Guide to Macronutrients: Part 1
At Fresh Fitness Food, personalised nutrition is at the heart of what we do. We believe nutrition is the foundation for a life of health and wellness, as well as playing an integral role in the achievement of fitness goals. Whether the clients’ goals include having more energy, clearer skin, building muscle or losing weight, nutrition is a key component, and we provide tailored nutrition plans for each individual client, to support them.
We wholeheartedly believe in a science-backed approach to nutrition so the calculation behind each clients’ recommendation is derived from a formula that takes into account their personal metrics, activity level and current health and fitness goals in order to calculate their calorie target.
What are Calories?
The proper definition of a calorie is: ‘one calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree celsius’.
Calories are units of energy we extract from our food during the process of digestion and which our body uses to carry out its daily functions, such as thinking, breathing, running, or dancing!
Government guidelines recommend the following daily calorie intake based on the average weight, muscle mass and physical activity level.
Females: 2000 calories
Male: 2500 calories
However, these estimations are based on the population, not the individual. It’s essential to note that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to nutrition. Everybody is unique and therefore so are our nutritional requirements.
The number of calories we require per day is completely individual and depends on a number of factors including our weight, height, sex, genetics, body composition, exercise frequency and activity level.
It can also vary depending on your current circumstances such as pregnancy, injury, or illness.
How many calories we burn in a day is referred to as our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and will vary from person to person.
TDEE will depend on both our resting energy expenditure (how many calories are burned just by being alive and carrying out basic bodily functions such as digestion and respiration) and our physical activity.
The industry-standard formula that we use to calculate our clients’ TDEE is the Mifflin St Jeor formula.
How do calories relate to our energy balance?
Energy balance refers to the relationship between energy in (calories consumed through food and drink) and energy out (calories used in the body for our daily energy requirements).
The number of calories your body requires will depend on a number of factors, including your age, weight, height, body composition, and how active you are.
When we are looking to lose weight, we need to be thinking about the energy balance – that’s calories consumed vs. calories expended. In order to lose weight, it is recommended that you consume fewer calories than you are expending. This is called being in a ‘calorie deficit’. We would usually recommend a 20% calorie deficit for gradual and sustainable weight loss. That means for example if you were expending 2000 calories per day, we would recommend consuming 1600 calories, which places you in a 20% calorie deficit.
What Are Macros
At Fresh Fitness Food, we break down our clients’ overall calorie intake into what are known as macronutrients. ‘Macro’ because they are required in large quantities by the body. There are three main macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat, all of which are used by the body in different ways and provide varying amounts of energy per gram.
Protein and carbohydrates both provide 4 kcal/g, whereas fat is slightly more energy-dense, providing 9 kcal/g.
Protein is a macronutrient that is made up of amino acids, which act as ‘building blocks’.
There are 20-22 different amino acids commonly found in plant and animal proteins. Nine of these are considered ‘essential’, meaning the human body cannot synthesise (produce) them from scratch, and they, therefore, must be obtained from the diet – these are commonly sourced from animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
These protein sources all contain different amounts and combinations of amino acids. Animal sources of proteins contain all the essential amino acids required by the body. These are also known as complete proteins.
Incomplete proteins on the other hand, are protein sources which tend to be low or lacking in one or more of the amino acids. These are plant-based items such as beans, peas and lentils.
That’s not to say that vegetarians and vegans cannot obtain the full range of amino acids, they just need to ensure they are combining different sources of plant protein. This typically involves combining a protein source, such as peanut butter, with a carbohydrate source, such as wholewheat bread. Combining pulses and cereals in one portion can provide a ‘complete’ protein.
There are also some complete protein sources which are plant-based, such as quinoa, buckwheat and soybeans, but it is great to vary your food sources where possible so that you are consuming other essential nutrients.
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is 0.8g per kg of body weight, but this is a guideline for the intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all healthy people, meaning it is a very general guideline. It has been suggested that this amount is not an appropriate amount for a training athlete to meet their daily needs.
How much protein you need can be influenced by a number of factors such as weight, your goal (weight maintenance, muscle gain, or fat loss) and level of activity. To find out more about how much protein you should be aiming to consume, click here.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, required for brain and organ function, as well as physical activity. They also play a role in the structure and function of cells, tissues and organs.
Without carbohydrates, your body struggles to function properly and you often end up feeling run-down and fatigued.
Carbohydrates consumed are metabolised into glucose. Those which are metabolised quickly, releasing glucose into the bloodstream rapidly, causing a quick rise in blood sugar levels, are known as simple carbohydrates. They are found in processed and refined sugars such as table sugar and syrups.
On the other hand, carbohydrates that are digested at a slower rate, have less of an immediate effect on blood sugar levels and provide us with a prolonged, steady energy release are known as complex carbohydrates. They include quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato and whole-grain bread.
Our bodies perform at their best when blood sugar levels are kept relatively constant, and so it’s important to understand the effect that different carbohydrates can have.
Fat is the third and final macronutrient. Fat is required as an energy source to provide the body with essential fatty acids (dietary fats that are vital for growth and cell functions but cannot be synthesised by the body), to allow for optimal functioning of nerves and the brain, assist in the production of hormones and are essential for the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K.
There are 3 types of dietary fat – Saturated, Mono-unsaturated and Polyunsaturated.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, or ‘healthy’ fats as they’re often referred to as can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds, salmon and avocado.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat, thought to be essential for recovery, due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
Some good sources of each macronutrient include:
- Protein: Animal-Based: Chicken, Red Meat, Prawns, Egg, Cheese. Plant-Based: Tofu, Chickpeas, Lentils, Quinoa, Edamame
- Carbohydrate: Oats, Rice, Beans, Sweet Potato, Whole-grain Pasta,
- Fat: Avocado, Nuts, Seeds, Olive Oil, Salmon
Micronutrients are nutrients required by the body in relatively small amounts, hence the term ‘micro’. These are composed of vitamins and minerals. Micronutrients play vital roles in the functioning of our body’s systems, and deficiencies can lead to detrimental effects on our health. They are termed ‘essential’ because we have to obtain them from food.
Vitamins and minerals are often grouped together, as they are both categories of micronutrients.
Minerals are the elements listed in the periodic table, such as iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. There are two forms of minerals, major minerals and trace minerals. Inorganic substances cannot be made by living organisms and are obtained through soil, and water. They maintain their chemical structure and cannot be broken down.
They support a wide range of functions such as growth, repair and maintenance, which are essential for the optimal functioning of our body.
There is a recommended daily intake for each mineral, which is measured in mg or g. If we obtain less than the recommended level, this will result in deficiencies. However, for some minerals, such as iron, obtaining excessive amounts can be toxic.
Vitamins are organic compounds containing carbon molecules which are required for us to live. There are two forms of vitamins, water-soluble and fat-soluble. Organic compounds are obtained from living organisms such as plants and animals, and can be broken down by sources such as air, water or heat. All vitamins are essential for the optimal functioning of our body.
They support a wide range of functions such as growth, repair and maintenance, which are essential for the optimal functioning of our body. There are 13 essential vitamins, all of which can be obtained from food but can also be obtained via supplementation.
There is a recommended daily intake for each vitamin, which is measured in mg. If we obtain less than the recommended level, this will result in deficiencies. However, for some vitamins, obtaining excessive amounts can be toxic.
There are two types of vitamins, fat-soluble and water-soluble.
Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E and K. They are found in high concentrations, mostly in fatty foods. The body can store fat-soluble vitamins for a period of time which means they may not need to be consumed on a daily basis.
Water soluble vitamins include vitamin C, and vitamin B complexes. Water-soluble vitamins cannot be stored by the body, which means that any excess will be excreted via urine. They are found in small concentrations in a wider variety of foods than fat-soluble vitamins.
There are actually 4 ‘macros’ or macronutrients: Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat and Alcohol. Alcohol isn’t generally included when we refer to macronutrients. Although it contains 7 calories per gram, it doesn’t really provide any additional nutritional benefits and is therefore not essential for the body to function optimally.
Dietary fibre is a term for a certain type of non-digestible carbohydrate. Fibre cannot be digested in the small intestine and therefore passes relatively unchanged into the large intestine (unlike sugars and starch).
Fibre is often split up in two categories:
- Soluble fibre: dissolves in water and becomes a gel-like substance in the body.
- Insoluble fibre: doesn’t dissolve in water and retains its form in the body.
Fibre is only found in plant-based foods. You can source fibre from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas), nuts and seeds.
Government guidelines recommend a fibre intake of 30g a day.
Read here to find out more about why we need it.
What is a macro-split?
Macro split refers to the proportion of calories you consume of each of the three macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat. As with many aspects of nutrition, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the most optimal split for an individual.
At FFF, our ‘Balanced’ meal preference has the following macronutrient split: 25% protein, 35% carbohydrates and 40% fat.
For example, if a client were recommended 2000 calories per day, we would be providing them with the following macronutrients.
Protein: 125g (25%)
Carbohydrate – 175g (35%)
Fat – 89g (40%)
What is the best macro-split?
There is not necessarily a ‘best’ macro-split to follow, as it can be both situation and individual-dependent. However, as each individual macronutrient plays important roles in overall general health, taking your macronutrient split into account can be beneficial (just as long as you are not forgetting about diet quality as a whole).
Generally speaking though, if you have a varied, balanced diet, consisting of a wide variety of fruit and veg, good quality protein sources, minimal processed foods and meals made from whole food sources instead, you can normally ensure you are covering all macros in a healthy manner. As a result, counting macros isn’t always a necessity unless you have a specific fitness goal for example.
It is important to note that, although tracking is a very valuable way to keep track of your overall consumption/ nutrition, for some, it may be difficult and affect compliance with your diet as a whole. Finding out what works for your lifestyle, preferences and body is the best way to go as you will put yourself in the best position to consistently adhere to your daily calorie amount and track towards your goal. Alternatively, we’re here to take the guesswork out of it for you!
That being said, there are times when it would likely be advised to pay more careful attention to your macros. For example, if you train intensely a large number of times per week, aside from diet quality as a whole, you will likely have to ensure that you are eating enough carbohydrates to fuel your sessions and replenish your depleted glycogen stores after training too.
Moreover, as you get older, your overall nutritional needs change – in particular your protein requirements. This is largely due to the fact that as you age, you lose muscle mass. As a result, it is vital to ensure that you are consuming enough protein in order to offset the loss of muscle mass over time.
At Fresh Fitness Food, we often get asked what is the best macro split for both a fat loss and muscle gain goal, in particular. As noted, there isn’t necessarily a correct answer, but there are a couple of factors to bear in mind
For Fat loss
As noted, to lose weight, you must be in a calorie deficit meaning you’re expending more calories than you’re consuming or vice versa.
When it comes to dropping body fat, people often opt for one of two methods – a balanced approach or low-carbohydrate, which often means removing/greatly decreasing your consumption of starchy carbohydrates (rice, potatoes etc.) and focussing on veggies instead.
The choice between the two is often down to personal preference. One is by no means superior to the other in the long run, as you will be consuming the same amount of calories, which is the vital consideration. However, on a low carb diet, you may see quicker results in the short term. This is largely due to the fact that when carbs are stored as glycogen in the body, you also store water. Therefore, when you reduce your carbohydrate intake, the initial drop in weight you may experience, will likely be mostly water weight.
For Muscle Gain
If you are looking to increase muscle mass, you will likely need to be in a slight calorie surplus, meaning you’re consuming more calories than you’re expending (or vice versa).
To maximise muscle growth, rather than solely increasing body fat (although some increase is inevitable), you will need to pair a calorie surplus with a challenging, progressive training plan.
When it comes to macronutrient split, a balanced approach is often a good starting point. However, protein should be your first consideration. This is because eating the correct amount of protein is crucial when it comes to building muscle, as in its absence your body will not have the amino acids it requires to build and repair muscle, meaning muscle growth will be impaired.
We would not usually recommend a very low carbohydrate diet when looking to gain muscle. This is because carbohydrates consumed are metabolised into glucose, and then excess glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen and can be quickly converted back into glucose if required. Glycogen stores within the body are limited, and depletion has been found to negatively impact exercise performance, namely through feelings of fatigue and exhaustion. When levels are extremely low in muscle stores, the body is forced to revert to utilising protein to produce glucose, which can lead to muscle damage and even overtraining if sustained for a period of time. Not ideal for your goal!
Fat will then make up the remainder of your calories, and it should not be forgotten due to the wealth of useful roles it has.
For muscle gain in particular, ensuring you are consuming plenty of polyunsaturated fats, including Omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon, mackerel, nuts and seeds), is key. This is because they are thought to be essential for recovery due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing inflammation is important when performing at your peak, as it helps reduce muscle soreness post-training (the dreaded DOMS), allowing you to recover more quickly and be ready to go again in no time!
That gives you a basic understanding of what macronutrients are, what role they play in the body and how adjusting them along with your calories can have a big impact on helping you achieve your goals. Discover more about considerations for certain population groups, such as females and those who follow a more plant-based diet, as well as how to determine what macros and calories are right for you in part two of this guide. Check that out here.
At Fresh Fitness Food, we’re the only meal delivery service that tailors your meals right down to the gram of each macronutrient. This personalisation means you’re eating the right about for you, your lifestyle and your goals.
Our nutritionists will ensure you have the right macro split within your deliveries so that you can avoid the hard work and the guess work. That gives you precious time back to spend doing the things you love. Get started today with code BLOG50 and start fuelling in the way that’s right for you.