What are Macros and Should I Track Them?

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | May 18, 2017

If you don’t know what macros are, you’re not alone. Most people have no idea what they mean, so here’s a breakdown of what they are, what they do, and why you need them.

What are macros and what do macros do?

“Macros” is short for macronutrients. The three macronutrients are carbohydrate, protein, and fat. These nutrients are the ones that provide us with energy, which is measured in calories. In other words, macronutrients are nutrients that contain calories.

What are micros and what do micros do?

Micronutrients, on the other hand, include vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health but do not contain calories or directly provide energy. Micronutrients assist in the metabolic process, but we don’t ride for hours on end on vitamin C. However, our bodies can run for two hours at a steady state by utilizing carbohydrate, protein, and fat. In our fad diet culture today, there are countless theories about low fat, high fat, high protein, carb-restricted diets and many more.

Should you be counting calories?

I’ve been working in the field of nutrition and fitness for almost 20 years. While I was taught the science of counting calories when studying, I don’t believe in counting calories in the real world. Not only do most people find it boring and tedious, but it also distracts us from a positive mindset of seeing food as fuel. If we focus on foods that fuel our bodies, minds, and overall health, then calories are obsolete. Our focus should shift towards a balance of healthy foods that provide us with the maximum amount of nutrients to sustain our activity level and our health. When we’re mindful of what we eat, our bodies pay us back with good health and high energy.

With that being said, there’s a learning curve that might require us to take a step back and educate ourselves on where to find nutrients. Learn to tell the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs, as well as which fats are actually good for you. And find sources of lean protein that are suitable for your diet.

When you know where to find these macronutrients, learn how to put them all together to create a balanced diet that’s beneficial to you. Some people do, in fact, count macros in a methodical way that’s based on percentages. In our tech-centered world, we can use our smartphones to log everything we eat and obtain a breakdown of calories consumed and percentages of protein, carbohydrate, and fat.

Food is fuel, find a method that works for you.

Some people believe that they need a low carb percentage to maintain weight, while others think they need a high-fat percentage to “go keto”. The truth is that everyone’s metabolism is different and focusing only on “macros” is just a trendy way of creating a nutrient imbalance. We all have different metabolic rates, body types, lifestyles, and schedules. Nutritional intake needs to reflect each of these individual factors. In the end, it’s a balance that your body is looking for! Think of food as fuel and your body will work for you the way you want it to.

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles's profile picture

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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