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“Nutrition 101: Macros and Micros”

Updated: Jul 21, 2022

Zoe Schilling, PharmD., Nutrition and Wellness Coach, ACE Certified Personal Trainer

You’ve probably heard people say “counting my macros,” but what exactly does the term "macro" mean??

In this blog, I will differentiate between micronutrients (micros) and macronutrients (macros). You will learn about the major function that each macro or micro contributes to the body, as well as learn about foods that serve as examples.

Your body needs the majority of its calories from macronutrients, hence the term “macro”. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats and each macro plays a different role in the body. Macronutrients are classifed in three ways:

  • Carbohydrates: 4 calories per gram

  • Fats: 9 calories per gram

  • Protein: 4 calories per gram

Carbohydrates: Function-- Fuel for the body (food for your brain and nervous system), fuel during high intensity exercise (think sprinting or heavy lifting), spares protein (to preserve muscle mass during exercise)

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): Ideally, 45-65% of our calories should come from carbohydrate sources, as carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for the body, especially the brain. Individuals who are active or athletic may fall on the higher end of that recommendation due to increased need for fuel during high intensity exercise.

NOTE: 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 Calories

Food Sources: grains (preferably whole grains), fruit (recommended to choose whole fruits over fruit juices), vegetables (starchy verses non-starchy listed below), dairy (choose low-fat or non-fat most often), sugar (try to limit added sugar intake)

Starchy versus Non-Starchy Carbohydrates:

Starchy= Higher in carbohydrate count, try to eat these in moderation.

Examples: baked beans, corn on the cob, potatoes, peas, squash, etc.

Non-starchy= Fewer in carb count, do not raise blood glucose as much, high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Most diets recommend to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables.

Examples: cucumber, carrots, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, greens (collard, kale, mustard, turnip), etc.

Proteins: Function-- Involved in metabolic, transport, and hormone systems, make up enzymes that regulate metabolism, involved in acid/base balance to maintain a neutral environment in our bodies, helps your body build and retain muscle tissue


· Sedentary Individuals: 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight

· Recreationally Active: 0.45-0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight

· Competitive Athlete: 0.54-0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight

· Teenage Athlete: 0.82-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight

· Body Builder: 0.64-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight

NOTE: 1 gram of protein = 4 Calories

Major Food Sources: legumes (beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts), soy products (tofu and tempeh), nuts (high in fat content also), whole grains (brown rice, whole wheat, oats, corn, quinoa, etc. ), seeds (chia, flaxseed, etc.), meat alternative products (often made with pea protein, soy protein, and/or wheat gluten), animal sources (steak, chicken, fish, salmon, shrimp, pork, turkey, etc. )

Fats: Function-- Energy reserve, protects vital organs, insulation, transports fat-soluble vitamins

RDA: 20-35% of your total daily calories

*Less than 10% of total daily calories from saturated fat. This can be done by focusing on fat from nuts, seeds, avocado, fish, and most oils, and being careful with coconut oil, palm oil, butter, fatty cuts of beef, creams, and meat alternative products like Beyond and Impossible burgers.

NOTE: 1 gram of fat = 9 Calories

Food Sources: oils (olive oil, canola oil, etc. ), nuts (almonds, walnuts, peanuts, cashews, pecans, pistachios) , seeds, avocados, meat, fish, dairy

* Unsaturated (monounsaturated fats) are recommended over saturated fats

*Those who follow a vegan lifestyle should consider taking an algae-based omega-3 supplement, as this type of fat is difficult to obtain from plant-based fats.

Don't Forget About the Micronutrients!

“Micro” comes from the Greek word mikros, which means small. Micronutrients are smaller in terms of measured requirements needed by the body, but equally important in terms of overall nutrition. There are many micronutrients in the foods you eat, especially fruits and vegetables. An adequate intake of all micronutrients is necessary for optimal health, as each vitamin and mineral serves a specific role in your body. Vitamins and minerals are essential for proper growth, immune function, brain development and several other important functions. Certain micronutrients also play a role in preventing and fighting disease. Micronutrient examples include, but are not limited to: calcium, magnesium, folate, iron, vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Functions-- Needed to release energy in food, growth/ function of cells, prevents beriberi, helps the body generate energy from nutrients

RDA: 1.2mg daily

Food Sources: Whole grains, dried beans, peas, sunflower seeds, animal proteins, yogurt

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Functions-- Needed to build and maintain body tissues, growth/energy production, breakdown of fats, steroids, medications

RDA: 1.3mg daily, 1.4-1.6mg in pregnancy

Food Sources: whole grains, green and yellow vegetables, animal proteins

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Functions-- Helps the development of the nervous system, involved in the production of blood, helps break down protein and glucose to produce energy for the body, helps your body release sugar from stored carbohydrates for energy and create red blood cells

RDA: 1.5mg for women; 1.7mg for men

Food Sources: potatoes, chickpeas, yeast, nuts, fish, rice, bananas

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Functions-- Promotes proper growth and development of the nervous system, binds to proteins in the food we eat, helps to forms DNA and blood cells

RDA: 2.4mcg daily

Food Sources: fortified cereals, fortified non-dairy milks, animal products, and many more!

*Those who follow a vegan lifestyle should consider taking a B12 supplement.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): Functions-- Helps form growth hormones, needed to build strong gums, teeth, and bones, antioxidant, boosts natural immunity in the body to help prevent illness

RDA: 90mg for men, 75mg for women (85-120mg in pregnancy)

Food Sources: citrus fruits such as kiwi, oranges, grapefruit, cabbage, berries, peppers

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid): Functions-- Helps build DNA and protein, helps maintain intestinal tract, aids in bone growth, prevents nervous system birth defects

*Vital in pregnancy, all women of child-bearing potential should supplement

RDA: 400 mcg for men and women. Pregnant and lactating women require 600 mcg

Food Sources: dark green leafy vegetables (turnip greens, spinach, romaine lettuce, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli), beans, peanuts, whole grains, liver, seafood, eggs

*Vitamins B and C are water-soluble, which means these vitamins and nutrients dissolve quickly in the body. Unlike fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) water-soluble vitamins are carried to the body's tissues, but the body cannot store them. Therefore, fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body for long periods of time and generally pose a greater risk for toxicity than water-soluble vitamins when consumed in excess.

Vitamin A: (Retinol) Functions-- Aids the body in eye vision, maintains healthy skin and hair, regulates growth and division as needed for reproduction *fat-soluble vitamin

RDA: 900mcg for men, 700mcg for women

Food Sources: animal products, fish oils, milk, eggs, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, bell peppers. The human body can make vitamin A from vegetables that have carotene such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and other red-orange vegetables.

Vitamin D: Functions-- Promotes strong teeth and bones, prevents rickets. Vitamin D is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight *fat-soluble vitamin

RDA: 600 IU (15 mcg) daily for men and women; 800 IU (20 mcg) daily for adults 70 years and older

Food Sources: dairy milk and fortified non-dairy milks, fortified cereals, tuna, salmon, egg yolks, cod, beef liver, egg yolk, sardines

Vitamin E: Functions-- Prevents damage to cell membranes, protects vitamin A, aids in blood production *fat-soluble vitamin

RDA: 15 mg daily for men and women. Lactating women need slightly more at 19 mg (28 IU) daily.

Food Sources: seeds and nuts, vegetable oil, almonds, peanuts, mango, avocado

Vitamin K: Functions--Aids in blood clotting, found throughout the body, liver, brain, heart, pancreas, and bone *fat-soluble vitamin

RDA: 120mcg for men, 90mcg for women

*Approximately 77% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, mostly due to lack of sun exposure. If you live in an area with little sunlight, consider taking a Vitamin D supplement.

Food Sources: green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli, brussel sprouts, lettuce), soybeans, salad dressings, meat, cheese, eggs

Calcium: Functions--Maintains teeth and bones, helps blood clot, helps nerves and muscles function

RDA: 1000mg daily for most, divided twice daily for best absorption

Food Sources: legumes, almonds, dairy milk & fortified non-dairy milks, dark green vegetables

Potassium: Function-- Regulates water balance in cells, maintain nerve function and heart rhythm

RDA: 3,400 mg for men; 2,600 mg for women

Food Sources: oranges, bananas, cereal, potatoes, dried beans

Sodium: Functions: Regulates water balance, stimulates nerves, role in blood pressure and blood volume

AI: 1,500 milligrams daily

*Limit this if you have cardiovascular disease to less than 2,000 milligrams (mg) per day

Food Sources: table salt, pasta sauce, canned food items, bread, almost everything. Sodium is naturally found in foods. It is also added during processing and preparation, especially in the American diet. Large amounts of sodium can be hidden in canned, processed and convenience foods.

Iron: Functions-- Forms blood cells, transports oxygen throughout the body

RDA: 8 mg daily for men; 18 mg for women; 27 mg for pregnancy

Food Sources: fortified cereals, whole grains, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, animal proteins

* Deficiency is common among preschool children, menstruating women and vegans

*Absorption of iron can be aided by consuming iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C. For example, chili made with beans (iron) and tomatoes (vitamin c).

* If you have iron deficiency, avoid consuming iron-rich foods with calcium-rich foods. Unlike vitamin C, calcium inhibits the absorption of iron.

Zinc: Functions-- Aids in immune support, transport of carbon dioxide, aids in healing wounds, helps the body to form enzymes

RDA: 11 mg a day for men and 8 mg for women

Food Sources: whole grains, dairy milk and fortified non-dairy milks, legumes


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