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“What is Macro Nutrition”; will it help you get in great shape?

If you’re asking the question “what is macro nutrition”, it’s likely because you suspect or have heard it can play a key role in losing body fat, gaining muscle, and getting into your best shape ever. It does tend to be a more easily applied and less simplistic tactic than is simply counting calories – a practice that not only results in hunger pangs but also in becoming a constant reminder that we’re being deprived of a certain amount of caloric energy.

So ‘what is macro nutrition?’

It’s simply the ratio of the macro nutrients… protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fiber that we apply to our eating habits.  For example, let’s say you and I grab a dish of food from one of those recently-so-popular lunch trucks. After browsing the menu, we each settle on having a mayonnaise-dowsed lobster roll. Unbeknownst to us, each of these juicy little morsels of bread-wrapped shellfish packs about 35 grams of fat, 31 grams of carbohydrate, and 27 grams of protein. With four calories present in each gram of carbs and protein combined with nine calories in each gram of fat, we’d each be getting about 547 calories from these little meals. The question is: what’s the percentage of these calories that we’d be getting from fat?


35g. x 9cal. = 315; (315/547) x 100 = 57%

And what percentage from carbohydrates:

31g. x 4cal. = 124; (124/547) x 100 = 23%

And what percentage from protein:

27g. x 4cal. = 108; (108/547) x 100 = 20%


Rapid Fat Loss (2)This is not a horrible ratio of macro nutrients to eat on an occasional basis. However, if this (or something worse) became our daily habit for most of our meals, we could end up with big problems. Our meals would contain too many calories coming from fat in both relative and absolute terms. This could lead to high cholesterol levels, unhealthy LDL to HDL cholesterol ratios, along with body fat gain and all the problems associated with it.

So ‘what is macro nutrition’ in the bigger picture?

Well, suppose later that day you decide to stop on your way home from work and get a sub sandwich. You’re a lot more conscientious about your eating at this point so you get an oven roasted chicken sandwich on wheat bread. You tell the deli person to hold the condiments and, instead, give you a double serving of chicken with a lot of low calorie/high fiber veggies to moisturize and texturize the meal. Your double roasted chicken sandwich provides 9 grams of dietary fat, 46 grams of carbs, and 36 grams of protein.  You decide to chase it down with 8oz. of low-fat milk that has 4.5 grams of fat, 12.5 grams of carbs, and 9 grams of protein. This comes out to a meal of about 537 calories – very close in total calories to the previous meal.  

But ‘what is macro nutrition’ with regard to this meal?


Calorie percentage from fat:

13.5g x 9cal. = 121.5; (121.5/537) x 100 = 23%

Calorie percentage from carbohydrates:

58.5g. x 4cal. = 234; (234/537) x 100 = 44%

Calorie percentage from protein:

45g. x 4cal. = 180; (180/537) x 100 = 33%


This would be a much healthier ratio in comparison to the meal you and I had (hypothetically) at lunch. Someone could argue that the carbs should be 4 percentage-points lower, the protein 3 percentage-points lower, and the fat 7 percentage-points higher. That would make it into the perfect Zone Diet ratios. However, it can be tough to maintain sanity while being so strict. This second meal has a fairly close-to-ideal macro-nutritional ratio.

‘What is Macro Nutrition’; do the “daily totals” matter most?

In really answering the question “what is macro nutrition”, it might behoove us to add the second hypothetical meal listed above to the first one. That’s because if we eat a more macro-nutritionally ideal meal after one that’s less than ideal, we end up with a new, ‘combined ratios’ total.


Calorie percentage from fat:

48.5g x 9cal. = 436.5; (436.5/1,084) x 100 = 40%

Calorie percentage from carbohydrates:

90g. x 4cal. = 360; (360/1,084) x 100 = 33%

Calorie percentage from protein:

72g. x 4cal. = 288; (288/1,084) x 100 = 27%


With the totals of the two meals combined, we have a more favorably balanced ratio of macro-nutrients.

Let’s say in the early evening of the same day, you decide to have a high protein, super smoothie that you enjoy regularly mixing up in your blender. After pouring two cups of nonfat milk into your blender, you add a couple scoops of whey protein. To this you add some carbs in the form of a banana and a cup of frozen strawberries. In order to get some healthy fat and a bit of fiber, you throw in twenty-four almonds. This 600-calorie blender smoothie comes up with a macro-nutrient reading of the following:


Fat: 14 grams (21%)

Carbs: 72 grams (47%)

Protein: 49 grams (32%)


In adding up the macro nutrient percentages and calories for this smoothie, I used the handy calculator to make it easy. In fact, if you look at the image below, you can see how I quickly and easily added up the ingredients on this macronutrient/calorie meal calculator:

Meal Calculator HardBody Success10

And just to give you an idea of “what is macro nutrition” from an even bigger picture, let’s see what this more favorably balanced smoothie did to your hypothetical ratios for the day.

Calories: 1,694

Calorie Percentage from Fat:

62g. X 9cal. = 558; (558/1,694) x 100 = 33%

Calorie Percentage from Carbohydrates:

162g. X 4cal. = 648; (648/1,694) x 100 = 38%

Calorie Percentage from Protein:

121g. x 4cal. = 484; (484/1694) x 100 = 28%


Notice this final macro nutrient breakdown is very close to that espoused by The Zone diet; it’s just a few percentage points from 40/30/30 (40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat).

My point: A day that was begun with a meal that had fattening macro-nutrient ratios was altered with just a couple additional meals. Moreover, if we’re going to eat meals with less-than-ideal macro nutrient ratios, this is the way to do it; eat the more fattening meals in the early day and optimize the ratios toward the end of the day (carb tapering).

Why does Macro Nutrition “Work” for Getting Lean?

Despite claims by some trainers and dieticians who say that shedding body fat is merely an equation of “calories in… calories out”, many people (myself included) have experienced the positive effects of controlling macro nutrient ratios. Its most powerful effect is in producing fat loss with less hunger. That’s a great reason for most of us to give it some credence.

But to answer the “what is macro nutrition” question without providing a theory of ‘why it works’ would be a disservice. So let’s look at a couple of most likely reasons why it contributes to getting in great shape.  

1. Optimizes hormone levels: By eating a more balanced ratio of macro nutrients, insulin levels are kept lower. This effect is due to the lower carbohydrate intake of only 40% of daily calories. It can result in reduced hunger, better insulin sensitivity, and less proneness to store body fat.

However, whether this effect is ‘real’ is not without its controversy. After all, the ‘calories in/calories out’ crowd claims a calorie-strict twinky diet will “work” just as well. I’d bet against that… if only from a ‘health’ standpoint.

2. Protein burns Calories: Many people will lose fat just by raising their protein intake while reducing their consumption of dietary fat. In the example of the first meal described above, the dietary fat was at nearly 60% of calories. When that pattern is followed for the entire day, every day, it typically results in long-term gains of substantial body fat.

Part of the reason for this is the relative calorie-burning effect of digesting each of the respective macro nutrients. The body only burns 2.5 to 3 calories in digesting any 100 calories of dietary fat. In contrast, it burns 20 to 30 calories in digesting and processing any 100 calories of protein. Thus, increased protein consumption with decreased fat consumption turns the body into more of a calorie burning machine. When this effect is combined with the lower insulin levels of reduced carb intake, the synergistically produced result is usually a drop in body fat.

So, ‘what is macro nutrition?’

It’s paying attention to the content of the calories we eat rather than simply the calories themselves. And “yes”… it can help you get into better shape with a lot less deprivation and hunger.


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