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How Understanding Macros Will Help You Lose Fat And Build Muscle

Updated: Apr 29, 2022




89,790… That's how many meals you will eat within your lifetime!


We eat from the time we are born to the day we die. With an average of three meals a day, you can see how this adds up.


There are few things more important to humans than food. The air we breathe, and the water we drink are about the only things you could put above food for our basic survival needs.


So now that we all agree that food is essential, it's weird to think how little education we are given about eating. You would think that an activity you will do every day for the rest of your life would be better understood by us humans. Unfortunately for most people, that is not the case. Think back to how much education you got around food growing up?


Maybe a few short weeks in health class, if you were, were lucky. No one really tells you what to eat or how you should be eating for optimal health. No one teaches you that what you eat affects everything you do, including energy levels, mood, emotions, longevity, heart health, brain health, physical appearance, physical performance, and so much more.


Within this article, I will explain the importance of understanding food and, more specifically, macros and how you can use them to improve your health!


Let’s think about another area we spend a ton of time on. Let's say something like driving. Throughout our lifetime, we spend a ton of time driving, but even then, it's not something we do every single day like eating. Still, you were probably given more education, practice, and knowledge about driving than food. You probably started as a teenager with your parents teaching you some of the basics about driving before you could even get behind the wheel. Then you had to study for your permit test. Then you had to pass the permit test. Then you spent several hours learning to drive with your parents. After putting in the hours with your parents’ you then take driver's education. Here you learn even more about driving, including all the rules, regulations, and guidelines. On top of that, you then put in even more additional hours of practice by driving with a certified instructor.


So what’s my point here? Driving is important, but not too many things rank higher than the food we eat every day. So why don't we receive this amount of education on food and good nutrition practices?


Sadly, knowledge around nutrition just hasn’t been made a priority in our culture.


A study conducted in 2004 showed that doctors only received on average 25 hours of education and training on nutrition. Doctors who spend anywhere from 10-14 years in school only get 25 hours of nutrition training. If it’s not prioritized for some of the highest-ranking people in our community, then it’s easy to see how it can fall by the wayside and be seen as unimportant.


Since the study, things have seemed to progress as nutritional information has been made more available, but if you look around, you can still see we have a lot of work to do as a country! The obesity epidemic and other food-related issues don’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.


When it comes to food and our eating habits, most people never actually learned the basics. Think this has any correlation to the current obesity epidemic we have in the United States? Without an understanding of the basics, how can we expect people to do the right things?


Marcos and what you need to know?


The term macros are just short for macronutrients. The definition of macronutrients is nutrients that provide the energy required in large amounts to maintain bodily functions and carry out daily activities. Put in simpler terms. It’s the food we eat every day.


There are four main groups to address when talking about macros: fats, proteins, carbs, and alcohol. Every type of food we eat belongs to one of these four groups. Sometimes food will belong in more than one. Say, for example, a steak that has both protein and fat content.


You are probably thinking, well, that’s great, but who cares? How is knowing this information going to help me be healthier? Each of these macro groups plays a different role in the body and affects us in different ways. Each group has a vital role in our health. By understanding what each macro does for the body, you can make more informed choices to help you feel better, look better, perform better, and live a longer, healthier life.


Protein


Let’s start with protein. The definition of protein is pretty sciency so instead, let's go with this simple idea and think of protein as a building blocks for the body. When we eat protein, it builds up body parts like muscle, skin, and connective tissue. When you think of protein, you probably think of meat. Things like chicken, fish, beef, and pork are all great sources of protein. Many protein-dense foods can be found in animal products like dairy and meat. Other protein sources can be found in eggs, beans, nuts, vegetables, and soy.


Protein is essential to our diet, which means without it, we could not survive. In addition to being necessary, protein does some pretty cool stuff for our body. Protein helps you to build more muscle tissue. This added muscle tissue has some excellent benefits and is even linked to living longer lives! Not that you need to become the next Arnold Swartzengger, but if adding some muscle to your frame has been proven to add years to your life, then eating some extra protein and doing a little resistance training sounds like a pretty good trade-off!


Protein also has a couple of underlying benefits that may be news to you. First, protein is the highest in something called the thermic effect of food, when compared to other macros. This means that eating more protein takes your body more calories (energy) to digest. To paint a better picture for you, let’s say you ate 100 calories of chicken (protein) and 100 calories of rice (carbs). Of that 100 calories of each food, your body will use a portion of that to digest that food since everything our body does requires energy. However, when it comes to protein, your body must use more of these calories to digest the food. So by simply eating more protein, your body will be burning more calories without you personally having to do much extra work.


Second, protein is the most satiating of all macronutrients meaning that you will feel fuller and more satisfied the longest from high protein foods. Take, for example, these three foods: a chicken breast, a bowl of rice (carbs), and a handful of nuts (fats). Out of those three foods, the chicken breast is going to keep you feeling full and nourished the longest.



Practical Tips


So you now know protein is essential and needs to be part of our diet. A good place to aim for protein intake for the average person is about .6 grams to 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. So if you take someone who weighs 175lbs, they’re going to shoot for around 105g-175g of protein per day.


If your goal is fat loss or building muscle, you will want to shoot for the higher end of that range. If you’re not focusing on building muscle or losing fat, the higher protein levels still have some merit, but you can live on the lower end of that protein range.


You may be thinking that’s a ton of protein. However, just eating a serving of protein at each meal will give you quite a bit of protein. Let’s say you have eggs for breakfast, chicken for lunch, steak for dinner. Throw in a high-protein snack such as cottage cheese or Greek yogurt at some point in the day, and you won’t have any problems getting adequate amounts of protein in your day.


Here are a few other tips when dealing with protein. If hunger is something you struggle with regularly, try adding more protein into your diet. Since protein is the most satiating macro, it will help combat those hunger pains and cravings. Right along with that starting your day off with a high protein meal can help too! For example, take a breakfast of eggs and sausage compared to a bowl of sugary cereal. One will leave you feeling full, satisfied, and ready to take on the day, and one will probably have you reaching for the next meal pretty quickly.


At times in the past, protein has gotten a bad rap. The thought was that high protein diets were associated with things like cancer and heart disease, which has since been disproven by multiple studies. Research shows that protein is not the issue and has many health benefits like building muscle tissue, combating hunger, reducing cravings, increasing metabolism, and living a longer and better quality of life. All things we should be chasing after!


Fats


Let’s preface this section by first stating that fats don’t make you fat! For quite a while, fats were drug through the mud as some supervillain for making people “fat,” but that’s not the case. No specific macronutrient makes you “fatter” by eating them. What causes people to gain weight is overconsuming any of these macros in large quantities. Each of these macros can be part of a well-rounded, healthy diet, so don’t be afraid of fat because of old, outdated information you may have heard at some point!


Fats are a great source of energy. The fat you eat and the excess fat stored in your body are both energy sources. Fat, like protein, is an essential macronutrient which means you need to have it in your diet. Being afraid to eat fat or worrying that you will get fat from fat can be detrimental to your health since it's necessary for optimal health.


Fats not only provide us with energy, but help regulate hormones, promote brain health, and aid with nutrient absorption. All things that are pretty dang important!


When it comes to fats, there are good sources which we’ll group as healthy fats for simplicity's sake (although there are multiple kinds of fat) and not-so-good fats which you will want to limit in your diet. Healthy sources of fats include things like avocados, nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, ghee, coconut, coconut oil, fatty fish, eggs, and fatty cuts of meat.


Fats, similar to protein, seem to be a pretty satiating macronutrient when eaten in their whole, healthy forms. The difference here is that fats are more calorie-dense than protein, so it’s easier to eat excess calories when consuming fats. One gram of fat equals nine calories, while one gram of protein is equal to four calories.


Fat is not “bad.” It’s just important to be mindful of how much fat you regularly consume because those calories can add up quickly if you aren’t careful! Eating fat calories won't cause you to pack on the pounds, but eating too many calories in general certainly will.


Practical Tips


Your recommended minimum dosage for fat will be about .25 grams to .3 grams per pound of bodyweight. For most people, this really won’t be an issue. For a 200lb person, this comes out to just 50-60 grams of fat. For reference, one avocado has about 30 grams of fat, and three eggs will have somewhere around 15 grams of fat.


While the minimum recommendation is pretty low, that's not to say you can’t eat more than that. It just comes down to personal preference and how your body feels on different levels of fat.


You’ve probably heard of keto, which is a diet predominantly made from fats. Upwards of 70-80% of your food comes purely from fat on the keto diet. For some, that would cause digestive issues and leave them feeling sluggish, and for others, they seem to thrive on it. Figure out what works for you through some trial and error, and go with that!


Carbs


Moving right along! Next up, we have carbohydrates, more commonly referred to as carbs. Carbs, similar to fats, provide the body with energy. Carbs do have a couple of differences from fat in that their energy is more readily available to use. Another difference is that carbs are not essential for humans. In other words, if you didn’t eat carbs, you could survive.


That’s not to say that carbs are useless because they actually can provide a lot of value. Not to mention they taste awesome. Who doesn’t love a good slice of pizza or tasty dessert?


Besides providing energy for the body, carbs can play a role in stress management. Active people and high-stress individuals can really benefit from adding in more carbs.


Carbs, similar to fat, have gotten a bad reputation in the past for being a main contributor to obesity and other chronic diseases. The fact of the matter is you can’t simply blame one group of food for these complex issues. Just like with any other type of food, carbs can be a healthy part of your diet.


There are cultures worldwide where carbs contribute to 40%, 50%, even 60% of their diets and don’t have issues with chronic diseases like we do in the United States.


Practical Tips


When it comes to recommendations around carbs, it can vary quite a bit from person to person. Some nutritionists prescribe as low as 10% of calories from carbs, and others shoot as high as 60%.


As with fats, it’s about finding what type of carb intake works for your diet. Some people feel great on low-carb diets, and others feel zapped and drained without a good amount.


Typically speaking, if you live an active lifestyle, carbs may be more beneficial. Someone who trains hard at least 3-4 times a week or has a physically demanding job may find that more carbs suit you better to keep your energy levels high throughout the day. People who live very stressful or demanding jobs like doctors, lawyers, business executives, etc., may also benefit from a few more carbs in their diet to help manage stress.


My best advice is first to get the protein nailed down in your diet. Most nutrition professionals will agree to have a diet centered on protein is a plus. Once again, just shooting for that .6g-1g per pound of bodyweight. Once you have protein set, figure out a good balance of carbs and fats with your remaining calories. For some, this may mean high fat, low carb diets. For others, just the opposite, and some may even find that a good balance of both seems to work best for them.


Alcohol


Our fourth and final macronutrient is alcohol. Contrary to some people's beliefs, alcohol is not an essential macronutrient. However, some science has found minor benefits to alcohol in small quantities, but you're not missing out on any nutritional gaps if you don’t consume alcohol.


Alcohol is seven calories per gram, meaning it’s more calorically dense than both carbs and protein and a little less than fat. If alcohol is used in moderation, there's no reason to worry about taking in a bunch of excess calories and gaining weight from a few drinks.


Just like with any other macro group, moderation is key. Sometimes a few drinks every once in a while can turn into 10-12 drinks several times a week, and those calories can add up very quickly. If you think about a beer or mixed drink, which can contain 125-150 calories per drink, you can see how alcohol could easily contribute to gaining weight and potentially other health issues.


Practical Tips


Alcohol is something many people enjoy, and just like everything else, it can absolutely be part of a healthy diet!


Certain types of alcohol may have some slight benefits, but most people use alcohol because of the social aspect. It’s just important to remember the adverse side effects of excessive drinking can quickly outweigh any positives and wreak havoc on your health in a hurry.


Final Thoughts


After all that, you should better understand what you are putting in your body and why it’s crucial to know how those things affect you. Food has to be a little more nuanced than simply eating what tastes good if you care about your health. Of course, the taste of food shouldn’t be bland and good taste is important.


Food is such a big part of life so you should enjoy it! You merely have to understand that the stuff you put in your body affects pretty much everything single thing you do, from your emotions to your energy levels, stress levels to body composition, and so much more, so be mindful about your choices!


The food you eat today will quite literally become what your body is made from! Kind of a crazy thought, but an excellent reminder to put some thought into that next meal!




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