Understanding Macros

When we venture into the world of health and fitness, we soon come across the term ‘macros’.  Some people view counting macro’s as the holy grail of nutrition and for those who have a very specific aim, it could be.

Macros is short for macronutrients, which actually means ‘large nutrients’.  In the study of nutrition we break nutrients into Macronutrients and Micronutrients. Macronutrients are the nutrients we need in large quantities – carbohydrates, protein, fat, fibre, water and alcohol. But we mainly focus on carbohydrates, protein and fat.  Micronutrients  meaning ‘small nutrients’ are the things we need in smaller quantities such as vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

We often get asked about macros at Be Strong, so we work them out for you, in a way that we believe will best promote weight loss, high protein, low fat and enough carbs to keep you exercising.  You can actually view your personalised macro breakdown here.

Counting macros is not particularly straightforward should be done in addition to calorie counting or tracking, to effect weight loss. Which is why we just give you the information and ask you to focus on calories in the main, whilst trying to eat as balanced a diet as possible.


Why the fuss?

Your macro breakdown can be manipulated depending on what your nutritional and fitness goals are – do you want to promote muscle growth, weight loss, or endurance and stamina? And there are also some schools of thought around manipulating your macros based on your body type – whether you be an ‘endomorph’, an ‘ectomorph’, or a ‘mesomorph’.  More about this later…

Generally advice gives a range to work to when it comes to manipulating your macros, to ensure you are always getting a good enough amount of fats protein and carbs, whatever your goals. This ensures you still get enough of each macro for your body to function correctly.

This range is as follows:

Protein: 10-35% of calories
Fat: 20-35% of calories
Carbohydrates: 45-65% of calories

We split your macros as follows:

35% of your calories from Protein
20% of your calories from Fat
45% of your calories from Carbohydrate

Then because we know that each of the macro-nutrients has a calorific value per gram, (fat – 9 calories per gram, carbs and protein – 4 calories per gram) we can tell you how many grams of each macro you should be aiming for. If you access your macros, it will tell you how many grams of each you should be aiming for.

These are just figures to aim for though, if you can, and shouldn’t be sought at the cost of achieving your calorie deficit, as getting your calorie deficit is the only absolute way to achieve weight loss. Manipulating macros within that calorie deficit, can only enhance your rate of weight loss. The calorie deficit is the most important part.

What body type am I?

There are  three different body types that we mainly fit into: ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph.  These body types were developed and introduced by a doctor, William H Sheldon PhD, MD in the 1940’s and have been used ever since by nutritionists and exercise physiologists to develop nutrition and exercise plans to get the best results for their clients.

These categories are used to describe a typical body shape and composition of both males and females. A person may or may not fit the type exactly, it can be viewed as a sliding scale, that a person is mostly one type, perhaps with a little bit of another.

Ectomorph – these body types are typically long and lean – long slender limbs and are naturally slim – think of endurance athletes like Eilish McColgan, or the actors Gwyneth Paltrow or Cameron Diaz. Male examples would be the athlete Mo Farah or perhaps the actor Brad Pitt.

Ectomorphs aren’t rippling with muscles, but are usually very lean, with low body fat.  If desired, ectomorphs can still achieve good muscle definition with the right training and nutrition. They tend towards endurance sports, such as long distance running, and it is thought that generally speaking can be blessed with a fast metabolism.

Endomorph – these body types are rounder and have a higher body fat ratio, holding fat on the hips, thighs and stomach. They tend to also have shorter limbs than ectomorphs.  It is thought that endomorphs may have a slower metabolism and therefore weight loss may be more difficult. A plus side of being an endomorphs is, that they can build muscle fairly easily in comparison to ectomorphs.

Good examples of famous endomorphs are the singers Beyonce and  Jennifer Lopez, or celebrity Kim Kardashian. Examples of endomorph males would be actors Jonah Hill, Zac Efron and Tom Hardy.

Mesomorph – These body types are typically muscular and athletic looking. They are often described as well built or of a symmetrical build with broad shoulders and may be described as rectangular.  They have low body fat ratios.    They aren’t necessarily particular tall either, in fact you may even describe them as short to medium height. Mesomorphs are fortunate enough not to have a problem losing or gaining weight, and can build muscle the easiest of all the body types.

These body types tend to excel at explosive activity – body building, weight lifting or sprinting. Celebrity examples would be Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Mark Wahlberg, while female examples would be Madonna and Halle Berry

What is crucial to know, is that whilst you are born with a particular body type, based upon genetics, you can change it to a certain degree.  You may still be pre-disposed to the general traits of the body, type, but you can get leaner, lose weight and build muscle in all three, if you use the right nutrition and exercise.

Body types and macros

The International Sports Sciences Association has determined some combinations of macros that would be beneficial for the three different body types.

Ectomorphs – 25% protein, 55% carbs, 20% fat
Ectomorphs can process carbohydrates more efficiently, without them being stored as fat, hence the higher carbs in this combination. Ectomorphs tend to have a higher Basal Metabolic Rate (the rate at which they burn calories) so they will find that they are always hungry! Their fast metabolism means that they will crave carbohydrates. For these body types complex carbohydrates (wholegrains) will help to manage the hunger whilst still fuelling the body correctly, rather than reaching for sugary simple carbohydrates.

Mesomorphs – 30% protein, 40% carbs, 30% fat

Mesomorphs require a higher protein intake than ectomorphs, because generally speaking they have a higher percentage of muscle mass, which requires protein to maintain it. Mesomorphs do best when they have a balanced diet of protein, complex carbs and fats.

Endomorphs – 35% protein, 25% carbs, 40% fat

Endomorphs have a lower tolerance for carbs, as they are good at converting carbohydrates into sugars, and then storing them as fat.  So a greater emphasis on healthy fats and proteins in the diet may be beneficial for these body types. It is recommended that carbohydrates come from whole grains and vegetables, and be consumed during or after a workout to help maximise muscle building potential, without fat gain.

Macros for health and fitness goals

There are a number of recommended combinations for different health and fitness goals, however, generally the goals are split into fat loss, muscle growth, endurance training and maintenance.

Fat Loss: 10-30% carbs, 40-50% protein, 30-40% fats

Muscle Building: 30-40% carbs, 25-35% protein, 15-25% fats 

Endurance Training:   60% carbs,  >15% protein,  >25% fat 

Maintenance: 30-50% carbs, 25-35% protein, 25-35% fats

As you can see there are many, many variables to take into consideration when deciding on the macro combination that you should be working towards. There is most definitely no one size fits all rule, and if looking in more detail at the macros you are consuming is something you are interested in, it will more than likely take a little trial and error to get them in the right mix for your body composition and your health and fitness goals.

Scientific studies are yet to find an ideal macro combination, advising the focus should be on achieving calorie deficit for fat loss and an energy balance for maintaining weight.  Current macro advice generally comes from the experience of people in the sport and fitness industry.

If you do decide to explore macros we would be interested to know the results and the combination that you find best suits you.

How do I count macros?

As explained at the start of the article, counting macros can be quite a complex undertaking, especially for weight loss, when trying to also ensure a calorie deficit.

My advice would be to use whole foods such as fresh meat, grains, fruits and vegetables, and avoid processed foods, as you will more than likely make the job a lot harder for yourself. Processed foods may contain inflated levels of fats and starches, making it more difficult to get the balance right.

It may also be beneficial to perhaps initially focus on just one macro – my suggestion would be protein, as we know that upping our protein intake is beneficial for weight loss.

For everything that you eat, you need to work out how many calories are in the food portion that you have, and then the macros. Google is great for this, as you can usually search ‘chicken breast nutrition’ and you will be presented with it’s full nutrition facts, per 100g.

From there you would need to calculate, what that means for the portion that you are using e.g the 200g chicken breast that you are using, would mean multiplying by 2, and then record the calories and the protein content (and fat and carbs, if you wish to go that far).

If you were tracking all macros, you will notice that pretty much all foods will have information on all three of the main macros.

Our example of 100g chicken contains 165 calories, 35g protein 0g of carbs, and 3.6g of fat.

For 100g porridge oats you get 389 calories, 16.9grams of protein, 66.3g or carbohydrates and 6.9g of fat.

So as you are making/planning your meals and snacks, you would record all of this information, then add it up as the day goes along to make sure you hit your targets.

My advice would be to eat your regular diet for a few days or a week, then review how you are doing against your target, then start to look out for the foods rich in the nutrients that you are low on to get your optimum nutrition.

This week!

We know counting macros won’t be for everyone, or even for the majority.  However the purpose of this article is to give you some knowledge on the subject so that you can have an educated opinion on whether it is right for you or not.

Our personal opinion is that, in the main, we should focus on getting that calorie deficit spot on, with good balanced nutrition. To effect better weight loss there is benefit in upping our protein intake.  So focusing on increasing the amount of high protein foods, that we consume, within our calorie allowances will help. These are: lean meat, fish, pulses, and low fat dairy products.

If you do decide to start experimenting with macros please do let us know how you get on with it, and which combination suits you best.

2 replies on “Understanding Macros”

wow that is a great article, ive written down my type and will be looking more indepth at what I should eat to help myself get healthier Thank you

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