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Sorting Out Your Macros: the Pros and Cons of Macronutrients

The science of dieting and weight loss has been moving along at a rapid pace lately. Recent trends in the industry have shifted away from simply counting calories to counting something else: macronutrients. But what are macronutrients, and what do they do? Why do some people care more about macros than calories? And where do micronutrients fit into the equation? We decided to get to the bottom of these questions, and more. And we wrote up this article to pass along the information so people like you can meet your health and wellness goals.

Sorting Out Macronutrients from Micronutrients

The first thing we should do is differentiate between macronutrients and micronutrients. Micronutrients include vitamins like vitamin A or B vitamins, or even vitamin K. They also include minerals like zinc and calcium, among others. These nutrients are unique on a molecular level and very small. They don't have any caloric value of their own, but they add to the nutritional value of your food by protecting you from things like inflammation and nutritional deficiencies.

Macronutrients are very different. A macronutrient is any unit of carbohydrate, protein, or fat. They are usually measured in grams. A single gram of any macronutrient can include a ton of micronutrients - or barely any micronutrients at all, depending on what you're eating. Macronutrients are very large and contain millions of molecules compared to their smaller, micronutrient counterparts. You need a healthy balance of both macro and micronutrients in your diet in order to achieve optimal health.

Macronutrients

Carbohydrates: Pros and Cons

All macronutrients can be burned for energy in one way or another. The most popular of the two are fat and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a quick-and-dirty type of fuel that most people's bodies prioritize when all three macronutrients are in abundance. Carbohydrates can be further divided into three categories: sugars, starches, and fiber. Sugars and starches are the carbs that your body processes and burns for energy. Fiber can either be soluble or insoluble, depending on the food source it comes from.

We understand that there is a very popular low-carb trend going on in the fitness community these days, but that doesn't mean the carbohydrates are without merit. The fiber found in carbohydrates is excellent for gut health because it helps make your gut less permeable and discourages the growth of bad gut bacteria. Less gut permeability reduces inflammation and diseases which are related to inflammation. Furthermore, sources of healthy carbs - such as whole grains, lentils, tubers, and whole foods like fruit and vegetables - are a great energy source if you eat them strategically. They're best consumed before a workout, especially if the workout is short but intense. It's easier for your body to metabolize carbs over fat when you need a lot of energy very quickly.

But don't let these benefits while you into a false sense of security. There are many good reasons to limit your carb intake and be very careful about the types of carbohydrates you consume. Most of the carbohydrates consumed in the standard American diet come from processed, unnatural sources which raise blood sugar levels and can eventually lead to insulin resistance. Furthermore, burning fat for fuel is better for your heart and your brain health than carbohydrates; but they'll never get any fat-fuel if your blood sugar is too high. So if heart or brain health is a concern for you, then it may be a good idea to watch your carbohydrate intake more carefully.

Protein Benefits (and Drawbacks)

Each gram of protein is a combination of up to 20 different amino acids. Some of these amino acids are essential, which means your body cannot synthesize them on its own. You must get essential amino acids from your diet, or you could risk health problems. Non-essential amino acids can be produced by your body, so you don't need to work as hard to make sure you get them to your diet.

There are two different types of protein: complete and incomplete. Complete proteins contain all the essential amino acids your body needs, whereas incomplete proteins do not. The vast majority of complete proteins come from animal products such as meat and dairy. Very few plant proteins are complete proteins. Consuming too much protein, especially if you are on a low-carb diet, puts severe strain on your kidneys and could do damage over time. For people with metabolic issues: excess protein gets converted into glucose, which doesn't help if you're worried about things like blood sugar and insulin resistance. So be careful with your protein intake, too.

Fat: Why Is it the Black Sheep of the Macronutrient Family?

Back in the 1960s and 70s, there was a lot of junk science which pointed to fat as the cause of heart disease as opposed to processed sugar. This science was financially supported buy sugar companies and sparked the anti-fat dietary guidelines which still permeate certain corners of the standard American diet today. But the truth is that as long as you balance fat with the right foods, it's actually a perfectly healthy source of nutrition and energy.

As we touched on earlier, fat is the best fuel for your brain and your heart cells. Eating a high-fat, low-carb diet is a great way to train your body to eat off its own fat stores if you are overweight or obese. Furthermore, eating a higher fat, lower carb diet is good for people who have metabolic issues and who need to get their blood sugar/insulin resistance under control. It's only when you combine fat and carbohydrate in high amounts that fat becomes unhealthy for you.

Calculating Macros for Diet and Health

As important as it is to know what macronutrients are and what they can do for your body, it's even more important to consume them the right way. But the ratio of fat/carbs/protein you eat on a daily basis is largely determined by your dietary needs. Bodybuilders will need a significantly higher ratio of protein to carbs and fat. The ketogenic diet requires a high ratio of fat to protein and carbs. For people who follow a standard American diet or who do a lot of cardio, a high ratio of carbohydrates to protein and fat may work best. And if you want more advice on how to calculate your macros, click here for our complete guide to calculating your macronutrient needs on a ketogenic diet!

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