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Macronutrients 101 – Does Counting Macros Really Affect Fitness?

There’s a very good chance that right now, one of your friends is counting his or her macros. You’ve heard them talk about it during your group runs, and it’s been brought up during your mid-ride muffin stop. You know whether one friend hit her macro goals for the day, or whether another is seriously lacking in the protein department. But do you really know what they’re talking about when they talk about tracking their daily protein, carb, and fat intake?

Here, Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, breaks down the macro-counting breakdown, and explains why some athletes love this eating method – and why others should probably avoid it.

What are macros?

There are three macros (macronutrients): proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Athletes should understand the basic functions of these macronutrients and which type of food falls into each category:


  • Are needed for energy throughout the body and brain
  • Consist of grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and dairy.


  • Help rebuild and repair muscles, organs, cells, and hormones in the body
  • Are found in animal products like meat and eggs, as well as plants like nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and grains


  • Help manufacture and transport hormones, protects and insulates organs and bones, and is essential for brain function
  • Include oils, nuts, chia seeds, avocados, and cheese

Why is counting macros so buzzy right now?

It’s not necessarily a new way to diet, but it’s become popular from various folks, especially bodybuilders, promoting it as a way to help gain muscle and, oftentimes, lose weight.

I think the appeal is that for those who are numbers-focused, it’s fairly easy to play with the percentage of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in your diet based on your goals. It can help you adjust your nutrition plan beyond calories in, calories out. And you can definitely have short-term results. For example, cutting carbohydrates and increasing proteins and fats for faster weight loss.

The important thing to keep in mind is that using something like this as a quick diet plan isn’t long lasting and that weight loss will be largely due to water weight loss. Like any trendy diet, the appeal can also be that it manipulates eating patterns and may involve some restriction of foods, which people often associate with ‘successful dieting.’ But that’s not really what’s going to provide long-term success.

What are the risks in counting and tracking your macros?

For a generally healthy person, it’s not totally necessary to count macros or be that strict or rigid with what you’re eating and how much. That doesn’t really signify a healthy diet or relationship with food, rather takes the focus away from the actual foods you’re choosing to eat and why. The strict rigidity of a diet like this can easily fuel disordered eating thoughts and habits.

It’s important to understand and keep in mind that you don’t have to follow a strict diet or count macros in order to be a successful athlete! It works for some people, but others may find that a more balanced and less stressful way of eating is the best way to fuel their training and racing.

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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