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Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients: How Are They Different?

Macronutrients vs. Micronutrients: How Are They Different? | MyFitnessPal
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If you’re familiar with nutrition and fitness, you’ve probably encountered the terms macronutrients — sometimes simply called “macros” — and micronutrients.

Focusing on macronutrients versus micronutrients might sound like a competition between advanced science topics, but in reality, it’s all pretty easy to understand. Macros are the main energy sources for your body and they make up the bulk of your diet. Micros are all the vitamins and minerals you see listed on nutrition information labels.

Tracking both types of nutrients is a good way to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need for your nutrition and weight goals.

Macronutrients Explained

There are three macronutrients that make up the main nutritional elements that you need to fuel your body. They provide the energy your body needs for physical activities as well as for automatic functions like digestion and immune responses.

The three types of macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Many consider fiber a macronutrient as well, though it isn’t a source of fuel the way carbs, fats, and proteins are. Instead, fiber assists with body functions such as digestion.

How are macros measured?

Macronutrients are measured in grams. The gram measurements are a standard measure that appears on all nutrition labels. They correspond to the calorie value of each macronutrient:

  • 4 calories in a gram of carbohydrate or protein
  • 9 calories in a gram of fat

What is the function of macros in your body?

Macronutrients are the energy source for your body. Generally speaking, about 90% of your diet consists of macros, and they supply almost 100% of your energy.

Each macro undergoes a conversion process as your body digests it. The body converts macros into basic units of energy to build substances it needs for growth, healing, cellular maintenance, and activity.

Your body processes and uses each macro in a different way:

  • Carbohydrates convert to sugars. Carbs are a source of quick energy that your body can use for high-intensity activities.
  • Carbs are also crucial to brain function.
  • Proteins convert to amino acids. Your body uses protein to support tissue structure and hormone production systems. Your body can’t reserve protein for later use, so any excess protein you consume is converted to energy or stored as fat.
  • Fats convert to fatty acids and glycerol. Fat is used for strengthening cellular structures and protecting organs. It’s also stored in the body to be used as a backup source of energy.

How many macronutrients does your body need?

Your recommended macronutrient intake can vary based on your age, sex, weight, activity level, and goals. Try our Macro Calculator to get personalized recommendations.

Or, instead of setting a goal for the total grams of each macronutrient you need, aim for a macronutrient balance:

  • 45% to 65% of daily calories from carbohydrates
  • 20% to 35% of daily calories from fat
  • 10% to 35% of daily calories from protein

Everyone needs to consume all three types of macronutrients to achieve optimal health. Any eating plan that drastically cuts one or more macronutrients will eventually lead to a dietary imbalance and increase the risk of health issues.

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Examples of macronutrient food sources

There is a wide variety of macronutrient examples and macronutrient food sources that you can incorporate into your diet.

Choosing whole, unprocessed foods is a smart way to get macros without eating a lot of added sugar, salt, or other additives.

Micronutrients Explained

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. The body can’t produce these types of nutrients, so you need to get them from dietary sources. They are just as important as macronutrients, but you need them in smaller quantities. Micronutrients have a significant impact on your health, and deficiencies can lead to malnutrition.

How do you measure micros?

Micronutrient amounts are measured in milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg), or International Units (IU). All of these units are standardized measurements of very small qualities. You’ll see them listed on all nutritional labels. The labels also show what percentage of the recommended daily allowance of each micronutrient you’ll get from a serving of that food.

Micronutrients don’t contribute to calorie counts for foods because they aren’t energy sources. However, they are critical for functions like digestion, hormone production, and brain function.

Why do you need an adequate intake of micros?

Micronutrients are critical for a wide range of bodily functions. Not getting a perfect balance of micronutrients for a single day likely won’t cause health issues. But, over time, eating less than optimal amounts of important vitamins and minerals can increase the risk of illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis.

How many essential micronutrients should you ingest per day?

Each essential micronutrient has its own recommended daily allowance. You can find a comprehensive reference for micronutrient needs in the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines.

The best way to consume micronutrients is by eating a balanced diet. The best micro foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish and poultry, and healthy fats such as olive oil and nuts. You can also get micronutrients from dietary supplements. Supplements should be used as a part of a healthy eating plan, not as a substitute for food-based micronutrients. If you take prescription medications or have underlying health conditions, talk to your doctor before adding any supplements to your routine.

Examples of micronutrients

There are four main categories of micronutrients:

  1. Water-soluble vitamins: Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, vitamin B7, vitamin B9, vitamin B12, and vitamin C. All of these vitamins dissolve in water, so your body can’t store them for later use. You need to get them from food or supplements each day. If you consume more than you need, the excess is flushed out in urine. Water-soluble vitamins strengthen cells, including red blood cells.
  2. Fat-soluble vitamins: Fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E dissolve in fat, not water. Once you’ve consumed them, your body can store them in fatty tissue or your liver for later use. Fat-soluble vitamins are important for eye health, immune function, and recovery from injuries.
  3. Microminerals: Microminerals include calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium, which your body uses for muscle and bone health.
  4. Trace minerals: Trace minerals include iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and selenium. They are critical for muscle health, nervous system function, and cellular repair.

Track Your Essential Nutrient Intake With MyFitnessPal

If you want to track your nutritional intake, MyFitnessPal can help. Our food tracking functions include a macro tracking option.

When you set up your preferences, MyFitnessPal automatically sets your macro goals at 50% carbs, 20% protein, and 30% fat. You can make changes to those distributions to meet your specific dietary and fitness needs. Not sure what your macro goals should be? Get personalized recommendations from our Macro Calculator.

When you enter the foods you’ve consumed each day, the app will automatically calculate the macros in the food and apply them to your daily macro goals. Premium members can set the app to translate the macro percentages into grams for each macronutrient.

You can monitor your micronutrient intake by looking at the nutritional information for foods. This will give you a sense of whether your diet provides you with all the micros you need or if you should make changes to balance your micronutrient intake.

Understanding macronutrients versus micronutrients can guide what you should be consuming each day. Tracking macro and micronutrients can help you refine your eating plan to better help you reach your fitness and weight loss goals.

Download MyFitnessPal today — for free! It makes tracking micros and macros easy!

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