What exactly are calories, macros & micros?
We need energy for everything we do, from getting out of bed to walking to the supermarket, those tough HIIT workouts and even breathing. We get this energy from the protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fats we eat and drink. In this article, we’re going back to nutrition basics to understand what terms like calories, macros and micros mean, so you can understand what you need to stay on top of your goals.
What are calories?
A calorie, also referred to as a ‘kcal’, is a measure of the amount of energy we provide our bodies with through food and drink. On average, a man needs roughly 2,500 kcal and a woman around 2,000 kcal per day, although it all depends on your lifestyle, physique and activity levels.
When you eat fewer calories than you burn, your body goes into what’s called a calorie deficit. If you maintain this calorie deficit over a long period of time, you’re likely to lose weight. On the other hand, if you eat more calories than you burn, you’re probably going to gain weight. If you’re just getting started on your weight loss journey, our quick guide to healthy weight loss is a must read.
What are macros?
All the food we eat consists of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Your body uses these nutrients in the largest amounts, which is why we call them macronutrients, or macros.
In our diet, macronutrients are measured in grams:
1g of protein provides 4 kcal
1g of carbohydrates provides 4 kcal
1g of fat provides 9 kcal
If you know the macronutrients of a snack or meal, it’s pretty easy to calculate roughly how many calories it contains. A chocolate cookie flavour Body&Fit Smart Bar Crunchy, for example, contains 15g of protein, 15g of carbohydrates and 5.8g of fat. Altogether, that’s just over 150 kcal (157 kcal including fibre and salt, to be precise). Ideal for maintaining your muscles while on a calorie-restricted diet.
Let’s take a closer look at these macronutrients below. Plus, we’ll see why alcohol is also seen as a macro. Any ideas?
In the sports and fitness world, protein is an important macronutrient as it contributes to the growth and maintenance of muscle. It’s generally advised to eat 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, although children, vegetarians, vegans, pregnant women, athletes and people suffering with illnesses usually require more. On average, a strength or endurance athlete needs between 1.5-2g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
We can divide proteins into two categories: animal proteins and plant proteins.
Animal protein — meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products.
Plant protein — nuts, soya, peas, cereal products (bread, rice, pasta) and, to a lesser extent, potatoes and vegetables.
If you struggle to get enough protein from your everyday diet, you can use a protein shake or bar to help up your intake. Our bestselling protein powder, Whey Perfection, contains up to 22 grams of protein per shake. Alternatively, you can grab a Perfection Bar Deluxe (with 20g of protein per bar) and get after those gains when you’re on the go.
The body turns carbohydrates — sugars, fibre and starches — into glucose to get the energy it needs to function properly. The carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables and whole grain products are known as complex carbohydrates, or healthy carbohydrates. Those found in sugars are called simple carbohydrates and are more likely to raise your blood sugar levels.
When we look at the calorie content of fats, we see a big difference compared to proteins and carbohydrates. It’s generally recommended to get 20-40% of your daily energy needs from fats, which can be found in fish, nuts, oil, low-fat margarines, meat, biscuits, snacks and sauces, among others.
There are, however, different types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats in our diet play a major role in our health. For instance, they function as building blocks for cell walls and help lower cholesterol levels.
Besides these ’good fats’, some foods contain fats that are unhealthy (known as saturated or trans fats). They’re found in processed foods, but also naturally in milk and meat from grazing animals like cattle, goat and sheep. It’s advised to get no more than 1% of your daily energy needs from saturated fats. With an average intake of 2,000 calories a day, this means no more than about 2 grams per day.
Although the body can get energy from alcohol (technically making it a macronutrient), it doesn’t contain the essential nutrients needed to keep the body healthy. It also contains more calories per gram (7 kcal) than most other macros, yet these are of no use to the body, so we call them ‘empty calories’. On top of that, sugars are often added to alcoholic drinks, ramping up the total amount of calories even more.
What are micros?
The term ‘micros’, or ‘micronutrients’, refers to the vitamins and minerals in our diet. Like water, vitamins and minerals do not contain calories, although they’re essential for a whole range of important bodily functions.
In total, there are 13 different substances we call vitamins: vitamins A, C, D, E, K and eight B vitamins. We all need these, to a greater or lesser extent, to live a healthy life. A vitamin deficiency can lead to physical complaints, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your micros.
An easy piece of advice? Eat the rainbow. Enjoy food of all colours to make sure you’re powering your body with all the nutrients it needs. If you have further questions, our dedicated team of Nutrition Experts are always on hand to help. Get in touch via our customer service channel or send us a message on Instagram. You can find us @bodyandfit_official.