What are macros?
What you’re about to understand
1. All about macros – simplified.
2 How gaining an understanding of a simple everyday biological process will significantly improve your ability to lose fat.
One of two of the most important parts of fitness is nutrition, the other of course is training.
With so many diets and fad products that fade in and out, the essential and the basic remain unchanged, there is simply no reason to fix what isn’t broken. It is simple to understand; to adapt; and to practice.
This article will break down in to simple terms what has become unnecessarily complicated and often misleading.
You are a human with a big brain, whether you live an active lifestyle or not, by default, your relatively large brain compared to other animals requires a lot of energy to be optimally sustained.
This form of energy comes from our food sources which becomes our caloric intake. In recent times, many in the developed world have become more health conscious in their lifestyles. We understand that just consuming high calorie dense foods from processed and unhealthy sources, at least consistently as the bulk of our main diet is bad for our health.
So, more of us are now aware that it is not just about getting in as much energy as possible but where this energy comes from is equally important to anyone who cares about their health regardless of physique.
Thus, it is useful to view the majority of great physiques as byproducts of a healthy active lifestyle. I am making the assumption that you care about not just your physical health (you are on a fitness page) but also mental health.
It goes without saying that these two share an inseparable relationship – as innately as your body and the food you eat.
You get the idea. Good food = important for a good life in every imaginable facet.
In our food, many things can be found and much of this is essential for healthy living.
Whether you consistently train or not, the macro and micro nutrients above are essential for the optimal functioning of the body. Protein is especially vital for growth and muscle repair, the timing of which (protein intake) should be not long after you have had an intense exercise session – where muscle breakdown occurs.
1. Carbohydrates (4 kcal per gram)
To many people, carbohydrates are the most easily accessible fuel and perhaps the most misunderstood. They are the body’s primary source of fuel – found in the form of bread, rice, pasta and all forms and derivatives of grains such as sugar.
It is also found in other forms of lactose (diary) and fructose (fruit). They come in fast (sugar) and slow versions (highly fibrous) – e.g. fruit juices and chocolate are simple carbohydrates whereas oats are complex.
Carbohydrates are metabolized by the pancreas, and it then flows into the bloodstream as glucose. The quickest form of this process is when you eat simple carbohydrates, which is useful when you need an immediate boost of energy, such as before a strenuous activity.
What is glucose (blood sugar)?
A type of sugar that is released from the foods you eat which the body uses for energy.
After food travels down from the esophagus to the stomach; it breaks down and glucose is released. Glucose travels through the bloodstream in to the cells, the concentration of glucose in blood is known as blood sugar, which can be low, normal or high.
Excess glucose is stored away in the liver after being converted in to a compound called glycogen. Glycogen also get stored into the cells, including the muscles (1).
This process can happen because the pancreas acts as a fuel tank, it works to control your blood sugar levels at all times.
Thanks to the liver and pancreas with their ability to produce glucose and convert/store it from sugars, the body can essentially produce its own sugar when you need energy (usually for about a day at most).
The body uses stored energy during sleep and in between meals by reversing the process: using your glycogen stores and turning them back in to glucose to be used as energy (1).
The important part for understanding the science of weight loss
In addition to an increase in blood sugar, after a meal, levels of the hormone insulin increases as the body starts to break down the food. Insulin is like a key which unlocks the cells so that they can receive the energy from glucose. Insulin signals to the body to suppress glucagon.
Storing versus releasing
Insulin is a hormone which moves glucose from your blood in to the cells. When there is an excess amount of blood glucose levels, the pancreas produces insulin which begins to use the glucose for immediate energy and/or to store the glucose as glycogen stores in muscle, liver and fat cells for future use. Insulin stops your blood sugar level from getting too high.
When there is a low level of blood glucose from an extended period of not eating between a meal, the pancreas releases glucagon which signals to the body to release glycogen – the body’s energy reserves (commonly in the form of fat). Glucagon stops your blood sugar level from getting too low.
Summary for fat loss
What this means is that too much insulin is especially bad for losing weight. To optimize fat loss, you should aim for a higher level release of glucagon since insulin encourages energy storage, glucagon is the opposite.
Too much glucose in your blood is basically a level that is too high and it will result in creating an optimum environment for your body to start storing excess energy.
Glucose mainly comes foods rich in carbohydrates like starches (bread, potatoes, rice) and sugars (1.1).
Most leafy green vegetables hardly count towards your daily carb intake which is why you should be eating plenty of these to accompany your lean proteins with every meal.
If the majority of your calories come from vegetables and lean meats, combined with a caloric deficit, it is assured that you will start to lose weight, assuming that you stick to this for at least 6 weeks at the minimum. It is simple science: an understanding of how the body breaks down macros and estimating your total daily energy expenditure in calories.
So how do you optimize this?
Combine two of the most effective and scientific ways of fat loss together: a 10 -20% daily caloric deficit + a low carb diet for a significant amount of time = 8 – 12 weeks.
Why low carb?
Slower ‘complex’ versions such as vegetables and whole grains from oatmeal are broken down more gradually – as the longer chains and fibers from the grains keeps you fuller for longer. It’s why oatmeal is a great breakfast option, it will last long and keep you energized for a while as the day progresses. Nonetheless, at the end of the day they are broken down into sugars all the same, they are simply broken down more gradually.
You might have come across some form of the carb phobia epidemic that has become popular in the industry. Carbohydrates are not the enemy, they have become misunderstood in being perceived to cause weight gain likely due to people not being aware of the breakdown process mentioned above. There is a time and place for simple carbohydrates – first thing in the morning, and post workout, since your metabolism is faster during these times, most of the glucose goes towards replenishing either your muscles and/or from a long period of not eating.
Fiber is a form of carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by the body unlike sugar. Instead, it passes through the body undigested. Fiber aids in digestion, the regulation of sugar breakdown, and it helps you feel fuller for longer according to a Havard study (2). High fiber is a good hack for warding off cravings for junk food.
It is recommended to have a daily intake of at least 20-30 grams for optimal health.
How to get lots of fiber?
Plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
So when it comes to dieting, what’s better than eating less but feeling feeler? Fiber is a key component.
2. Fats (9 kcal per gram)
Fats and proteins are two macro nutrients that cannot be produced by the body. Therefore, there is a slightly higher importance placed on sourcing these from foods compared to carbohydrates, especially when you are on a low carb diet.
Fats aid in the absorption of nutrients, minerals and vitamins. Essential fatty acids are vital for health in small amounts, and all of this must come from specific foods, some of which will include omega 3 and omega 6.
Fats are essential for your cells, skin, nails and hair. Not only this, but fats almost always makes food taste better through the cooking process!
Foods rich in sources of healthy fats includes, but is not limited to: fatty fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, cheese, meats, butter and coconuts.
Best to eat in moderation:
1. Sausages and other processed meat
2. Donner Kebabs (high sodium and high trans fats)
3. Margarine and margarine based baked products
4. All trans fats
It’s best that you moderate your intake of the above mentioned list of foods just as you would do with high sugar foods because these foods are high in trans fats and saturated fats of the unhealthy kind, 1 and 2 also come with an additional high level spike of sodium. Avoid number 4 if you can.
Truth be told, I eat number 1 quite consistently, but rarely will I ever eat enormous amounts, I’ve said this in another article here, and I will sum it up in two words: portion control.
Portion control is more important than what you eat when it comes to weight loss, which means, yes; you can lose weight eating mostly junk food, but I do not advocate that because it’s unhealthy, unsustainable and you don’t even get to eat a lot because junk food makes you hit your daily total calories so fast. You can easily consume over 700 calories in a single meal eating junk food. But try to burn 700 calories in a single exercise session – it is immensely hard.
For example, I currently need to eat around 2400 kcal a day to stay on target for my fat loss goals until October. A typical McDonald’s meal (I always go large obviously) is around 1150 kcal. Minus 200 kcal if you chose to go for the sugar-free drink.
You see, that’s a huge, being almost half my total in one meal, if you have an intense training session that day which will minus the burned calories from your total, and if you truly know that you can confidently fit that in while getting in enough of your essential macros then you can do that. But you can see how this makes things much harder. With healthy food, not only can you feel twice as full from a meal that can easily be less than half that amount, there are many other benefits both seen and unseen that you will inevitably notice.
Found in all meats, some plant-based foods such as beans, lentils and soy, and in dairy, eggs and peanuts. Protein is to your muscles what fuel is to a car. Perhaps not exactly, but essentially your muscles will never grow and be repaired without an abundance of protein. Protein is essential for growth and tissue repair.
Think of proteins like beads on a thread. Each one of these beads are many small units called amino acids which are chained together via bonds called peptides. These amino acids are important for regulating body structure, function, tissues and organs (3)
Aim for 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of your body weight, if you weigh 160lbs you should aim to consume around 160 grams per day.
(1) The liver and sugar https://dtc.ucsf.edu/types-of-diabetes/type1/understanding-type-1-diabetes/how-the-body-processes-sugar/the-liver-blood-sugar/
(2) Study on fiber: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
(3) Protein and amino acids https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/biomolecules/amino-acids-and-proteins1/a/chemistry-of-amino-acids-and-protein-structure