A Simple Look at Macronutrient Focused Dieting

What Macronutrients are, why they're important for strength training and types of macronutrient focused diets.

What kind of diet do you think you're on?

Is it one that's going to help you gain and maintain muscle? How about lose fat?

Before you pick a diet you need a little bit of background information first.

Let's take a look at what macronutrients are.

We'll talk about why they're important for strength training. Finally, we'll talk about types of macronutrient focused diets.

You Need to Know What Macronutrients Are

Nutrients are substances we get from foods that become the fuel your body needs to work properly.

There are 6 different classes of nutrients:

  1. Carbohydrates
  2. Fats
  3. Proteins
  4. Vitamins
  5. Minerals
  6. Water

There are a few different ways to categorize these.

For our purposes, we'll put them into two broad categories;

  • Energy yielding nutrients (macronutrients)
  • Non-energy yielding nutrients (vitamins, minerals and water).

Macronutrients or macros, are what your body is able to digest and produce energy from. The most common unit of energy is the Kilocalorie or simply, the calorie.

There are three main macronutrients:

  1. Protein
  2. Fat
  3. Carbohydrate

The food you eat is filled with various mixes of these. This is reflected on nutrition descriptions;

  • Protein contains 4 calories per gram
  • Fat contains 9 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrate contains 4 calories per gram

The same basic foods (the grape for example) might vary greatly in a different form.

For Example:

  • 1 cup of raisins (145 grams not packed)
    • 434 calories
    • 0.7 grams of fat
    • 115 grams of carbohydrate
    • 4.5 grams of protein
  • 1 cup of grapes (92 grams)
    • 62 calories
    • 0.3 grams of fat
    • 16 grams of carbohydrate
    • 0.6 grams of protein

When foods have more calories per gram, we call them energy dense. When a food has more nutrients per gram we call it nutrient dense.

Foods do contain other ingredients like fiber, phytochemicals, alcohols, additives and pigments. Those will be addressed at another time.

There is a fourth macronutrient, alcohol. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram but, that will be covered another time.

Why Macronutrients are Important for Strength Training

Weight loss, maintenance and gain are controlled by calories. Macros make up a large part of the results you get from fitness.

Your macros will change based on your overall goals and life stage.

Ex.When you play sports, have a child or go on a diet that puts you in a caloric deficit, your protein needs go up.

Fats are important because they are used in the formation of hormones.

If you're an endurance runner, you likely know that you need carbohydrates to train hard.

What about staying healthy?

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies has established an acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) to tell you general ranges of each macro you need in order to not get sick.

All numbers are the percentage of your overall daily calories:

Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges for Health

For Children 1-3 Years Old

  • Protein 5-20%
  • Fat 30-40%
  • Carbohydrates 45-65%

For Children 4-18 Years Old

  • Protein 10-30%
  • Fat 25-35%
  • Carbohydrates 45-65%

For Adults 19+Years Old

  • Protein 10-35%
  • Fat 20-35%
  • Carbohydrates 45-65%

You can choose to go outside of these numbers. They are general recommendations but, they are backed by strong research.

A healthy adult woman on a 1600 calorie diet might eat a diet that looks like this:

  • Calories: 1600
  • Protein (35%)-140g or 560 calories
  • Fat (20%)-35.5g or 320 calories
  • Carbohydrate (45%)-180g or 720 calories

A high-protein/carbohydrate diet like this might be good for strength training.

Now that you know a little bit about macronutrients and why they're important, let's look at diets.

What is Macronutrient Focused Dieting?

Macronutrient focused dieting is one of the four kinds of diets out there.

For review from What Beginners Need to Know About Nutrition and Dieting, the others are:

  1. Food Elimination Focused
  2. Timing Focused
  3. Serving and Food Group Focused

Macronutrient focused dieting is control over one of the three main macronutrients.

Food labels will have nutritional breakdowns of what macros are present in a food.

What kind of diet do you think you're on?

Broad Kinds of Macronutrient Focused Diets

  • Low-Fat- 20-35% of calories from Fat
  • Low-Carb- <45% of calories from Carbohydrates
  • High-Protein- >25% calories from Protein
  • IIFYM (If it fits your macros)
  • Low Energy Diets (800-1200 calories a day)
  • Ketogenic Diets (A subcategory of low-carb)-<10% of total calories from Carbohydrates

The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition expands on these diets here.

If you want to lose fat, you may opt to go on the lower end with carbohydrates or fat and keep your protein high. The calories you cut need to come from somewhere. As long as you're in a healthy range, the choice is yours.

Some people with special health conditions seem to fair better on certain kinds of diets.

I have three clients with PCOS. They seem to get better health outcomes on low carb diets.

Those people are outside the scope of this article.

If you're in sports, carbs are a preferred fuel source with:

  • Sprinting
  • Lifting really heavy things for an hour
  • Other high intensity activities

For a pretty good lecture on the subject of athletes and performance on low-carb diets, look no further than this presentation by Alan Aragon and Jeff Volek at the 2013 National Personal Trainers conference.

You can find more IOM recommendations for vitamins, minerals and macros here.

Learn how to turn numbers into food by reading this guide on meal prepping.

Want Help Getting Started on a Diet?

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