Macronutrients: A Beginner's Guide to Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates

Macronutrients: A Beginner's Guide to Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates

Since all of us are on social media these days, it’s likely you’ve seen the hashtag #IIFYM. You know, in the captions of everyone’s #nofilter pictures of pizza, donuts and ice cream.  

What does it mean?

It’s an acronym for “IF IT FITS YOUR MACROS.” Basically, it’s all about structuring your daily food intake by counting and tracking your macronutrients.  Macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat. 

So, if the carb, protein and fat grams in that  donut fits within your allotted daily macro targets, go ahead and enjoy it.  

Does it sound too good to be true? Maybe – there’s a little bit more to it than that.

Tracking your macronutrients is a powerful way to foster weight loss, body composition change and enhance your athletic performance – when it’s done right. 

So, what are macronutrients and how does managing them work? 

Macronutrient 101

The first definition to understand is “calories”.  We’re forever talking about them, monitoring them and trying to keep them under control.  But what are they exactly?  Calories are a unit of measurement for energy. All food that we eat contains calories, and we convert those calories into energy through important physiological processes. 

All calories are just that – a unit of energy. However, calories come from different sources, and this is where macronutrients come into play. 

Your body requires three macronutrients to function optimally: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Each macronutrient has a specific number of calories per gram, so they supply your body with energy.  There is a ton of conflicting information out there about nutrition - but no matter what - THIS information is a scientific fact you can count on: 

One gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories. 

One gram of protein has 4 calories. 

One gram of fat has 9 calories. 

Understanding this is KEY grasping the concept and practice of tracking macros.  Now here’s the deal - your body uses the energy yielded by each macronutrient differently. This means that each macro serves a different purpose in your body. The balance and inclusion of all three in your diet are very important.

Here’s a basic breakdown of carbs, protein and fats.  


Carbohydrates are your body’s quick and primary source of energy. They’re broken down into glucose (blood sugar), which is used by your body for energy to exercise, perform daily activities, chase your kids around, sit at your desk at work all day and, in a nutshell, stay alive. You need carbs to survive and thrive – they fuel your daily life.


Protein helps your body build muscle and create essential hormones and enzymes. Proteins are broken down by your body into amino acids, which are your body’s building blocks. Your body can’t create amino acids on its own because it requires ingesting protein to do so. These amino acids are then put to work by repairing and rebuilding muscle.  

However, unlike energy from carbs or fats, the energy provided by protein isn’t typically stored for later use. Instead, through a process called gluconeogenesis, protein is broken down into glucose for last-resort energy usage if there is no energy from carbohydrates or fats left to burn. But this is not where you want to pull energy from if you're trying to build muscle.


Despite all the information and misinformation out there, fats aren’t bad! If you eat fat, you’re not going to gain fat. In fact, we need fat to thrive and function – it’s integral to your survival, health and function.

Fats aid nutrient absorption, reduce inflammation, enhance your immune system, boost your metabolism, regulate your cholesterol and are essential to cellular function. 

They’re important for brain health and cognitive function, too. When carbohydrates are scarce, fats kick in as your body’s next source of energy. 

Plus, fats also contribute to satiety to tide you over to your next meal or snack. 

Where Do You Find Macronutrients?

Always remember that the best sources of macronutrients are high-quality, nutrient-dense whole foods. Though there’s nothing wrong with eating packaged foods, processed foods or fun foods you love, do your best to consume your macros from clean, whole food sources.

Think about it – 1,500 calories of pizza and beer isn’t the same as 1,500 calories of chicken and vegetables, as much as we’d like it to be.

Why? It’s because each meal’s macronutrient profile is drastically different. 

Carbs can come from high-glycemic or low-glycemic sources. High-glycemic carbs digest quickly and provide a fast spike to your blood sugar. Low-glycemic carbs digest slowly and provide you with sustained energy while balancing your blood sugar levels. 

Carbs include foods like whole grains (bread and pasta), oats, rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, popcorn, fruits and vegetables.

Fats include foods like butter, olive oil, coconut oil, nut butters (peanut, cashew, almond), cheese, red meats, whole eggs, avocado and fatty fish.

There are three types of fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. “Good” fats are your monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados and nuts) and polyunsaturated fats, which are your omega-3 fats (fish, flax) and omega-6 fats (canola, safflower and sunflower oils). 

“Bad” fats are said to be saturated, but only when they’re processed and manufactured to be non-perishable. These are the trans-fatty acids in refined foods, hydrogenated fats (margarine) and shelf-stable oils (soybean and corn oil). Healthy saturated fats are found in grass-fed meat and dairy. 

Strive for a balance of all three types of fats from whole foods. Do your best to avoid unhealthy fats from packaged and processed foods. 

Protein includes foods like lean meats (chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef, turkey, pork, ham deli meat, whey protein powder), eggs, dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk, cottage cheese) and plant products (tofu, soy, pea/rice/hemp protein powders).

We’ll dive deeper into macronutrient functions and sources in a later post, so stay tuned. 

Macros, Body Composition Change & Muscle Maintenance

When it all comes down to it, weight loss or fat loss occurs when you’re in a consistent caloric deficit, among other factors. This means that you’re burning off more calories than you consume each day. 

How many calories you burn each day is dependent on your Basal Metabolic Rate plus your activity level. Your BMR is the minimum number of calories it takes for you to stay alive daily – it’s what you burn at complete rest. Therefore, if you’re eating less than you expend over time, you’ll see weight or fat loss over that period of time. 

If you’re wanting to gain weight or put on lean muscle mass, you’ll eat more than you expend over time.

But, body composition change efforts depend on how the calories you consume are used. In other words, your body will need specific quantities of each macronutrient to facilitate these changes – no matter if it’s weight loss, fat loss, weight gain or lean muscle mass gain.

By manipulating the CONTENT of what you’re eating instead of just counting calories, your body will get the nutrients it needs to facilitate change and reach your goals. 

Here’s the key - tracking macros ensures that you’re consuming the protein required to maintain muscle and prevent muscle loss while losing weight or fat.

On the other side of the spectrum, you’ll consume the protein you need to build muscle while putting on lean mass. Therefore, you’ll ensure that any mass lost is unwanted fat and not muscle. 

Macros for the Win

The beauty of a macronutrient-based diet is that it teaches you to adopt balanced, sustainable nutrition habits.  It teaches you the basics of nutrition as well as a healthy outlook on all food.

You can enjoy the foods you love while practicing healthy lifestyle behaviors and while pursuing a body composition goal – no fad diets, quick fixes or magic pills required. 

Managing and tracking your macros is all about eating the correct quantities of quality foods. It’s one of the most optimal ways to reach your transformation goals, or just to feel better overall. It’s incredible what the right nutrition can do for your health, wellness and quality of life. 

Plus, if you’re sick of gaining and losing weight just to gain it back again or are having trouble hitting those new PRs, tracking macros may be the solution you’re looking for. Consistently reaching your macronutrient targets, among other healthy lifestyle habits, is what gets you results that stick

If you don’t know where to start, schedule your complimentary nutrition consultation today. We’ll help you cut through the confusion and achieve results that stick. 

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