Macronutrient is a bucket term for the three types of nutrients that make up the bulk of what we eat: carbohydrates, fat and protein. Our bodies require ample amounts of each to function properly. On the other hand, alcohol also provides calories (7 calories per gram), but it’s not considered a macronutrient because we don’t need alcohol to survive, unlike fat, carbs and protein. Macronutrients are augmented by micronutrients, aka vitamins and minerals, to meet all of our nutrition needs.
Learn more about each type of macro and its role in a healthy diet:
Whether you’re using macros to drive your food choices or just trying to eat a balanced diet, it’s good to know which foods contain more of which macros.
- High-carb, low-protein: fruits and vegetables
- High-carb, low-fat: pasta, rice, cereal, bread, legumes, fruits, vegetables
- High-fat, low-carb: nuts, seeds, olive oil, cheese
- High-fat, low-protein: avocado, olive oil, coconut milk
- High-protein, low-carb: eggs, meat, fish
- High-protein, low-fat: nonfat Greek yogurt, cottage or cream cheese, turkey or chicken breast, lean ground beef, whey protein powder
One way to eat better and/or lose weight is to focus on macros instead of calories. Often called IIFYM — “If It Fits Your Macros” — this way of eating is increasingly popular among MyFitnessPal users who like the combination of accountability and flexibility. The guiding principle of IIFYM dieting is that you can eat whatever you want and still attain your goal of losing or gaining weight as long as you stay inside your macronutrient “allowance.”
You get an allowance in grams for fat, protein and carbohydrates, but how you spend that allowance is up to you. If you spend your carb allowance on jelly beans instead of oatmeal, that’s up to you (but you’ll miss out on fiber). If you want to eat pepperoni pizza instead of salmon and brown rice, that’s allowed, too. Anything goes, as long as it fits your macros.
Yet, while 100 grams of salmon and 100 grams of hot wings may have the same macronutrient profile (both are about 60% protein and 40% fat), they are hardly nutritional equivalents. Jelly beans and sweet potatoes are both about 100% carbohydrates, but, again, there’s no comparison when it comes to nutritional value. Could you lose weight eating nothing but hot wings and jelly beans — as long as they fit your macros? Probably. But most people doing IIFYM quickly discover they feel much better when they spend most of their macros on fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats, legumes, whole grains, lean protein and other wholesome foods, which tend to be more filling as well as more nutritious.
While we know a calorie isn’t just a calorie and your food quality matters, IIFYM may help those who feel jaded by choosing “healthy” food all the time. After all, nutrition is not one-size-fits-all. If you’re a healthy individual, it’s helpful to explore different options and find one that works for you — bonus points for making it a sustainable habit.
If you’re new to tracking macros, MFP makes it easy — breaking it down into four easy steps:
1. SET YOUR CALORIES
The first step is to establish your target calorie intake, based on your current weight, age, height, sex, activity level and goals. You probably already did this when you set up your MyFitnessPal app. To view or update your diet profile, click on “Settings” and choose “Update Diet/Fitness Profile.”
2. SET YOUR MACROS
Next, you’ll want to determine how you’re going to divide those calories among the three macronutrients. You can view or edit your macro distribution in your MyFitnessPal app by clicking on “Goals,” where you’ll see your “Daily Nutrition Goals.”
MyFitnessPal automatically sets your macros at 50% carbs, 20% protein and 30% fat. You can tweak this distribution as you like; the app translates the percentages into grams for each macronutrient. (Note: Premium app users have the option of setting goals in grams or percentages.)
Need some guidance? See this article on adjusting your macros.
3. PLAN AND TRACK YOUR DIET
As you enter meals and snacks into your food diary, MyFitnessPal will total how many grams of carbohydrates, fat and protein you’ve eaten. It’s key to plan your meals for the day, or you may find yourself at dinnertime with 5 grams of carbohydrates,15 grams of fat and 60 grams of protein left, a combination that can lead to some strange meals!
4. REPEAT AND REFINE
With time, both the planning and the execution of eating by macros tends to get easier. You can refine the exact percentages based on your results, as well as find meals that work for you.