Categories: Health Nutrition

Macronutrients 101

November 9, 2017

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?

Kelly Hogan: Macros are macronutrients. There are three of them: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Athletes should understand their basic functions. Carbohydrates are needed for energy throughout the body and brain. Protein helps rebuild and repair muscles, organs, cells, and hormones in the body. And fat helps manufacture and transport hormones, protects and insulates organs and bones, and is essential for brain function. Athletes should also understand which type of food falls into each category. Carbohydrates consist of grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and dairy. Proteins are found in animal products like meat and eggs, as well as plants like nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, and grains. And fats include oils, nuts, chia seeds, avocados, and cheese.

Why is counting macros so buzzy right now?

KH: 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, protein, and fat 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 protein and fat 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 when it comes to counting and tracking your macros?

KH: 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 signify a healthy diet or relationship with food – instead, it 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 also important to remember 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.

In the spotlight

Kelly Hogan

Kelly Hogan

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, is the clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is a many-time marathoner who lives in New York City with her rescue dog, Peanut. Follow her eating and running adventures on Instagram at @kellyhoganrd.