What are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients are the nutrients your body needs in large amounts to function properly. They provide the body with energy, help prevent disease, and allow the body to build and repair itself and allow systems to work properly.
There are three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel (National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine, 2022b). These macronutrients provide the body with energy and help prevent the body from breaking down muscle for energy. Fats are also an important source of energy (National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine, 2022c). They are used to help the body absorb vitamins and minerals. While protein is essential for building and repairing tissues, as well as, for immune function (National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine, 2022a).
Sources of Macronutrients
Macronutrients can be found in a variety of foods. For example, some good sources of carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. While good sources of fats include nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil. Finally good sources of protein include the following: lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, soy, and beans. There are many other good sources of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. We recommend that you research various foods by reading product labels and/or reviewing any nutritional information that you may find. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a database, which is searchable.
Balancing the Macronutrients
It is important to get the right balance of macronutrients in your diet, because too much or too little of any one macronutrient can be harmful and lead to health problems. For example, too much protein can cause kidney damage, too many carbohydrates can lead to weight gain and diabetes, and too much fat can increase your risk of heart disease.
So how do we determine the right balance? According to the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institutes of Medicine (IOM) the acceptable macronutrient daily distribution range for carbohydrates are 45%-65%, 10%-35% for protein, and fat 20%-35% with limited saturated and trans fats included in the diet for adults (Manore, 2005).
The table below taken shows the percentage ranges by age group (Ross et al., 2011).
Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies
|Macronutrient||Range (percent of energy)|
|Children, 1–3 y||Children, 4–18 y||Adults|
|n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acidsa (linoleic acid)||5–10||5–10||5–10|
|n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acidsa (α-linolenic acid)||0.6–1.2||0.6–1.2||0.6–1.2|
a Approximately 10 percent of the total can come from longer-chain n-3 or n-6 fatty acids.
SOURCE: Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (2002/2005). The report may be accessed via www.nap.edu.
For adults from the table above you will see the recommended percentage ranges for daily caloric total intake are 45-65% for carbohydrates, 20-35% for fats, and 10-30% for proteins. There are ranges, because each person is different and need percentages of each one based on their goals, needs, and activity levels. If you want help coming up with ranges for you to reach your fitness goals contact us for Nutrition Coaching at fitness.tobusto.com.
Here are some examples of protein-rich foods:
- 3 ounces of roast turkey breast contains 24 grams of protein
- 3 ounces of cooked salmon contains 25 grams of protein
- 1 cup of Greek yogurt contains 19 grams of protein
- 1 cup of cooked chickpeas (garbanzo bean) contains 14 grams of protein
- 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa contains 8 grams of protein
- 1 ounce of almonds contains 6 grams of protein
- 1 ounce of walnuts contains 5 grams of protein
Tip for Getting the Right Macronutrient Balance
The best way to get the right balance of macronutrients is to eat a variety of healthy foods. A good rule of thumb is to focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and to limit your intake of processed foods, sugary drinks, and unhealthy fats. If you need help balancing your diet consider using a Food Scale (affiliate link) and/or a Portion Plate (affiliate link).
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Manore M. M. (2005). Exercise and the Institute of Medicine recommendations for nutrition. Current sports medicine reports, 4(4), 193–198. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.csmr.0000306206.72186.00
National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine. (2021, June 8). Protein in diet: MedlinePlus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus – Health Information from the National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002467.htm
National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine. (2022, February 4). Carbohydrates: MedlinePlus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus – Health Information from the National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002469.htm
National Institute of Health National Library of Medicine. (2022, July 30). Dietary fats explained: MedlinePlus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus – Health Information from the National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000104.htm
Ross, A. C., Taylor, C. L., Yaktine, A. L., & Editors. (2011). Institute of Medicine (US) Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 3, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t5/
Symons, T. B., Sheffield-Moore, M., Wolfe, R. R., & Paddon-Jones, D. (2009). Moderating the portion size of a protein-rich meal improves anabolic efficiency in young and elderly. PubMed Central (PMC). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3197704/