What are Macronutrients?

What are Macronutrients?

Tya Waterman |

Macronutrients is one of the most commonly used terms in the fitness industry. You may have heard it used before, such as counting macros, if it fits your macros (IIFYM), or readjusting your macros, but how many of us actually know what it means?

If you’re in the dark when it comes to macronutrients, or you are just looking for a quick refresher, this blog post is for you. Read on to learn about what macronutrients are and how much of each one you should be consuming.

What are macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the three nutrients, carbohydrates, protein, and fat, that the body requires in large amounts for normal growth and development. These nutrients provide energy to the body and contain calories.


Carbohydrates (carbs) are the main source of energy for most individuals. Carbohydrates can be classified in many ways, but the most common is simple vs. complex.

Simple carbs are, in essence, sugars.  They are small compounds usually consisting of two or fewer monosaccharides, which roughly translates to a “single sugar.” The main monosaccharides are glucose, fructose, and galactose. Glucose and fructose are found in fruit and honey. Galactose is produced from lactose milk sugar.

Complex carbs are our starches and fibers. These compounds are made entirely of glucose connected in long chains. Complex carbs generally take longer to enter the blood stream for energy because these long chains must be broken down before being absorbed and turned into energy. Our bodies store carbs in the muscle and liver to call upon for energy during times of demand (think exercise). 

Some sources of complex carbs are bread, pasta, quinoa, rice, potatoes, lentils, beans, legumes, etc.


Proteins are one of the building blocks of body tissue, act as a fuel source, and are needed to form blood cells. Protein is found in all cells of your body and is their major structural component. It is also substantially responsible for the structure of your bones, organs, tendons, and ligaments.

As you can see, protein is vital for your existence regardless of your level of physical activity.

Protein is made up of amino acids. The body’s tissue is comprised of 20 amino acids. Out of these 20, there are 9 that we refer to as essential amino acids. This means that our body doesn’t make them, so we must get them from our diet.

The primary way that protein is separated is complete and incomplete. Complete simply means that it contains all 9 essential amino acids in high enough quantity to support normal human growth and function if it was the only protein source eaten. Incomplete means it does not do those things.

The easiest way to remember it is that animal sources, except gelatin, are complete and plant sources, except quinoa and spirulina, are incomplete. However, we don’t live in a vacuum. We don’t eat only 1 protein source to obtain all the essential amino acids. Complimentary proteins are two foods that are incomplete individually but combine to form a complete protein.  Some classic examples are rice and beans or hummus and pita.


First and foremost, the fat you eat and stored body fat are not the same thing! Your body needs fat from your diet for vitamin absorption, hormone synthesis, anti-inflammatory properties, and more. Body fat, however, is the result of consuming more calories than you burn from ANY food source.

Fats are often separated into saturated and unsaturated.  We can break unsaturated down into a few more categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.

Saturated fats tend to exist in animal products (milk, butter, meats) and tropical oils, like coconut or palm. Saturated fat is incorrectly named the bad fat, but it is vital to our health. Saturated fat plays a pivotal role in hormone production, immune function, and brain health. However, eating too much saturated fat has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease and some cancers.  It should only make up about 10% of our fat intake.

Unsaturated fats primarily come from plants and wild caught fatty fish, like salmon and tuna. These are the big hitters for fighting inflammation, reducing soreness, and making up the walls of all your cells! Unsaturated fats should be the remaining 90% of your fat intake.

You should aim for a minimum of 10:1 ratio of monounsaturated (nuts, avocados, olive oil) to polyunsaturated (walnuts, fish, seeds).

How much should I be consuming?

Now that you know what each macronutrient is, you’re probably wondering how much you should be eating of each.

Carbohydrates contain four calories per gram. The daily requirement for carbs is based on activity level. The more active you are, the more carbs you will require in your diet. Aim for a mix of simple and complex carbs that are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Protein also contains four calories per gram. The daily requirements for protein are based on bodyweight and activity level. Generally, highly active people should consume around 0.68-1 g of protein per pound of bodyweight, moderately active people need about 0.45-0.68 g per pound of bodyweight, and sedentary people should have about 0.36 g of protein per pound of bodyweight. If hitting your protein requirement seems daunting, check out the protein supplements that we offer here at Kaizen Naturals®, including Whey Protein, Whey Isolate, and Vegan Protein.

Fat contains nine calories per gram and the daily requirements are based on filling in the caloric gaps. Consumption should be the inverse of carbs. For example, if you are following a higher carb diet, you should be eating less fats. If you are following a lower carb diet, you should be eating more fats.

Interested in learning more about how to properly fuel your body? Check out this blog post on micronutrients.