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Macronutrient

Stepwise Enhanced | An Exploration of Macronutrient Recommendations

Hello and welcome to the Stepwise Enhanced Blog Post Series. In this series we will explore a number of nutrition topics with the simple goal of providing you with more information. This series is meant to be an educational supplement to your current Enara program as we will dive deeper into topics than a traditional appointment window may allow. The first installment is an exploration of macronutrient recommendations. 

Recommendations for macronutrient intake (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) can often seem nebulous, especially with a focus on total daily calories as the focal point. The goal of this post is to explore these macronutrient recommendations. What do these numbers mean and furthermore, where do they come from? 

There are two main ways in which macronutrient recommendations are expressed. The first is in absolute terms, such as grams per day, and is called the Recommended Dietary Allowance, or RDA. This is defined as the sufficient intake level that would meet the needs of 97-98% of healthy individuals in a defined group (1). To use protein as an example, the RDA is 0.8 grams protein per kilogram body weight for adults over the age of 18 (2). The concrete grams per day number is contingent upon weight measured in kilograms for protein. This is typically not the case for carbohydrates as the recommended amount is often expressed independent of weight but we will dive deeper into each macronutrient in a bit. 

The other common type of recommendation for macronutrient intake comes in the form of a percentage. That percentage is out of the total calorie intake for the day. This is called the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range, or AMDR, and is in the context of a complete diet (3).

Now that we have defined the way macronutrient recommendations are commonly expressed, let’s take a closer look at each macronutrient. Hopefully this exploratory post will help to lend some useful knowledge about macronutrient recommendations. 

Protein 

RDA: 0.8 grams/ kilogram // AMDR: 10-35% 

The RDA for protein was formulated for individuals to meet a minimum intake where the body would be able to, at the least, hold onto its muscle. This is calculated by nitrogen balance in the body (3). For individuals seeking to put on muscle, however, the RDA is higher than 0.8 grams per kilogram. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition position paper the “majority of exercising individuals should consume at minimum approximately 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day to optimize exercise training induced adaptations.” (4) Note that the above range is qualified as the minimum range. It should also be noted that recent evidence suggests this number may even be higher as well. Another point of emphasis here is that protein needs increase with age. 

Protein recommendations largely depend on the goals of the individual. This is a very key point that I would like to emphasize. Furthermore, some individuals may respond better to a high protein diet than others based on their metabolic profile. This further supports the point that protein recommendations should be individualized. With that being said, it may be a helpful practice to first establish a specific grams per day target for protein when thinking about your macronutrient distribution, and then build around it. This would help to ensure you are meeting your daily protein intake goals. 

Carbohydrates 

RDA: 130g // AMDR: 45-65%

Carbohydrates often face criticism for being the extra or unnecessary calories in an eating pattern. They are often depicted as the foods we should limit. That depends, as you know, on the type of carbohydrate being discussed. Complex carbs are an essential part of a healthful balanced diet which provide fiber, protein, and the fuel we need. Conversely, refined carbohydrates in the form of added sugars, or processed starches, may provide little nutritional value other than the calories they contain. It is a major issue of quality as carbohydrates span a wide range from unhealthful to healthful all within the same macronutrient category. 

The RDA here is 130 grams per day. This was established by the Institute of Medicine as the baseline requirement for brain function, ensuring adequate glucose for it to operate (5). If you are practicing a low carb approach, however, there is no need to fret about your brain running low on glucose. Our bodies are well adept at fueling the brain through various methods if your daily carb intake is below 130 grams per day. For context in terms of the AMDR, 130 grams is 26% of calories, based on a 2000 calorie diet. Let’s take a look at the carbohydrate contents of some common foods: 

*Note: all nutrition information based on cooked product 

Food Portion Grams of Carbohydrate (Calories) 
Beans 
Kidney 1 cup 40g (225kcals) 
Pinto 1 cup 45g  (245kcals) 
Rice 
White 1 cup  40g (194kcals) 
Brown 1 cup 45g (216kcals) 
Bread 
English Muffin (wheat) 27g 25g (127kcals) 
Dave’s Killer (100% whole wheat) 42g 21g (100kcals) 
Wonder Bread (2 slices) 57g 29g (140kcals)
Grains 
Barley 1 cup44g (190kcals) 
Quinoa 1 cup 40g (220kcals)
Oatmeal 1 cup 27g (160kcals) 
Food Portion Grams of Carbohydrate (Calories)
Starchy Vegetables 
Corn ½ cup 15g 
Peas ½ cup 10g 
Potato ½ cup (diced)13g 
Fruit 
Apple 1 medium25g
Banana 1 medium27g
Watermelon 1 cup (diced)11g
Orange 1 large 22g 
Milk 
1% 1 cup 12g 

Of course, as with protein, carbohydrate intake should be individualized, as carb tolerance can vary between individuals. The importance of the quality of the carbohydrate cannot be emphasized enough.

Fats 

AMDR: 20-35% 

The AMDR range is used on its own for fats and the range equates to 44-78 grams per day based on a 2000 calorie per day plan. This is a huge range but an emphasis should be placed on getting adequate essential fatty acids in the diet, while limiting saturated fats. Here is a more detailed breakdown on the recommended intake distribution for different types of fats: 

Monounsaturated: 15-20%

Polyunsaturated: 5-10%

Saturated: <10% 

Fats are unsurprisingly the most calorie dense of the macronutrients discussed here with 9 calories per gram. Similar to carbohydrates, an individual’s response to varying levels of intake is contingent upon their metabolic profile. Based on the AMDR recommendation, there is certainly some room to maneuver in the range, as appropriate. Also similarly to carbohydrates, fats often get a bad rap but again it comes down to quality. Fats are essential in our bodies and help promote satiety, keeping you fuller for longer after meals. Again, quality should be emphasized with the breakdown listed above as the guiding light. 

So What? 

Counting macronutrients can often be a trendy topic, especially in the weight loss space. Ultimately your intake should be based on you, it should be individualized. It may be helpful for some when thinking about your daily intake of carbs and fat to emphasize quality. For protein, it is helpful to keep your daily target in mind. Hopefully this post was a useful exploration and some clarifying light was shed on common macronutrient recommendations. 

Thanks for reading and we will see you in the next installment of the series. 

References 

  1. Dietary Reference Intakes: A Risk Assessment Model for Establishing Upper Intake Levels for Nutrients; NCBI; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45182/; Published 1998; Accessed September 15, 2021. 
  2. Recommended Dietary Allowances: 10th Edition; NCBI; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234926/; Published 1989; accessed September 15, 2021. 
  3. Wolfe RR, Cifelli AM, Kostas G, et al; Optimizing protein intake in adults: interpretation and application of the recommended dietary allowance compared with acceptable macronutrient distribution range; Adv Nutr. 2017 Mar; 8(2): 266-275. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5347101/. Accessed Sep 16, 2021. 
  4. Jader R, Kerksick C, Campbell  B, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: protein and exercise; JSSN. 2017 https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8. Accessed September 10, 2021. 
  5. Slavin J, Carlson J; Carbohydrates; Adv Nutr. 2014 Nov; 5(6): 760-761. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4224210/. Accessed September 20, 2021. 

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