Woman in sweater eating fresh salad with macros and micros

We hear about nutrients and nutrition all the time when we’re talking about what we eat and drink, but what’s the deal with micros (micronutrients) and macros (macronutrients)? Sarah Maber finds out…

We all know how important it is to follow a healthy diet. On fitness blogs and social media the talk is all about “getting in your micros” and “counting your macros”. But what are they?

Quite simply, macronutrients give us energy, and include carbohydrates, protein and fat. Micronutrients are important for our overall health, and are generally vitamins and minerals. 

How should macronutrients work in my diet?

“We need larger quantities of macronutrients than micronutrients,” says Vitality Expert James Vickers. (Perhaps an easy way to remember that we need more macros than micros is that ‘macro’ is from makros, the Greek word for ‘large’.)

Macronutrients are the key players in our diet,” explains James, “with carbohydrates, protein and fat all essential for a healthy balanced diet and provide us with energy from calories.”

How much do I need of each macronutrient?

Generally, carbohydrates should make up about 50% of a balanced diet, but there are variations. “If you’re more active than average,” explains James, “then you’ll need more carbohydrates to provide your body with energy and to aid recovery.

“Protein should make up about 20-30% of your diet from a variety of sources and that should equate to about 1-1.15g per kilogram of your body weight.”

That too is a guide, so if you exercise regularly then your protein intake will need to increase. “As a rule, anyone looking to build muscle can go up to 2-2.2g per kilogram of body weight,” says James.

“Fat will cover the remaining 20-30% of our intake but will mainly come from our carbohydrates and protein sources in vegetables, meat, fish and legumes. You shouldn’t need to add fat to your diet but you should make sure you are getting enough from your food.”

What is ‘macro-counting’?

Calorie-counting has been an established route to reaching health and weight goals but macro-counting is gaining ground. Maintaining the correct balance of carbs, protein and fat can make a significant difference in achieving health targets such as fat loss, building lean muscle or weight maintenance.

Registered dietician Jo Travers explains: “Macro-counting means figuring out a target number for each of the macronutrients and then eating foods that add up to those numbers. 

“Getting the right balance of nutrients is really important in a weight-loss plan and I think it’s one of the reasons that calorie-counting doesn’t work for a lot of people. Calories tell you just one thing about a food, and not necessarily the most important thing.” 

It’s all about how you flex your macro intake. James explains: “If you’re working towards losing weight, it will help to make smaller changes over a longer period of time, watching your calorie intake and balancing your macronutrients to have a healthy balanced diet. 

“If you’re looking to fuel your body for fitness and exercise, then managing your macronutrient intake can help with energy levels, muscle repair and recovery,” he says.

So, that’s the background to macronutrients, but what about those small-but-mighty micronutrients?

The importance of micronutrients

Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that we need for overall good health. 

Nutritionist Rob Hobson explains why. “Vitamins are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood-clotting and other functions,” he says.Minerals play an important role in growth, bone health, fluid balance and several other processes.”

What micronutrients do I need? 

It’s important to get a good balance of all your essential micronutrients, but this can be challenging. There are nearly 30 vitamins and minerals that our bodies can’t make in sufficient amounts – and these the essential micronutrients. 

Rob flags the micronutrient vitamin D as particularly important because it is linked to good bone health, immunity and mental health. 

“Iron is also important for women,” he adds. “Research has shown that more than a quarter of women don’t get enough iron from their diet. Low iron intakes can lead to tiredness and fatigue, while increasing the risk of anaemia. 

“Calcium is another micronutrient that may be particularly important for women: during the menopause when bone loss may be a problem, and for teenage girls when they’re bones are growing.” 

Getting it right

So what does a well-balanced diet look like? 

If you eat different colours of fruit and vegetables and get the right balance of macronutrients, then you’ll more than likely have the right amount of vitamins and minerals in your diet,” says James. 

A basic multivitamin and mineral supplement is a good way to keep everything topped up if you’re worried about your diet, but the best way to get vitamins and minerals and shore up your health for the future is from a well-rounded diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains and lean sources of protein, along with healthy fats, such as nuts and olive oil. Simple, healthy AND delicious.  

Looking for more advice on nutrition and how to eat well? Intuitive eating is all about redefining the way we think about food and how we eat, which in turn can help keep you on track when it comes to healthy eating.