Macronutrients 101

Macronutrients explained – what are they and how much do I need them?

The widely used phrase “hit your macros” may well be long overdue to be ditched as the sole answer for a wide range of nutritional questions. Seeing the phrase as sort of a “quick fix” solution can lead us to confusing side roads, so knowing what macronutrients are, what’s the need for them and the best sources of them really wins the prize. We need to look beyond whether certain foods just “fit our macros”. So let’s dive in a bit.

CARBOHYDRATES, PROTEINS, FATS

Yep, it might not come as news to anyone these days that – in popular terms – macros refer to carbohydrates (starch, sugars, fiber), proteins (amino acid chains) and fats (triglycerides and fatty acids, sterols, phospholipids and fat-soluble vitamins). These are also the nutrients that provide our bodies energy essential for basic functions (in Finnish energiaravintoaineet). The word macro describes that these nutrient groups consist of different organic compounds and different forms of molecules.

RECOMMENDATIONS

In Finland, official food & nutrition recommendations are published by Valtion ravitsemusneuvottelukunta (VRN, National nutrition authority), and the latest publication came out in 2014 (in Finnish here). The recommendations follow the guidelines set in the Nordic nutrition recommendations and are always backed up with the latest nutrition & health research and national health data and adjusted to fit national culture and eating habits. New Nordic nutrition recommendations are to be published this year (article in Finnish here).

Based on the 2014 recommendations for adults, your daily macro-intake should consist of 45-60 E% of carbs, 10-20 E% of protein and 25-40 E% of fats. Energy percent (E%) refers to the relative amount of the nutrient based on a person’s daily energy intake – f.ex. 45-60% of a daily energy intake is recommended to be obtained from carbohydrates.

Table 1. Recommendations for carbohydrates, protein and fats for adults.

NUTRIENT

RECOMMENDATION

Carbohydrates (fiber included)

  • added sugar
  • fiber

45–60 E%

  • <10 E%
  • 25–35 g (3g/MJ) 

Proteiini

10–20 E% 

Fat

  • saturated fatty acids
  • monounsaturated fatty acids
  • polyunsaturated fatty acids 

25–40 E%

  • <10 E%
  • 10–20 E%
  • 5–10 E%

Valtion ravitsemusneuvottelukunta 2014.


Maybe a more tangible way to showcase these numbers is through case examples: two females weighing 55 kg and 65 kg and two males weighing 70 kg and 90 kg, ages 18-30. All of them have active lifestyles with physically easy jobs and do some sort of physical activities daily. For a reminder, one gram of carbohydrates and protein has 4 kcal of energy, one gram of fat 9 kcal.

Table 2. Four examples/estimates for daily energy need and breakdown for recommended ratios for carbohydrates, protein and fats (kcal / grams).

PERSON

ENERGY NEED

CARBS 

45-60 E%

PROTEIN

10-20 E% 

FAT

25-40 E%

F 55 kg

2217 kcal

998-1330 kcal

=

250-333 grams 

222-443 kcal

=

56-111 grams

554-887 kcal

=

62-99 grams

F 65 kg

2467 kcal

1110-1480 kcal

=

277-370 grams

246-493 kcal

=

62-123 grams

617-987 kcal

=

69-109 grams

M 70 kg

2975 kcal

1339-1785 kcal

=

335-446 grams

297-595 kcal

=

74-149 grams

744-1190 kcal

=

83-132 grams

M 90 kg

3495 kcal

1573-2097 kcal

=

393-524 grams

349-699 kcal

=

87-175 grams

873-1398 kcal

=

97-155 grams

Estimated with calculator by Sydänliitto.

NOTE: Given energy need estimates are made with the calculator provided by Sydänliitto (based on the WHO calculations) and should not be taken in as one-size-fits-all or literal recommendations! Estimates are unspecified – with any specific conditions and/or lifestyle-depending needs (athletes, chronic conditions, etc.) please consult a licensed nutritionist or registered dietician if needed.

CARBS

VRN recommends reducing the amount of added sugars (saccharide) in our diets to be maximal of 10 E%. The main sources for these “refined sugars” are sugar-sweetened drinks and juices, sweets, pastry products and in some cases sweetened dairy products (see our previous post about food packaging & product labeling). The recommended need for carbohydrates (and fiber!) can be filled from a variety of food groups & foods (Table 3). Worth noticing are grains and legumes which are also relatively fine sources of plant-based protein!

Table 3. Different sources of carbohydrates, g/100g of produce.

Grain products

Fruits and vegetables

Potato and root vegetables

  • Oat (grain) 57g
  • Oat porridge 9g
  • Tortillas 54g
  • Whole grain pasta / noodles 54g
  • Quinoa 57g
  • Cooked buckwheat 60g
  • Cooked millet 69g
  • Cooked barley 63g
  • Whole grain rice 71g
  • Apples 7g
  • Grapes 15,5g
  • Bananas 12
  • Frozen berries 7g
  • Dried fruits 43g
  • Tomatoes 3,5g
  • Corn 26g
  • Legumes * 9–18g

* Legumes contain a good amount of protein too!

  • Cooked potato 13g
  • Cooked beetroot 8g
  • Carrot 6g
  • Parsnip 10g
  • Sweet potato 17g

Source: Fineli.


PROTEIN

Many main sources for carbs are also a great source for plant-based protein. Moreover, vegetarians and vegans can meet their protein needs by adding products like tofu and tempeh, pulled oats or broad beans, different soy & bean products (those low in salt & fat) and legumes. Other sources are meat and fish products, eggs and milk products – note that these products usually contain different amounts of fat as well.

Table 4. Different sources of protein, g/100g of produce.

Plant-based products

Meat & fish

Milk products, etc.

  • Tofu 17g
  • Tempeh 18,5g
  • Pulled oats (natural) 30g
  • Cooked black beans 6g
  • Cooked chickpeas 8g
  • Ground soy 49g
* Almonds, peanuts,
ground flax seeds 20–25g
  • Beef ~21g
  • Pork ~19g
  • Chicken ~22g
  • Salmon 19g
  • Saithe 17,5g
  • Tuna 22,5g
  • Plain yogurt 3g
  • Plain     quark 10g
  • Cottage cheese 16g
  • Fat free milk 3g
  • Soy-based yogurt 4g

Source: Fineli.

FATS

Like with carbs, nutritional guidelines include recommendations for different types of fats. While 25–40 % of daily energy intake may come from fats sources, saturated fats should be limited to a max of 10 E%. This refers to so-called “hard fats”; fat that stay solid at room temperature. Animal based protein sources are mainly higher in saturated fats compared to plant-based counterparts which should to be taken into account while making food decisions.

Table 4. Different sources of fat, g/100g of produce.

Nuts & seeds

Vegetable oils

Other

  • Peanut (butter) 43g
  • Tahini 58g
  • Cashew nuts 46g
  • Almonds 51g
  • Ground flax & chia seeds 34-48g
  • EV olive oil 100g
  • Canola oil 100g
  • Coconut oil* 100g

* Coconut oil’s fat is mainly in saturated form

  • Avocado 19g
  • Salmon 13,5g
  • Dark chocolate (80%) 41g

Source: Fineli.

These are only some examples. If you’re interested in learning more, using THL’s constantly updated database Fineli is one good tool for checking and exploring. Remember that there’s rarely a food product that would consist solely of fat, sugar or amino acids, so basically all of our every-day foods are different kinds of combinations of them.

For FuelMe meals, all ingredients and macronutrients are balanced so they form a solid base for your daily energy intake. You’ll find the macronutrient breakdown for every meal on the weekly menu (click/tap the image of the meal), from the nutrition sheet attached to your order confirmation and delivery confirmation email. The ingredients are shown on the meal packaging as well!

SOURCES

  • Valtion ravitsemusneuvottelukunta (2014). Suomalaiset ravitsemussuositukset.
  • Mutanen M, Niinikoski H, Schwab U, Uusitupa M, toim. (2021). Ravitsemustiede. 5. uudistettu painos. Helsinki: Duodecim.
  • Sydänliitto (2018). Energialaskuri.
  • Fineli (Terveyden ja hyvinvoinnin laitos).

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