How much do you know about Macronutrients? Macronutrients – or macros – are nutrients that your body needs to function and maintain structures. There is plenty of debate and confusion around the role of these in your diet, and there is no one truth. So this week, I’m diving deeper into what they are and what it means to take a macro-based approach to your nutrition.
Macronutrients don’t have to be confusing, and if you want to learn more and incorporate an appropriate balance of macronutrients in your diet, there are some things you first need to know. With a little understanding of what macronutrients are, what they entail, and how they impact your diet, you can find a combination of macronutrients that works for you, depending on your goals.
If you want to understand macronutrients and how to apply this concept to your diet, you don’t want to miss this episode. I’m explaining what macronutrients are, how to establish your current relationship with them as well as what you need to consider when it comes to a macro-based approach to nutrition. I’m sharing a tool I use in my own life and with my clients and helping you pick macronutrients apart so you can decide if and how to use this concept for yourself.
If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make this show better for you. Want to get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out? Share this podcast with a friend by texting a show link, sharing a screenshot, or posting a link on your social media, and help other busy working moms feel better and change things up.
Be sure to tag me on Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you!
What You Will Discover:
- Some examples of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins and their functions.
- The difference between simple and complex carbs and some examples of each.
- What you need to know about carbohydrates is and why it’s so important.
- The healthy fats I’m encouraging you to seek out in your diet and why it is so important to eat a wide variety of them.
- How to take a macro-based approach to your nutrition.
- The difference between saturated and unsaturated fats.
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
Full Episode Transcript:
You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #30. If you want to understand macronutrients and how to apply the concept to your diet, check this out.
Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.
Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here, we are going to dive in and talk all about macronutrients today. Some of you have asked about this, and I want to get into the details about macronutrients to help you understand how it applies to your nutrition.
I want to pick this apart so you can decide if and how to use this concept for yourself. And truth be told, I’m just straight-up pumped to geek out with you about nutrition. So, let’s get to it because we have a lot to talk about. Here’s what we’re going to cover.
Today, we’re going to talk about what the macronutrients are, then we’re going to talk about what each of them does for you or how they function. And then, we’re gonna get into the nitty-gritty about how much of each you need. Alright? And don’t worry, because there is plenty of debate about this, so stay tuned for that.
All right, so let’s go. Okay, so macros or macronutrients are the nutrients that your body needs in order to function and maintain its structures, that’s it. It’s basically what your body needs to function.
There are three categories of food macronutrients, and those are carbohydrates or carbs, fat, and protein. If you Google it, you’re gonna see lists of four, five, maybe six macronutrients. Some lists include water, some include alcohol, some include fiber as its own separate category; it gets really complex. But for the purposes of today, I am sticking with these three, as this is what you’ll most commonly see when it comes to your nutrition.
Okay, so the key thing to note is that these macronutrients; protein, carbs, and fat, those are your body’s source of energy or calories. So, many foods have a combination of macronutrients in them. Like whole eggs, for example, they’ve got a combination of fat and protein. Yogurt has a combination of protein, carbs, and fat. Tofu also a combination of all three. Many ultra-processed foods have a combination of macronutrients, especially carbs and fat. And we’re gonna get to more of this in just a little bit.
Okay, so now let’s go through each of the macros one by one. We’re going to start with carbohydrates. There is plenty of debate and confusion about the role of carbohydrates in your diet, so we are just going to face this head-on.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary source of energy. I think of them as sugars, starches and fiber. You get carbs in your diet from foods like vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, grains, and even in dairy. You also get carbs in processed foods like cereal, pasta, and bread.
The main function of carbs is to provide fast acting energy to your brain and muscles. So, with the exception of fiber because your gut cannot break it down, nearly all carbs that you eat will ultimately be broken down into glucose, which is then delivered to your organs for energy.
Okay, so that’s about as fancy as I want to get on that because I do not want you to feel like you’re listening to a med school lecture here because that’s painful. But the takeaway here is that carbohydrates, minus fiber, get broken down into glucose. And that glucose gets shuttled to the rest of your body for energy to keep you living. I don’t want to make it any more complicated than that.
Sugars are simple carbohydrates. So, there’s two main natural sources of sugar, and those are glucose found in dried fruit and honey. And then fructose found in fruit. Okay, so refined processed sugars or sugar substitutes are also simple carbs. And you will find sugar in nearly every processed food on the shelves of the middle of the grocery store.
The list of added simple sugars that show up in processed foods, it is way too long to list here. So really, you have to be on the lookout to know if you are inadvertently taking them in. Okay, so anything that says juice, or syrup, or ingredients that end with the words O-S-E, that equals sugar. And there are so many others.
Most of the simple carbs in the American diet come from sugars added to foods, things like; soda, big stuff like cupcakes and cookies, fruit juices and cereals. So, simple sugars are really easy for your body to break down, and they’re a source of fast energy for your body.
Compared to sugars, which are simple carbs, starches and fiber are considered complex carbs. So, starches and fiber are made of longer stretches of sugars, and that’s it; that’s why they’re considered complex. And all this means is that it takes your body longer to break these down and digest these carbs, as opposed to the simple sugars that get digested quickly.
You’ll find starch in foods like grains, legumes, corn, oats, peas, rice, and root vegetables, like potatoes. You’ll find fiber in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and then whole grains like Ezekiel bread.
Okay, so let me take just a second to talk about fiber because fiber does not get enough love or attention. And, too many people simply do not get enough fiber in their diets. The recommended minimum intake is 25-30 grams of fiber per day for adults.
Fiber is cool because it cannot be broken down by your gut. It basically helps to clear out your colon. It feeds the good bacteria that live in your gut, and it helps to form the bulk of your poop. So, fiber also helps to keep your cholesterol low and keep your blood sugar under control.
The other thing to know about fiber is that because your body can’t digest it, it doesn’t contribute to your net carb intake. This would explain the packaging that you see at the grocery store. So, if you see a package that states, “only two grams, not carbs”, it means there’s fiber in the food, whether naturally or added. And because that fiber doesn’t get digested or absorbed, it doesn’t technically contribute to your overall carbohydrate count.
Okay? I want to make that really clear.
I also want to answer a question I get asked all the time, and it’s about fruit. So, unfortunately some people have demonized fruit; fearing that too much fruit is going to mess up your blood sugar. Okay, so here’s the thing. While fruit does have fructose, that simple sugar I was talking about just a minute ago, it does not have the same effect on your blood sugar that a gummy bear does.
The sugar in a gummy bear is most likely a glucose syrup, a simple sugar that will cause your blood sugar to rise quickly. The fructose in your apple will not do that. Here’s why: Most fruits, while they contain the simple sugar fructose, they also contain complex carbs in the form of fiber.
And what that fiber does, is help to slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, so that you don’t get a big spike in your blood sugar like you would from eating the gummy bear. So, it’s the presence of fiber in the fruit, along with the fructose, that makes the difference. It’s that combination of simple and complex carbs in fruit that make it a totally fine food to eat.
So, when you think of fruit, it’s both a simple and complex carbohydrate that is not to be feared. Meaning, the fruit debate, it can end. Okay? You absolutely can eat fruit and not mess up your blood sugar.
But like anything, you do it in moderation. Don’t eat an entire bunch of overly ripened bananas in one sitting. Don’t eat two pounds of watermelon all at once. And if you are a diabetic or have insulin resistance, please consult with your physician or another health care provider, or a dietitian, to talk about the nuances of this. But suffice it to say, eat fruit. Do not fear whole fruit. Okay?
Alright, so the other thing to consider about carbs, is whether they are whole or processed, because this makes a difference. This is key. Whole carbohydrates are as they sound, they have not been processed or altered. Whole carbohydrates are foods in their truest form. Things like fruit, veggies, beans, legumes, whole grains, and oats. The carbohydrates you find in these foods also come with other things like vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
Contrast that to processed or refined carbs, which have been manipulated. So, what it means, is that the fiber, bran, and nutrients, have essentially been stripped away. Think white stuff, like bread, pasta, white rice, table sugar. Truthfully, when I think of processed or refined carbs, I think of a machine that has taken that carbohydrate and already done some of the digesting for you.
So, when that processed food hits your gut, your body doesn’t have to work so hard to get that sugar into your bloodstream. And then, you get a quick rise in your blood sugar, and that’s the problem. So, it’s no secret that refined carbs and added sugars are contributing to obesity and many chronic health problems that people are facing today.
That’s why I think it is essential to know the difference: Whole carbohydrates, whole foods; things like fruit and veggies. Processed carbohydrates, processed foods; most anything that comes in the middle of the grocery store.
From an energy standpoint, carbohydrates, whether they are whole or processed, carry 4 calories per gram. Four calories per gram, okay? But it’s important to know that while all carbohydrates have the same amount of energy stored in them, their impact on your blood sugar is very different.
The thing to know about carbohydrates is that they’re not all created equally. So, without getting totally nerdy on you, maybe I already have, but remember this, the more ultra-processed a carbohydrate is, the more likely it is to cause your blood sugar to spike and then crash.
And when this happens, you’ll be left hangry, and your brain will tell you to go seek out more carbs as soon as possible to restore your blood sugar. The less processed a carbohydrate is, the less impact the food will have on your blood sugar.
This is why, over time, I have most definitely backpedaled on the motto that, “A calorie is a calorie.” So yes, while one calorie of an apple is equal to one calorie of a gummy bear, that’s where the similarities end. We’re talking simply units of measure here, when we’re talking calories. But the impact on your blood sugar, and in turn on your energy level, is not at all the same.
And, it’s no secret that that spike and fall in your blood sugar from processed carbs is real. It’s the overconsumption of those processed carbs that results in the rollercoaster of your blood sugar, that poses a problem to your weight, and also to your insulin regulation. So, the calories are not at all one and the same in that way. Okay?
The question remains, are carbs your enemy? No, of course not. Hopefully, you’re getting to know me by now. And, you know that I’m not going to tell you to give up carbs for the rest of your life. But that being said, I would ask you to consider just a few things.
First, what constitutes the majority of your carbohydrate intake? Is it white rice, refined pasta, bread, cakes, cookies? Or is it fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes? If most of your carb intake is refined processed carbs, it might be worthwhile to reevaluate, and determine where you can crowd out. Remember, that is prioritizing whole, real foods and whole carbohydrates like fruit and veggies, before you reach for the processed stuff.
And second, are you afraid of carbs? So, maybe I’ll get in trouble for posing this question, but I think it is a worthwhile one to ask. Because I have worked with some of you who, after a while, we were able to determine that you were afraid of carbs.
I’m asking you to take a good, hard look at your approach and ask; if you have eliminated all or most all carbs from your diet, why did you choose to do it? Is it because you truly don’t like carbs? Is it that you have true celiac disease? Which is not the same thing as gluten sensitivity, by the way.
Or is it because you are afraid of them? Meaning you haven’t practiced managing yourself around carbohydrates. There is an enormous difference here, very big difference. And please, don’t misread me. I’m not saying that people who follow a keto diet are afraid of carbs, that is not it at all.
However, I have found that some people choose to keep all carbs out of their diet because they are straight-up afraid of them. And I want to make carbs less of an enemy for you. Please, do not let bananas be your enemy. An apple: an apple is not your problem. One piece of bread or an occasional pasta night is not going to ruin you; I promise.
It’s when you regularly overdo it, especially on highly processed carbs, that things get sticky. I’m simply asking you to get really honest with yourself and answer if you’re choosing to eliminate or severely restrict all carbs, including the healthy whole carbs like fruit and veggies from your diet because you need to from a medical perspective? Or you truly cannot tolerate any carbohydrates? Or that you just feel better without them?
Or because you’re afraid of them and haven’t figured out how to manage yourself around them? And if you find that you don’t feel comfortable managing yourself around carbs, you have a choice to make. You can decide how much access you want to give yourself. You could decide that it’s not worth it to you and forego them altogether. Or, you can decide to practice having some without going overboard.
It’s kind of like break room cupcakes. If you are someone who can eat a half or a quarter, in my husband’s case, which is very admirable. If you can eat that quarter of a cupcake in the break room and walk away satisfied, go for it. If you are someone who, if you eat half of a cupcake, you will come back and eat another half, and then another half, until it turns into a spiral, you have to decide how much access you want to give yourself.
And no one can make that decision for you. I harp on this, I’m spending a lot of time on this because I see it come up all the time. I will have a client tell me she doesn’t do carbs because she doesn’t like them. And this has come up numerous times.
Then, we get farther along and I will find that that same client just ate her weight in bread over the weekend or devoured an entire pizza. Because once she started eating the carbs, she doesn’t know how to stop herself.
That is very different than being intolerant of carbs. And that is also very different from not liking carbs. In fact, it’s the opposite. That is a practice in managing urges and overeating. And that is very, very different from being medically unable to eat carbohydrates. Okay? So, I’m simply asking you to be honest with yourself about this because it comes up often in relation to overeating.
Next, let’s move on to fat. Fat is absolutely necessary in your diet. The fat in your diet helps you absorb vitamins, maintain and build your cells, manufacture hormones insulates your organs, and it helps you maintain your body temperature. So, you absolutely need fat in your diet.
But similar to carbohydrates, not all fats are created equally. You’ve probably heard of saturated and unsaturated fats. So, it’s the unsaturated fats that you want to seek out. But of course, as you’d expect, there is nuance to this.
For unsaturated fats, there are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. That just refers to the chemical structure of the fat, and we don’t need to get any more nerdy than that. But foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish like salmon, and olive oil and nut oils those are the kind of healthy fats that I’m encouraging you to seek out in your diet.
When you hear the term healthy fats, this is what most people are referring to, and those fats are unsaturated.
It’s the saturated and trans fats that are the problem. And, here’s where there are all kinds of caveats. So, saturated fats are found in things like beef, processed meat like sausage or bacon, cheese, butter, ice cream, and coconut oil.
When I was getting into the literature for this podcast, I found that in the U.S., the largest source of saturated fat in the adult American diet comes from pizza. Followed by dairy, beef, and then refined processed snack cakes and cookies.
And here’s where it gets fuzzy. The most recent evidence suggests that not all saturated fats are the same, and some saturated fats may be better for you than others. But this is still very much evolving. This is definitely making my head spin, but I will sum it up in this way.
The most current dietary guidelines suggest that no more than 10% of your calories come from saturated fat. The key here is that the calories that you would normally get from saturated fat shouldn’t be replaced with calories from processed carbs. But often, that’s what happens.
When you buy processed snacks or dairy products that are branded ‘low fat’, that saturated fat has been chemically removed and replaced with added sugar to maintain the taste. That’s no good.
Trans fats, they occur naturally in some meat and some dairy, but the majority of trans fats are actually chemically engineered in food labs. And then added to your foods to keep them shelf stable. So, if you see words like “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” in your food’s ingredient list, then you know there is a trans-fat added to it.
Here is the other really tricky thing. In the U.S., if a food has less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving, that food label can state 0 grams of trans fat. This is where it gets even more crazy. The upper limit of trans fat intake is 1% of your total daily calories; 1%. So, doing some math here, if you’re eating a 2,000 calorie diet, that amounts to 2 grams of trans fat in a day: 2 grams.
If the majority of your food is processed, but those processed foods have just under .5 grams of trans fat, so that it’s not on the nutrition label, you’ve hit that upper limit after about five servings of processed food. I point this out because many people are just simply not aware of this.
So, I will hold my tongue; maybe I haven’t. I will hold my tongue about the processed food industry and governmental guidelines here but just be aware you are probably taking in more trans fats than you think. In fact, I will bet on it because the nutrition labels are entirely misleading.
The other thing to know is that you’re also going to get trans-fat when you order fried food at restaurants. Because the oil used to fry your French fries is often reused, and the more it is reheated, the more trans fats are produced. The U.S. banned the use of trans fats in our food supply. It went into effect in 2018, but you’re still going to see it show up in things like shortening, microwave popcorn, bakery treats, coffee creamers, potato chips and frosting.
To be very clear here, the reason that artificial trans fats are not awesome is the negative impact they have on your cholesterol and the very real increased risk of heart disease. And this is one area where most of science agrees: it’s amazing.
So, to make it clear, as I said, not all fats are bad. They should not be all lumped together. And, all fats should not be considered the enemy, as they were in the 1990s. Choose unsaturated fats. Less is more when it comes to saturated fats. Steer clear of trans fats. Okay?
From an energy standpoint, fats are the most calorie dense of the macronutrients. They have nine calories per gram, which is more than twice that of carbs and protein, which we’ll get to in just a minute. Remember, fats are low volume-high calorie foods; you get a lot of calories for not a lot of food.
But this doesn’t mean that you should avoid fats. It simply means that you should be mindful of how much fat you’re eating. It’s definitely important to eat a wide variety of healthy fats because they keep you full, and you need them as part of your diet.
Last, let’s hit up protein. Lots of debate around protein, too, to no surprise. My husband pointed this out to me, and I will fully admit it here, but of the macros, I most love to talk about, protein is by far my favorite. Protein is not boring. It is essential to help you build and repair cells, and it has a load of other functions in your body, too.
If you are trying to build muscle, you absolutely need protein to help prepare your muscles after strength training. Protein is also the most satiating of the three macronutrients. What that means is that it helps to keep you fuller longer.
Protein also helps to regulate your hunger hormones; it decreases the hormone that tells you you’re hungry and increases the hormone that tells you you’re full. Protein has also been shown to decrease food cravings and nighttime snacking.
It also has the highest thermic effect of food or TEF. So, all this means is this you need calories to digest your calories. And of the three macros, protein, carbs and fat, your body uses more calories to digest protein than it does either carbs or fat. Because of this, eating a higher protein diet can help give you a small boost to your metabolism.
So, to break down proteins even more, there are complete proteins, and then there are incomplete proteins. I don’t want you to make too big of a deal about this, but I want to explain the difference so you are aware.
Complete proteins contain the nine essential amino acids your body does not make on its own; that’s it. You’ll get complete proteins in the form of fish, poultry, whole eggs, beef, pork, dairy. And then whole soy products like tofu, tempeh and edamame. Incomplete proteins, on the other hand, do not contain all nine essential amino acids. And those are foods like vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes and whole grains.
Okay, so here’s the thing, this is why I’m bringing this up: Some people turn their noses down on a vegetarian or vegan diet because of the lack of complete protein options. But not so fast. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you’re fine. As long as you eat a varied diet, you’re going to get all nine essential amino acids by combining plant based foods that have different essential amino acids.
That would be something like nut or seed butter on whole grain bread. Or beans and rice. Or hummus with whole grain pita. A salad with chickpeas and sunflower seeds. Meaning, if you eat a variety of plant based foods, you’re not going to run into an amino acid deficiency, okay? You’re not missing out by avoiding animal products, at all. Again, my goal is to stop dividing us over our food choices. there is enough division in our world as it is, okay?
As for the caloric impact, protein, like carbohydrates, has four calories per gram. And this is why pure protein sources, things like egg whites, chicken or turkey breast, white fish, and shrimp, those are considered high volume- low calorie foods.
When you’re eating pure protein sources, you’re getting just that protein. And you can eat a decent amount of these foods and not add a ton of calories to your total intake. Often, your protein comes packaged with fat. So, certain cuts of meat, whole eggs, full fat dairy and fatty fish like salmon, those are all examples.
And yes, while those are all excellent sources of protein, they also have a moderate amount of fat. And then remember, fat has nine calories per gram. So, that’s going to bump up the total calorie count of that food. And that’s why these healthy fats are considered low volume-high calorie foods.
But this is not to say that you shouldn’t subsist on nothing but chicken breasts and egg whites, though. Okay? My point in mentioning this is that often I talk about high volume-low calorie foods, and the first thing that comes to mind is fruit and veggies. But I want you to know that there are other options in the form of pure proteins and whole grains, too.
All right, that was a lot. So, to review: We have gone over carbohydrates; that is your body’s primary source of energy and comes in at 4 calories per gram. Carbs come in whole or refined form. And the goal is to make the majority of your carbohydrate intake come from whole carbs like fruit, veggies, and whole grains. Versus their ultra-processed counterparts like white bread, white flour, and most packaged food.
Fats, they have important functions like insulating your organs and building hormones. They come in at nine calories per gram and are the most calorie dense, but are absolutely necessary. Of the various types of fats, focus on the unsaturated kind in the form of avocado nuts, olive oil, fatty fish. Less is more when it comes to saturated fats until we know more. And avoid trans fats other than what occurs naturally in certain foods.
And last, we’ve got protein. Which helps to build muscle, boost metabolism, and keep you full at four calories per gram. Complete proteins are found in most animal products. But when you eat a very plant based diet, you will get all the essential amino acids you need and not miss out on anything.
Okay, so here is the key question; how much of each of these should you eat? At the risk of having built this up, I may disappoint here because like most every single thing that I have covered in relation to nutrition and your diet so far on this podcast, there is no one right answer. There really isn’t.
Let me remind you, in case you’re new to this podcast; there is no one diet truth. There is no one diet truth, and there probably never will be. But with this in mind, I want to talk about what it means to take a macro-based approach to your nutrition.
You may know someone already who swears by counting macros. Or, maybe you’re intrigued by it. So, I want to make it really simple for you. When you count macros, all you’re doing is keeping track of the foods that you eat in order to hit certain macronutrient goals.
Here’s where I see this most commonly applied. And this is why I went over the three different types of macros before getting into this. It is really easy to get in plenty of carbs and fats. Most people have absolutely no trouble at all getting in plenty of carbs and fat. But for many of you, protein is where you struggle.
I use this comparison all the time, and I think it applies again here. Imagine a piece of chocolate cake versus a plate of canned tuna. It is pretty easy for that piece of chocolate cake to go down, and it is a little harder to get in that tuna. And to be clear, they both have a place in your diet. The problem is most people gravitate to the chocolate cake, and they gravitate to the chocolate cake too often. Or, they gravitate to the pasta and cheese before choosing a piece of fish.
So, I’m going to start by giving you the guidelines, or what the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) says. And then, we’re going to dissect this just a little more. If you go to the RDA, you will find what’s called the “acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges”, or AMDR for short.
So, here they are, and this is for the average American adult: 45-65% of your calories from carbohydrates. 20-35% from fat. And then 10-35% from protein. As you can see, there’s a pretty stinking, wide range on all fronts. And what that does, is leave a whole lot of room for debate and confusion.
I’m going to zone in on protein first. Knowing what we know about protein, I think it’s important that we start to look at your protein intake a little more closely. Or, at the very least, we should look at how much carbohydrate and fat you’re taking in, in relation to protein.
So, if you go with the RDA minimum recommendation of 10% of your calories from protein and you’re eating a 2,000 calorie diet, by the math, that amounts to 50 grams of protein per day. The RDA also gives a recommendation of .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So again, if you go by that math, for a 150-pound person, that’s 54 grams of protein in a day. That’s not a lot of protein.
And if you feel that Americans focus too much on protein and not enough on fiber, I agree with you partly. I’ve said it before, Americans don’t eat enough fiber. But I also think most of us are not conscious of our protein and instead are getting too much fat with a smidge of protein.
I bring this up because there’s a growing body of research to suggest that more protein than the RDA recommends may be necessary, depending on your goals. In many studies related to weight loss, we’re finding that 20-30% of your daily calories from protein helps to keep you full, will promote weight loss, and, most importantly, help you keep the weight off once you lose it.
And getting in 20% of your calories from protein is going to result in more than 54 grams of protein in a day, I promise. So again, by doing the math, if you follow a 2,000 calorie diet and aim for 20% of your calories from protein, that’s 100 grams of protein in a day. Now, before you tell me there is no way you can take in that much protein. I respectfully disagree.
You absolutely can take in that much protein, but it means paying attention. I have dug into this. I have made infographics, I have made charts to show what a day of eating looks like in order to get to 100 grams of protein. And I promise it is absolutely possible. And it can be done without three whey protein shakes or various protein bars. It really can.
What it requires is adjusting the way that you think and adjusting the way that you eat. You can most certainly do this as a vegan, I promise. So, for me personally, I aim for 20-30% of my daily calories from protein, and that’s for a few reasons.
First, I want to keep my weight where it is. I’m not looking to gain. I’m not looking to lose. Second, I want to build muscle because I am not 20 years old anymore. In order to prevent the muscle loss that is inevitable as we age, two things: One, lift heavy weights. And two, eat adequate protein to support the muscle repair process.
In some of the sports medicine literature, you’ll find recommendations of up to 1 gram per pound or more of body weight. So, if you’re a 150-pound person balking at the idea of taking in 150 grams of protein per day, trust me, it can be done. It really can. But it means being intentional and paying attention to what you’re doing.
Am I saying that you need to start eating 150 grams of protein per day? No, not at all. The take-home here is this; if you are looking to lose weight, or build and maintain muscle, aim for 20-30% of your daily calories from protein. If you have trouble getting that amount in, or if you’re vegetarian or vegan, start on the low end and aim for 20%. And then, you can aim to increase it from there.
I want to make an especially important point for any pre-menopausal and menopausal women listening. There is more and more evolving research that supports the importance of protein as you transition into menopause. And this relates to improved muscle mass and bone density. It also relates to menopausal weight gain.
More and more scientific literature is suggesting that by increasing the percentage of protein in your diet, you may decrease age-related muscle loss and weight gain that is so common during menopause. Okay, so I think I have hammered home the point that protein matters.
You may get mad at me, but in regards to the other two macronutrients, it is entirely up to you. It really is. You could do 20% protein, then 35% fat and 45% carbs. You could do 30% protein, then 35% each of carbs and fat. All you have to do is the math to get you to 100%.
But let me make it even more simple. If your goal is weight loss or even weight maintenance, for that matter, here is your order of priorities as far as food is concerned. Number 1: calories. Number 2: protein. That’s it. Don’t make it any more complicated than that.
Let me explain. If your goal is to lose weight, calories matter. So, if you need a reminder of this, please go back to Episode 6, where I go into all kinds of detail about calories; there is a lot to it.
But to summarize from that episode, there is not a person on earth I know who lost weight by eating more calories than she needed. We know that. So, if you are aiming to lose weight, you will need to create a calorie deficit. There is your first priority creating a calorie deficit.
Now, after that, again, assuming your goal is to lose weight, your next priority should be protein. And as I’ve said before, aim for 20-30% of your daily calories from protein. Once you do those two things, the carbs and fat are up to you.
If you do better with high carbs because they help you work out better, aim for more carbs in your diet. Or, if you’re like me and really love peanut butter, then you may have a higher percentage of your calories from fats as opposed to carbs. As long as you’re staying within your calorie targets, the breakdown of fats and carbs truly doesn’t matter.
You can decide this based on food preferences. So, as an example, I tend to go higher on fats because I’m obsessed with peanut butter. You can base it on how you perform in the weight room or in your workouts. For those of you who do a lot of cardio-based activity, you may find that you perform better with a higher percentage of carbs.
You can base it on how you feel. Do you feel better and more satiated when you have higher fats in your diet? You can also base it on how you look. Do carbs make you look and feel bloated or puffy?
You can take any one of these, or all of these, into consideration and decide how you want to go about your macronutrients. There is absolutely no right or wrong here. I have been asked many times what the ideal macronutrient ratio is. It’s a really great question, but the hard truth is that there is no hard truth. And that’s so frustrating.
I, myself, I really like black-and-white. I love answers. But once I really learned about exercise and nutrition, I very quickly learned there is no one right answer. There is no one correct way to balance your macronutrients. So instead, I urge you to find the combination of macronutrients that works for you, depending on your goals.
What I will offer to you is this: this is a tool I use for myself and also with my clients. It’s a TDEE calculator, total daily energy expenditure. There are many, but I often just go to TDEEcalculator.net, which I’ll put in the show notes. But using this calculator, you can enter basic information about yourself, like your age, height, weight, gender, and activity level.
It will give you a suggested calorie count and three different potential macronutrient breakdowns; one with high carbs, one with low carbs, and one in the middle. So, check it out and see what you think. I like this calculator because it uses an equation that is validated in the sports medicine literature. And it gives you multiple options to choose from, as far as both your calorie and macro breakdown is concerned.
So, if you have no idea where to start, check that out. I’ve used it as a starting point for calculating my own macronutrients, and I recommend it to everyone.
Alright, so I know that this is a huge topic and that was a lot to cover. What I will do in the next episode is take things just a little further, and we’re going to talk about tracking both calories and macronutrients. It’s something that I have not yet talked about on this podcast. And again, lots of debate around it. I think we need to face that head-on. We’re going to do that next week, so stay tuned.
Alright, thank you again for hanging out with me. I will catch you again next week.
If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. And share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook, so I can follow along and engage with you.
This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong, inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. And you know, making that change starts with how you think. And that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.
Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.
Enjoy the Show?