Macros - Three Part Series

By Shari Wright | West Virginia National Guard Dietitian | June 14, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —

You may have heard of macronutrients and possibly how some think “counting your macros” are important for optimal nutrition but what are macro nutrients? This post will discuss what they actually are and how they function with an emphasis on carbohydrates. Don’t worry I’ll talk about proteins and fats as well. 

Macronutrients, macro or large, meaning these nutrients are needed in relatively large amounts. Most people think exclusively of carbs, fats (lipids), and proteins when discussing “macros”. Alcohol and fiber can also be included in the macronutrient conversation as well as vitamins, minerals and water. Right now we’ll focus on the carbs!

So what are the dreaded carbs that ruin lives and make us unable to button our clothes? Carbohydrates/Carbs are made by plants and are categorized by what are essentially sugars (not like the refined white stuff you pour on your cereal, which by the way stop doing that). Carbs are put in to three categories monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides. What all that stuff means is the monos are the simplest sugar, basically a single sugar that are the building blocks for bigger carbohydrates. Then you have the disaccharides. These are most commonly found in nature, like milk sugar (lactose) and malt sugar (maltose) like in beer. Then you have your polys which are your starches (amylose and amylopectin which are complex sets of molecules). Phew. Now that all that’s over.

What do we do with those nasty carbs?

We use carbs to maintain blood sugar between eating. The primary storage sources are in the liver and muscle (aka glycogen for those in the know). This isn’t an endless supply however which means we have to replenish those stores aka eat carbs. Yes you can use proteins and fats as forms of energy as well but that’s for another time.

The average man has about 18 hours of glycogen compared to two months’ worth of fat making carbohydrates essential macronutrients (we need it people, we need the carbs!) The recommended breakdown is 45% to 65% of your total calories from carbs (per Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board). Or the generic 40/30/30 percent breakdown can be used as well. I’m sure that seems high to people, especially those on low carb, paleo, or keto diets but the recommendations aren’t for French fries, snack cakes, white bread or chips. It’s in the form of vitamin, mineral, and nutrient rich fibrous foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, yes whole grains (like lentils). Which takes me to fiber! There are two types, one is digestible the other form is not. They have many functions in the body put most simply they help with bowel movements, decrease gastric emptying time (fill you up), decrease risk of tumor formation, helps to reduce serum cholesterol, and stimulate growth of beneficial gut bacteria.

As mentioned, the generic recommendation for daily macro intake is 40 percent of your total calories from carbs, 30 percent from fat, and 30 percent from protein, keep in mind everyone's total caloric intake goals are different. That calorie goal is based on activity level, age, current weight, and weight management goals. If you download MyFitnessPal, you can view your macronutrient distribution daily. If you have any questions, or if you're interested in developing goals or creating an individualized macro plan, give me a call/text (304-719-8064), send me an email at shari.r.wright.ctr@mail.mil, or look for my Facebook blog @ShariWrightPettitRDN.