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Understanding the Basics of Macronutrients

Dive into the basics of macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Learn how these key components fuel the body, from building muscle to providing energy in daily activities, and use this article as a quick guide to boosting your well-being.

Understanding basic macronutrients

You may have read a number of articles on micronutrients and how your body needs them in small amounts in order to function optimally. But what about macronutrients? Macros are just as important because these are the nutrients you consume in large amounts on a daily basis. It is these macros that provide energy and the components of food that the body needs to maintain structures and systems.

There are three main macronutrients, namely protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The figures below mention the amount of energy these macros provide: 

  • Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram
  • Protein – 4 calories per gram
  • Fats – 9 calories per gram

Let us discuss each of these to better understand the basics of macronutrients.


Protein is a vital macronutrient that is integral to a number of body processes, such as the maintenance of tissue structure, hormone production and secretion, metabolic systems, just to name a few.

The amount of your protein consumption is dependent upon your weight and how much exercise and other activities you do in a day. The Dietary Reference Intake Report recommends 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. So that a sedentary man and woman should consume 56 grams and 46 grams, respectively, of protein daily. To build muscle mass, you should consume 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight. The USDA recommendation is that you should get 10% to 35% of your daily calories from protein.

The more you exercise, the more protein you should eat. Because your body can’t store protein, the excess is converted to energy or fat. Once you have obtained your daily requirement, you should get the remainder of your calories from carbohydrates and fats.

Excellent sources of protein come from animals, such as poultry, fish, seafood, and eggs. There are also plant sources rich in protein content, such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Avoid processed meat. Although they are rich in protein, processed meat is loaded with unhealthy saturated fats and additives which are bad for your health.


Carbohydrates are broken down to glucose, which is the main energy source of the body. Carbs provide energy for your body during high-intensity exercise and other vigorous activities. The body utilizes the fuel from carbs more than protein during exercise in order to preserve muscle mass. To gain lean body mass, you should consume 1.8-2.0 grams per pound of body weight. 45% to 65% is the number of calories that you should obtain from carbs.

The best sources of carbs equally provide you with micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (compounds which help boost the immune system and fight disease). Examples of these sources include unprocessed whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. Avoid unhealthy carbs, such as white bread, white rice, and pastries, since they can cause spikes in your blood sugar which can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.


Fat has gotten a bad reputation, but it is integral to your body’s overall health.

Your body needs fat to create essential fatty acids which the body can’t make on its own, as a component in cell walls, as a source of energy, and aid in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, namely vitamins A, D, E, and K.

You should consume 0.2-0.4 grams of fat per pound of body weight. Next to carbohydrates, you should get 20% to 35% of your total daily calories from fat.

Same as with proteins and carbohydrates, you should get fats only from healthy sources. This means no processed meats. You should also avoid trans fat since they raise your bad cholesterol while lowering your levels of good cholesterol. 

As usual, the healthiest fat sources are from plant sources. Great examples of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocadoes, nuts and nut butter.

Saturated fats are primarily obtained from animal sources. Your intake of saturated fats should not be more than 7% to 10% of your diet since they are associated with inflammation and bad cholesterol. Sources of saturated fats include processed meats, beef, pork, veal, lamb, and high-fat dairy products, such as butter.


Overall, your intake of macronutrients should be dependent upon your fitness goals or the current state of your health.

Each individual would have differing percentages, so that the figures that work for one individual may not work for another.

It is important that you know your fitness goals so that you can compute the calorie numbers that are right for you. There are fitness apps which can make this computation easy as well as help you keep track of your progress in meeting your goals. Or you can consult with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) who can help you compute your percentages.


  1. Web MD. What are Macronutrients?. [Last accessed March 2, 2024]
  2. Avita Health. Macronutrients: A Simple Guide to Macros. [Last accessed March 2, 2024]
  3. Healthline. What Are Macronutrients? All You Need to Know. [Last accessed March 2, 2024]
  4. Leo FitLabs. Macronutrients: Fully understanding the basics. [Last accessed March 2, 2024]

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