What are macronutrients and what do they have to do with weight loss?

  • 4 Minutes Read
Sue Heikkinen
Sue Heikkinen, MS, RDN, CDCES, BC-ADM, ACE-PT - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist Educator

Tracking macronutrients, or "macros", is a part of many weight loss plans. Learn tips for using macronutrients for weight loss, as well as pitfalls to avoid.

Macronutrients for weight loss

"Macro-" means large (as compared to "micro-", meaning tiny). The macronutrients carbohydrate, fat, and protein are found in larger amounts than micronutrient ("micro''- tiny) vitamins and minerals.

As compared to micronutrients, macronutrients provide us with calories. Carbohydrate and protein provide 4 calories per gram, and fat provides 9 calories per gram. (For visualization: a raisin weighs about 1 gram).

What is the ideal macronutrient mix?

You will lose weight on any plan that reduces your calorie intake, regardless of the macronutrient content. There are many options for healthy eating plans within a wide range of macronutrient intake.

A study evaluating weight loss effectiveness of several diet plans with different macronutrient profiles (including low fat and low carb) found that the best predictor of weight loss success was not the mixture of macros, but rather, how well the participants adhered to the plan. In other words, the plan that you can stick with is likely the best one for you.

Higher protein intake may have weight loss benefits by helping manage appetite and preserving muscle mass during weight loss plans. Likewise, reduced carbohydrate intake may provide blood sugar lowering for people with diabetes and prediabetes. This is why macronutrient considerations for weight loss are something many dietitians include when building meal plans.

Tracking macronutrients with MyNetDiary

The DRI (Daily Reference Intake) for macronutrients from the Institute of Medicine provides guidance for a healthy range of macronutrient distribution (see table below).

MyNetDiary uses 45% carb, 20% protein, and 35% fat as the default recommended macronutrients for weight loss. This falls within the recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, yet is on the lower end of the target for carb and higher for protein. We use this target knowing that most of our users are trying to lose weight, and many have diabetes or are at risk for diabetes.

Macronutrient DRI: Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges MyNetDiary Goal
Carbohydrate 45-65% of total calories 45% of total calories
Protein 10-35% of total calories 20% of total calories
Fat 20-35% of total calories 35% of total calories

If you follow an eating pattern that requires a different macronutrient distribution range, you can customize your macronutrient goals on any device with a Premium membership. MyNetDiary now also allows the option of selecting from numerous diet plans (low carb, keto/very-low carb, low fat, etc.) and will select a macronutrient goal appropriate for your plan.

Curious how your eating is stacking up? You can view your macronutrient report on your dashboard as seen below:

Avoiding macro pitfalls

While tracking macronutrients can be useful for weight loss, it can lead you off track if not used with a few considerations.

Calories count: It might look like you have an ideal macro mix, but if you aren't eating enough calories, you might fall short. An 800 calorie day with 20% protein only provides 40 g protein, below the target for most people.

Likewise, a very high-calorie intake can include macros in just the right proportions but will be too high overall. A 3000 calorie day providing only 30% fat still provides 100 g fat.

Quality matters: Getting too hung up on macros can keep you from focusing on the quality of food choices. Many healthy eating plans such as Mediterranean, DASH and vegetarian aren't defined by their macro breakdown, but by the nutritious foods they contain.

A Mediterranean-type meal of baked salmon, sweet potato, olive oil, and green beans has a macronutrient breakdown identical to a large slice pepperoni pizza (39% fat, 39% carb, 22% protein). However, the salmon meal provides healthy omega-3 oil and fiber from the green beans, whereas the pizza meal is high in saturated fat and sodium and low in fiber.

Speaking of fiber-as a carbohydrate, fiber is a macronutrient, but provides minimal calories and helps fill us up. A plan that has 40% carbohydrate may have a mere 8 grams of fiber or an impressive 30 grams fiber.

Alcohol is technically a macronutrient, providing 7 calories per gram. As enjoyable as a glass of wine might be, it provides no nutritional value and eats into your calorie budget. For this reason, MyNetDiary does not include alcohol in your macronutrient goals.

Premium MyNetDiary users can find a more detailed macronutrient distribution, including alcohol and saturated fat under "Charts" in their dashboard:

Getting hung up on specific foods. Macro goals shouldn't be applied to individual foods. It's the overall balance of your food choices that matters. Don't rule out any foods if they don't meet your macro targets, but balance out your meal with other choices.

Bottom line

Tracking macronutrients for weight loss may be valuable, but make sure to consider your overall calorie intake and the quality of your food choices.

Nutrients->"Carbs: Fiber, Starch, & Sugar" Nutrients->Fats Nutrients->Protein Weight Loss->Diets
Feb 3, 2020

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