine your personalised macro range,” explains Georgie.
“You then consider the amount of energy – or kilojoules – in each macronutrient to determine how much protein, carbohydrates and fat to consume in a day. The final step is to translate those macronutrients into food and meals.”
While there are plenty of apps available to help you count your macros, Georgie suggests choosing one that is relevant to the country you live in and features a wide range of food brands to help you get accurate results. If you’re new to macros, you might be better consulting with an accredited practising dietitian.
“Tracking macros can be confusing and it’s easy to get it wrong without help from a health professional,” she says.
Benefits of counting macros
Overall, counting macros can help you understand the nutrient content of different foods and ensure you’re getting the ratios you need to achieve your health goals, says Georgie. But, she adds, this approach may not go far enough.
“Simply sticking to your individualised macro distributions won’t cut it when it comes to health, wellbeing and fitness. If you’re meeting your macros by consuming mostly processed foods, you’re likely missing out on essential micronutrients your body needs to thrive.”
Georgie recommends ensuring you’re getting your macros from the five main food groups outlined in the Australian Dietary Guidelines:
Vegetables and legumes/beans
Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties
Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives, mostly reduced fat
Macros and weight loss
Because each macro contains a different amount of energy – or kilojoules – counting macros is a common strategy in the weight-loss industry. “Carbohydrates and protein contain approximately 16.7kJ per gram while fat contains approximately 37.7kJ per gram,” explains Georgie.
You might be tempted to avoid foods that are high in fat to lose weight, but Georgie warns that that isn’t the best strategy. “Foods that are rich in healthy fats – such as nuts and seeds, olive oil and avocados – have a greater amount of energy, but they also make you feel satisfied and fuller for longer which can help you reach your weight-loss goals,” she explains.
Macros and muscle gain
If you’re an avid gym-goer or an amateur athlete, knowing how to count macros for muscle gain can improve your performance.
“To build muscle, the body needs a higher percentage of protein throughout the day,” says Georgie. “For endurance exercise such as running, the body needs a higher percentage of carbohydrates. Your macro distributions need to be adjusted depending on your fitness goals.”
To count macros or not to count macros?
Counting macros can be helpful, but Georgie recommends not getting too hung up on achieving the perfect balance of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
“I suggest booking an appointment with an accredited practising dietitian to discuss the macronutrient distribution that works best for you and your health goals,” she says.
Please note: The tips throughout this article serve as broad information and should not replace any advice you have been given by your medical practitioner.
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Georgie Britton is an accredited practicing dietitian with widespread nutrition knowledge across a range of health settings. She is passionate about supporting people to improve their health and wellbeing by giving them the tools they need to make better food choices. Currently, she works at Honeysuckle Health where her role includes nutritional counselling for people with chronic diseases. Not surprisingly, Georgie loves cooking and sharing home-cooked meals with friends and family. Her favourite dish is a bowl of homemade fettucine with crisp sage and roasted pumpkin from her garden, lots of extra virgin olive oil, and a peppery rocket salad, all served with a glass of red wine and finished with some dark chocolate.