Whether you have been keto for a while or are just starting to look into this way of eating, you have definitely bumped into the term “macros” and the concept of “finding your macros.” But why do they matter?
“Macros” is shorthand for macronutrients, and they are compounds that your body uses for growth, maintenance, and repair—e.g. everything. Macronutrients are the largest nutrients your body needs and in the highest quantities. There exist three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Let us mentally metabolize these macronutrients to see how they each support the body’s basic daily functions as well our health goals—whether that is weight loss, physical performance, or healing of autoimmune, neurological, emotional, or other disease conditions—and what can happen if you do not get the right mix, or ratio, of these macros.
During digestion, protein is broken down into amino acids that can form new proteins, used in growth and repair, or glucose, used to generate energy molecules like ATP. Protein has important functional roles in the body that include:
Enzymes to speed up chemical reactions in the body
Hemoglobin to transport materials around your circulatory system
Antibodies in the immune system
Clotting factors to slow blood loss
Hormones for signaling
Facilitators of muscle contraction
Structural elements like collagen, elastin, and keratin
The main component of most cell structures
Recyclers of worn-out cells
Ketogenic amino acids offering the body clean fuel
Glucose offering the body fuel
A lack of sufficient protein intake can result in:
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
Inhibited cellular and tissue growth (new cells, new muscle fiber, bone density)
Inhibited cellular and tissue repair (reduces immune function, slows healing, allows accumulation of junk cells)
Inhibited acid–base balance in the tissues and blood
Too much dietary protein, on the other hand, can result in:
Excessive conversion to and storage of glucose by process of gluconeogenesis
No corresponding increase in bone or muscle mass
Increased thirst and/or dehydration
Unrefined carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in a multi-step process to generate fuel for bodily processes. Carbohydrates can have important characteristics such as:
Preferred fuel source for ATP synthesis
Fuel source that can be utilized for all bodily processes
Material for amino acid production
Building block of glycogen (a stored form of energy)
When carbohydrate intake is suppressed:
Glucose thresholds are met though gluconeogenesis in the liver
Stored energy (glycogen and fat) is burned and converted to ketones
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies if other dietary intake is not diversified enough
When dietary carbohydrate intake is too high, it can yield:
Blood sugar dysregulation
Increased insulin levels
Decreased leptin levels
Diminishing amounts of carbohydrates stored as glycogen in muscle tissue and liver
Increased storage of glucose as fat in adipose cells
Fat is broken down into fatty acids that can be used to create ATP, lipids with a multitude of functions in the body, and our favorite fuel, ketones! (As an aside, we are referring to healthy, natural fats; we assume you are already avoiding trans fats, vegetable oils, and other bad fats).
Fat can function in your body in a number of ways:
Fuel for ATP synthesis
Components of all cell membranes
Building blocks for hormones
Ketone bodies providing a source of clean fuel
Lipoproteins to provide transport of cellular materials
Cholesterol for cell building and repair
Carriers for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
Facilitators of mineral absorption
A lack of sufficient dietary fat can result in:
Vitamin and mineral deficiency
Increased risk of coronary disease
Increased risk of depression, anxiety, neurological, and autoimmune disorders
Too much dietary fat, however, can lead to:
Increased storage as triglycerides in adipose tissue in the liver and throughout the body
1. Tortora, G., Derrickson, B. (2015). Introduction to the Human Body, 10th Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. p. 469, 474, 477, 478.
2. Fallon, S. (2001). Nourishing Traditions. Brandywine, MD: NewTrends Publishing Inc. p. 4, 26.
3. Ballantyne, S. (2017). Paleo Principles. Las Vegas, NV: Victory Belt Publishing. p. 52.
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