What are the 3 Macronutrients?

There can be many confusing vocabularies about your nutrition. Some words morph out of context to become a synonym for a diet or trend. Suppose we don’t understand our basic nutrition science vocabulary definitions; we’ll be susceptible to fad diets or misinformation.

This article will discuss macronutrients, define what they are vs. what they are not, and help clear up misconceptions about each. Most people seeking to Lose Weight Fast want a quick fix and are vulnerable to misinformation. In another article, we talked about what we need to do to lose weight truly. We also discussed some nuances behind the words weight loss and fat loss. What are the 3 macronutrients?

Secondary to our calorie intake, we need to pay attention to how much we consume our macronutrients. You see this highlighted in Figure 1. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and dietary fat. I like to use the word dietary fat instead of just saying fat as a reminder that body fat (or animal-based fats) and dietary fat are different things. It is a common misconception that consuming dietary fat will automatically add to the fat in your body since they share a similar name. Therefore, we want to differentiate body fat from dietary fat.

Figure 1

Why is this important to fat loss?

The first and most important thing for fat loss is ensuring you are eating the correct amount of calories. A very close second is paying attention to the ratio of macronutrients that you are eating. Each of these nutrients does something specific for our bodies. For example, carbohydrates are our body’s preferred fuel source. Proteins are the building blocks of all our cells and tissue. Finally, dietary fats help regulate our hormones, catalyze essential bodily functions, and provide energy. What are the 3 macronutrients?

You should not gain body fat if you eat the correct calories for your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). Your TDEE is another way of saying “your metabolism.” In this other article, we explain how you gain body fat. Over time, you will gain extra body fat if you consume more calories than your TDEE.

Please note that if you constantly under-eat, you will slow down your TDEE (your metabolism) and still gain extra body fat. We explain more about metabolism in this article. You can slow down your metabolism if you are not getting enough calories. You can also slow down your metabolism if you are not eating the correct ratio of macronutrients.

In my career as a nutritionist, I have heard a lot of misuse of the word macros. Macronutrients are part of every known food source that humans eat. See figure 2. It is impossible to completely eliminate an entire macronutrient from our diet unless we were to eat an incredibly homogeneous diet like the late Steve Jobs. He was known to go weeks at a time, only eating one food like carrots. This is not recommended in any healthy or balanced diet and would be considered extreme by any health professional.

Figure 2

I have heard people say things like, “I am eating the macro diet” or “I don’t eat macros.” Leading me to believe that these people are under the impression that someone who tracks what macronutrients they are consuming is following some kind of restrictive diet that cuts out macronutrients like it is gluten. Macros are not a type of food; you will always be eating them in some ratio, no matter what diet you follow.

What do macronutrients do?

I will give you a metaphor to help you understand the importance of each of these essential nutrients. Imagine your body is like a construction site in Figure 3.

Using the construction site metaphor, the proteins you eat are equivalent to the building materials. We break down Protein into amino acids when we eat it. Those amino acids build each new DNA strand. Since your cells are constantly dividing and shedding, your body must construct new DNA to replace the cells that die. If we cut out protein, we will not have enough supplies to build and repair our cells, leading to breakdown, injury, and illness.

Figure 3

Carbohydrates would be the equivalent of the workers doing the labor. Carbs produce the energy needed to get the job done. Too many carbohydrates will lead to stored body fat, like the workers standing around on a job site if there are too many people. Low-carb diets are great for fat loss since most people do not need as many carbs with their sedentary lifestyle.

Dietary fats are the equivalent of the bosses on the construction site. These are the high-paid engineers who create the plans and direct the work. Too much dietary fat will lead to stored body fat. Not enough fat will lead to major issues and dysfunction, just like if the boss quits work. No one else will work or know what to do!

So, what about the keto diet? The Keto diet happens when you take away most of the carbs. Your body then makes the dietary fat the “bosses” of the body. They’ll do both jobs of regulation and labor. Your body switches from using carbs as the preferred fuel source to mainly using fat.

You can see that we need an appropriate amount of each macronutrient to optimize each diet and lifestyle. Too much or too little can have adverse effects on the body. So the portions we eat them in are significant.

Most foods combine all three macros but tend to be higher in one or another. Consult a professional for specific dietary recommendations for your lifestyle and goals.


Carbohydrates or carbs only have four calories per gram. This means that if you eat 100 grams of pure carbs, you will have consumed 400 calories. Now I want to tell you about a little thing called the thermic effect of food. We talked about this in-depth in our metabolism blog. To recap, the thermic effect of food, sometimes referred to as TEF, is how many calories it takes for your body to digest the food you eat. What are the 3 macronutrients?

Take a look at Figure 4. You’ll see that about 15-20% of your carbs burn up in digestion. These are usually your lower glycemic carbs, like vegetables and high-fiber fruits. But unfortunately, you do not get the same effect when you eat a bowl of sugary cereal. What are the 3 macronutrients?

Figure 4

If we eat 100 grams of low-glycemic veggies and get a total of 400 calories from it, we may only get about 320-340 of those calories. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you get to run around subtracting extra calories from your meal. Popular tracking apps like My Fitness Pal and Cronometer have already calculated this for you! What are the 3 macronutrients?

We consider the thermic effect of food (TEF) when we see a food label that says “net carbs”. Since we can’t absorb fiber, it does not count toward our calories. This makes high-fiber and low-calorie treats like celery such a great snack when you do a low-calorie diet and don’t want to go hungry! The glycemic index is a fancy way of saying how quickly something will get broken down and absorbed by the body. A good general rule of thumb is to stick with low-glycemic foods that take longer to digest. This helps prevent your body from having an insulin spike! What are the 3 macronutrients?

Here is a list of low-glycemic grains and starches:

  • Oats
  • All bran
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Wild rice
  • Whole wheat
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Butter beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Green beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima beans
  • Navy beans
  • Snow peas
  • Hummus

Low glycemic fruits:

  • Pear
  • Apple
  • Plum
  • Nectarine
  • Apricot
  • Orange
  • Grapefruit
  • Peach
  • Cherries
  • Blackberry
  • Raspberry
  • Strawberry
  • Guava

What are the 3 macronutrients?


Protein also has 4 calories per gram. However, its thermic effect is much higher than carbs. In fact, 20-30% of the calories from the protein we eat burn up in the process of digesting it. This is among many reasons you should consider a high-protein diet to help with fat loss. In addition, the extra TEF from the protein will help increase your metabolism. As a result, the protein will build up your cells and tissues, making you healthier and boosting your metabolism even more!

Our clinic has our clients do a high-protein detox to help kick-start their metabolism and speed up initial results. Our popular MD Diet is a high-protein diet that has helped thousands of people for over 40 years.

Here are some high-protein foods:

  • Collagen
  • Shrimp
  • Alligator
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Tilapia
  • Kangaroo
  • Egg Whites
  • Chicken
  • Deer
  • Rabbit
  • Clams
  • Geese
  • Flounder
  • Boar
  • Scallops
  • Supplements
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Skyr
  • Turkey
  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Bison
  • Organ meat
  • Tuna
  • Mussels
  • Cottage cheese
  • Insect protein
  • Whole egg
  • Cheese
  • Oysters
  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Halibut
  • Lamb
  • Duck
  • Plant-based proteins

fats 1200x1200

What are the 3 macronutrients?

Dietary Fat

Dietary fat, lipids, most commonly known as just “fat,” has the most calories per gram with a whopping 9 calories per gram! This is the main reason why we want to eat our fats in moderation. This is also one of the reasons why low-fat diets became so popular in the 1980s. We do recommend being conscientious with your dietary fat choices and what you use in cooking. Fat can quickly add up and pile on the calories to your meal. What are the 3 macronutrients?

Not to mention that fat has the lowest thermic effect of all the macronutrients, which means that you will get close to the total amount of calories from it! What are the 3 macronutrients?

We recommend that you eat the majority of your fats as unsaturated fats. A diet too high in saturated fats has been linked to many diseases. Many of these foods contain a mixture of both unsaturated and saturated fats. Consult with a professional for personal guidelines.

Here is a list of unsaturated fats:

  • Olive & olive oil
  • Avocados & oil
  • Peanuts & groundnuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Nut oils
  • Vegetable oils
  • Other nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, and sesame seeds
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Fish oil
  • Flaxseed
  • Eggs
  • Most seed oil

Here is a list of saturated fats:

  • Butter
  • Whipping cream
  • Whole-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt
  • Coconut (oil, milk, flesh)
  • Cacao butter
  • Fattier cuts of beef, lamb, and pork
  • Palm oil

To sum it up

  1. Calories are still the most crucial factor in weight loss. Your ratio of macronutrients that you are eating is a close second when it comes to weight loss.
  2. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The ratio in which you should eat them in a day, week, or season depends on your individual needs and goals.
  3. Carbohydrates are 4 calories per gram and come mostly from plants. Carbs are your body’s preferred source of energy.
  4. Protein is 4 calories per gram. Most protein-dense foods come from animals or supplements. Protein is also the building block of all your cells and tissues.
  5. Fats are 9 calories per gram and come from various plants and animals. Fats are essential to overall hormone health and metabolic regulation.

This blog is just a summary of what macronutrients are. This is an introductory stepping stone for most people. We recommend consulting with a professional (like ourselves) prior to implementing any new dietary changes.  What are the 3 macronutrients?

Our clinic provides medical weight loss solutions making it easier than ever to overcome the barriers that have been holding you back from achieving success. Call us today to get started! 801-758-2130

What are the 3 macronutrients?