Macronutrients and Micronutrients aren’t just fancy words thrown around by personal trainers and nutritionists anymore—these terms have escaped the lips of fitness professionals and have now become everyday words with your everyday gym goer. If you’re feeling a little left in the dark, no sweat. Today we’re breaking down what exactly this macronutrient and micronutrient business is all about.
Let’s start with the macros…
WHAT ARE MACRONUTRIENTS?
Macronutrients, for the most part, make up our food. They consist of fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Food also contains micronutrients, but we’ll dive into that a bit later. Macronutrients play an extremely crucial role in our ability to digest food and absorb nutrients, our body composition (how much lean mass and body fat we have), hormone productions and much more. Let’s break it down a bit more…
Carbohydrates: In short, these are comprised of small chain sugars in which the body breaks down into either glucose, fructose or galactose and eventually releases them into the bloodstream as glucose. Carbs are used as the body’s main energy source, therefore our diets should make up anywhere from 40-60% carbs, depending on how active your lifestyle is.
Protein: Protein is a crucial macronutrient for repairing and regenerating our cells and tissues. The smallest unit of protein is the amino acid, and this is what the body breaks down proteins into (like carbs being broken down to glucose). There are 20 amino acids, 12 of which our body can make. These are called non-essential amino acids. The other 8 are referred to as essential amino acids. These aren’t created by our bodies so we need to get them from food. A common recommendation for protein intake is around 0.8 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, depending on your goals and activity level.
Fats: Contrary to popular belief, fats aren’t bad for you. In fact, they are just as important for your body as carbohydrates and protein. They play an extremely vital role in how our bodies absorb vitamins and minerals, improving brain development and much more. The simplest form of fats is fatty acids. Fats are the macro that takes the longest to break down and digest, so we shouldn’t rely on them for quick energy, however, it can and will provide the body with energy after it is broken down and digested. It is one of the most energy-dense macronutrients according to Precision Nutrition. It will also help transport fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). Keep in mind there are good fats and bad fats. We want to stay away from refined and processed foods and trans fats, as trans fats tend to come from industrial fat processing which isn’t good for our bodies. Make sure to consume healthy fats (such as avocado or cheese) and try to stay away from those unhealthy trans fats. A typical recommendation for daily fat intake is anywhere from 20-35% of your calories coming from healthy fats.
The thing to keep in mind with macronutrients and these recommendations is that one size does not fit all. Everyone’s body will react differently to what and how much food we consume. It’s all about finding the healthy balance that will work for you, which might take some trial and error. Once you have it dialed in though, your body will absolutely thank you for it.
On to the micros…
WHAT ARE MICRONUTRIENTS?
Micronutrients consist of vitamins, minerals and other compounds such as phytonutrients (plant chemicals). Our bodies need vitamins, minerals and other compounds to be healthy. Where these differ from macronutrients is we simply don’t need them in as large of a quantity. Having vitamins in our diet is important because we can’t produce most of them ourselves. The same thing is true for minerals. Although vitamins and minerals don’t give us energy directly, they play a huge role in our energy production. For example, we need to eat some fat to absorb fat-soluble vitamins in the most effective manner, so we could add olive oil or avocado to a salad to ensure we’re obtaining the most amounts of micronutrients available from that salad. On the flip side, some micronutrients are best absorbed when eaten raw, cooked or when their structures are crushed or broken down before consuming.
Minerals are like vitamins in the sense that we don’t need them in overly large quantities, but they are a very important aspect of our health. They help regulate body fluids and build body structures such as teeth and bones.
Just like with macronutrients, we don’t want to overdo it with micronutrients. How much you should consume varies from person to person. If you can’t quite figure this all out on your own, there are plenty of people and resources out there to help you dial in your macro and micro intake.
As you can see, macro and micro nutrients go together hand in hand. We need micronutrients to help our body in the process of breaking down and utilizing macronutrients, and vice versa where macronutrients are needed to break down and effectively absorb and use micronutrients. It is important that we are consuming an adequate amount of each, to ensure that we are properly fueling our bodies.