3 Essential Macronutrients You Should Know About

Learn the basics of nutrition by understanding why protein, carbohydrates, and fats are important.


By Katie Ringley


When starting down a weight loss track, working to fuel your body for an athletic event, or just simply becoming more knowledgeable about health and nutrition, you first need to familiarize yourself with the basic nutritional facts of different foods. Understanding these simple facts can help you plan out how you want to approach your daily intake to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself.

All foods contain three essential macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Macro means large so these 3 nutrients are not only essential to your diet, but you'll also need them in large amounts for energy. In addition, each play a different vital role in your nourishment, growth, and calorie intake. Having a balanced diet of all three is great for your overall health and wellness. 

Each macronutrient has a variable caloric intake per gram:  

  • Proteins: 4kcal/g
  • Carbohydrates: 4kcal/g 
  • Fats: 9kcal/g 

Simply put, for every gram of protein consumed, you are eating 4 calories. For every gram of fat, you are eating 9 calories and for every gram of carbohydrate, you are eating 4 calories. When calculating your macronutrient profile, this will equate to the amount of calories that you are eating. For example, if someone is taking in 130g protein, 135g carbohydrates, and 45g fat then they are eating a total of 1,465 calories. 

1. Protein

Protein is one of the most debated macronutrients. You will hear many different theories about how much protein you need and where you should be getting the protein from. However, we can all agree that protein is vital to our health and we need to have it every day. Protein helps with growth as well as the building and repairing of tissue. 

Protein is further used to conserve muscle mass and hormone function. It is also the last energy source after carbohydrates and fat are no longer available. The dietary references intake recommends that the average American should have 10-35% of their caloric intake in protein

2. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are our main energy source, but must be supplied daily as they are only stored in our bodies in minimal capacity. Though made out to be the “enemy” in some weight loss programs, carbohydrates are vital to our health. Carbohydrates provide our tissues and cells with energy as well as conserve the function of many organs (kidney, liver, brain, and heart). 

Carbohydrates should be consumed daily, though within reason, to support your body and your athletic goals. Cutting carbohydrates entirely is going to make the body rely on fats for energy and sometimes protein. When protein is used for energy, muscle mass is not conserved and lean muscle mass gets lost. Lean muscle mass is a contributor to your metabolic rate so when it's muscle is lost, your metabolism is lowered as well. The dietary reference intake recommends 45-65% of calories to come from carbohydrates

3. Fats

Whereas carbohydrates come in a short supply, fats are in abundant supply, even in individuals with really low body fat. Fats help with maintaining brain function, protecting organs, and absorbing necessary fat soluble vitamins. Fats also make food taste quite delicious! The dietary reference intake recommends 20-35% of calories to come from fats

When looking for appropriate fats, it’s better to shoot for more unsaturated fats as these will help reduce the risk of heart disease. 

As you can see, striking a balance in your daily caloric intake is great for overall health! Instead of just eating fruits and veggies, aim to create a meal of lean protein, rice, and almonds. This will help improve your health, your physique, and your overall energy levels. 

Katie is a pharmacist from NC. She moved to New York City with her husband and two teacup yorkies for an adventure. After completing her doctorate in pharmacy last May, Katie decided to pursue nutrition coaching. Katie specializes in creating custom macronutrient profiles for clients based on their individual goals. You can find Katie on her blog Katiesfitscript.

Main Photo Credit: igor.stevanovic/;  Protein Photo Credit: Africa Studio/;  Carbohydrates Photo Credit: Elena Schweitzer/;  Fats Photo Credit: alexpro9500/

May 7, 2015

protein for the muscles!