Guide to Macronutrients: Part 2

In part 1, we discussed what calories and macronutrients are and what split could be right for different people and goals. If you missed that, you can catch up here.

Now, we’re looking further into specific circumstances and how that can affect the intake needed as well as how you can determine what caloire requirements and macro split are right for you.

Considerations for females

In the past, women have often been referred to as ‘smaller versions of men’, when it comes to nutrition. It’s pretty much understood now that this is simply not the case. Women’s nutritional requirements are different to men’s and different to each other (!), throughout different phases of their life, for example during menstruation, fertility, throughout pregnancy, post-pregnancy, and both pre and post-menopause. Our bodies experience many changes over the course of their lifetime, so there’s a lot to manage!

Of course, nutrition is very personal, so for every woman, what works for some, might not work for others.

However, a healthy, balanced diet is still at the core for maintaining optimal female health. Ensuring you consume a varied diet consisting of high-quality protein sources, wholefood sources of carbohydrates (quinoa, brown rice or whole-grain pasta), and healthy sources of dietary fat (olive oil, nuts, seeds, salmon and avocado), is key.

That being said, there are some essential nutrients that all women should be aware of during different phases of their life.

The Menstrual Cycle

Typically, the menstrual cycle can be broken down into two phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase, separated by ovulation.

The follicular phase

The follicular phase runs from day 1 of your period until ovulation. This phase can be subdivided into two parts because of the changes in hormonal concentrations:

1. The period phase

At the start of your cycle the endometrial lining sheds and leaves your body via your vagina – aka the period. At this point in the cycle levels of oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest.

2. The follicular phase

Following the period oestrogen starts to increase until it reaches its peak just prior to ovulation (which occurs roughly at the mid-point in the cycle), whilst progesterone remains low.

The luteal phase

The luteal phase runs from ovulation through until the day before your next period arrives, and like the follicular phase can be subdivided into two parts:

3. The luteal phase

Immediately following ovulation oestrogen levels begin to temporarily fall before they rise to reach a secondary peak at roughly the mid-point of the second phase of the cycle. Additionally, at this time progesterone – which started to rise after ovulation – also reaches its peak.

4. The premenstrual phase

Following this, if pregnancy does not occur, both oestrogen and progesterone begin to decline and because your endometrium is no longer supported it begins to shed, and the cycle begins again.

Menopause

Eventually, women reach a point, typically in the mid-forties to mid-fifties, where their periods stop. This is caused by declining hormone levels and the ovaries slowing down. These changes often coincide with a number of infamous symptoms, such as hot flushes, weight changes, and low mood, but a variety of other, perhaps overlooked, symptoms as well, such as palpitations or joint pain (amongst others). 

The menopause transition period, or perimenopause, can be partially managed through lifestyle changes and adjustments to nutrition – you can read more about this here.

Pregnancy

Contrary to popular belief, pregnancy does not require ‘eating for two’.

In fact, there is no scientific evidence to suggest an increased calorie intake is necessary within the first two trimesters at all – just the third – as this is where the baby is developing most.

The mother’s metabolic rate (BMR) increases by around 15% in the third trimester, which means caloric intake needs to increase on top of maintenance calories as well to support the growing baby. Energy-wise, this works out to be an increase of approximately 250 kcal per day.

There are additional considerations for pregnancy, such as supplementation (folic acid intake is double the normal recommended amount in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy), and food and drink that should be avoided (you can view the full details of this here).

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding places an even greater demand on the mother’s body – on average, babies will take around 750ml of milk per day, all of which the mother produces herself (assuming that she is breastfeeding).

Producing all this milk each day expends a huge amount of energy – around 450 kcal extra! It is therefore recommended that breastfeeding women supplement their nutrition with a further 450 kcal per day, at least until they have had their postnatal check-up with their doctor, to ensure there’s a healthy supply of milk for the baby to continue steadily growing postpartum.

Following the postnatal check-up, the doctor will advise as to whether it is safe for the mother to start losing weight or not. If it is safe to do so, she may start to gradually decrease her daily calorie intake from there.

It is important to note that this is a very special, and potentially difficult time for mothers. While the media’s fixation on women ‘bouncing back’ immediately after giving birth can be intrusive and hard to shake, this time should be used to bond with your newborn and ensure you are looking after yourself, as well as them. Your baby is unbothered by what you look like – they just want enough love and milk (whether that is through breastfeeding or bottle) to keep them happy and healthy.

Considerations on a plant-based diet.

Protein 

It’s a myth that you can’t get enough protein on a vegan diet, though vegans do have to be quite savvy to ensure they get everything they need.

As previously mentioned there are 20-22 different amino acids commonly found in plant and animal proteins. Nine of these are considered ‘essential’, meaning they cannot be synthesised by the human body, and they, therefore, must be obtained from the diet. 

Essential amino acids are commonly sourced from animal products, such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Since they contain all the amino acids we require, we call them ‘complete proteins’.

Plant-based sources of protein contain different amounts and combinations of amino acids but do not often contain the full spectrum of essential amino acids we require. That’s not to say we can’t obtain all the protein we need, but we must do so through clever combinations of different foods, for example combining peanut butter and wholemeal toast or rice and beans will provide all 9 essential amino acids.

There are also several complete sources of plant-based protein, such as quinoa, tofu and tempeh.

Other nutrients to be aware of include calcium, iron and zinc. These are easily to obtain but may require a little extra planning to make sure you are getting the right amount of each nutrient. 

Supplements

It’s important to be aware that we cannot absorb all nutrients from plant-based foods alone. There are a few nutrients which may require supplementation. 

B12 

Vitamin B12 is found in animal-based products and cannot be obtained naturally from plant-based sources. Although some food products are now fortified with vitamin B12, such as cereals, plant-based milks and nutritional yeast, for example, we would always recommend supplementing this particular nutrient. 

When considering which supplement to take, we would recommend opting for vitamin B12 in the form of methylcobalamin, which is most easily absorbed. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, otherwise known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’ is synthesised by the body following sunlight exposure. Although it can be found in small amounts from a small number of animal-based products such as eggs, it cannot be obtained from plant-based food sources. 

We would recommend supplementing vitamin D in the form of vitamin D3 which is more readily absorbed by the body. 

Omega-3

There are three types of omega-3 fats:

  1. ALA (alpha linoleic acid): This form can be found in plant-based foods like nuts and seeds (especially flaxseed).
  2. DHA (Docosahexanoic acid): This form can mainly be found in algae and seafood.
  3. EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid): This form can be found in seafood, mainly oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.

Those including oily fish twice per week are likely to obtain plenty of omega-3 through their diet whilst those not consuming oily fish may require supplementation. It’s important to make sure any supplement provides both DHA and EPA. 

How to work out what is right for you

Finding the right balance of macros can not only help you lose, maintain or gain weight, but it can also impact the quality of your results. 

To work out your required macros, you first need to determine your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), this is the amount of energy you burn in a day and takes into account your resting energy expenditure, as well as your physical activity level.

The industry-standard formula that we use is the Harris-Benedict formula (most recent version ‘Mifflin-St Jeor’). 

Using a 21-year-old female who is 168cm tall, weighs 70kg and exercises 2-3 times per week as an example, here is how you would use this formula:

Step 1: Work out your Resting Energy Expenditure (REE)(10 x weight (kg)) + (6.25 x height (cm)) – (5 x age) – 161= 1,484 calories

Step 2: Work out your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) Sedentary = REE x 1.2

Lightly Active = REE x 1.375

Moderately Active = REE x 1.55

Very Active = REE x 1.75

For our example, I have selected lightly active. So, 1,484 calories x 1.375 = 2040.5 calories per day

This TDEE (2040.5 calories) is the amount of energy burned throughout the day.

Step 3: Determine the deficit or surplus required to achieve your desired goal. For example, we apply a 20% calorie deficit for our Fat Loss clients.

A 20% deficit would therefore equal 1632.4 calories, which would be the amount needed per day to lose weight. 

Step 4: Work out macros. To work out her macros from this, we need to know the following:

Protein = 4kcal per 1g

Carbohydrates = 4kcal per 1g

Fat = 9kcal per 1g

Using our calories per day, we can then work out how many grams of each macro is needed. We will use our Balanced meal macronutrient split option as an example. It has a split of 25% P, 35% C and 40% F.

We do this by: Calories per day x (% of macro / 100) / kcal per g

So, for example for protein it would be 1632.4cals x (25/100) / 4 = 102g of protein per day

Completing this for every macro would reflect the following for our example:

  • Calories per day: 1632.4cals.
  • Protein per day: 102g.
  • Carbs per day: 143g.
  • Fat per day: 73g.

Our nutrition algorithm is built into our order form and will calculate your individual daily calorie requirements based on your individual biometric data, your activity level, as well as your exercise or training frequency.

It is important to be aware that this provides an estimate of your daily calorie requirements, based on the information provided. As a result, on occasions it may need to be adjusted on an individual basis, depending on your rate of progress and how you are finding your plan as a whole.


Click here to calculate your recommended macros.


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.

Georgia Head

Published by Georgia Head

In her teenage years, a love of food and rowing led Georgia into this field as she wanted to know how to optimise performance through nutrition. With a BSc in Nutrition and an MSc in Sports and Exercise Nutrition, she has the skill set to help you track towards your goals and maximise your potential.

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