Ever heard someone talking about their macros set-up when talking about nutrition? Regardless of whether you’re clued into macros or not, runners (and anyone working out) has a lot to gain by examining their macro intake. So what are macros, and why should you care about them? Macros is short for Macronutrients, which are the building blocks in our diet. Macros are the things you eat every day – they consist of carbohydrates (carbs), protein and fat. As a runner, getting your macro ratios right, or at least being aware of your macro intake, can help ensure that you provide your body with the right fuel and energy needed to optimize your training and recovery.

So what are different macros used for?

Carbs 

Carbs are used primarily as fuel, especially in high-intensity training. Carbs are stored in muscles and the liver in the form of glycogen, but they need to be replaced regularly since stores are limited and deplete quickly. They’re ideal for immune system strength, building muscle and aiding recovery.

Simple carbs:  Should be eaten before and after scheduled exercise. They are digested quickly for fast energy. Post training, they provide energy to refill your more or less empty glycogen stores – vital for best recovery.  

Examples of simple carbs: bananas, dried fruit, jam, juice, rice/corn cakes, oatmeal, cereal, sweetened dairy products, white bread, pasta, potatoes and white rice etc.

Complex carbs: Provide smoother and longer-lasting energy and should be included in all meals not related to training. They take longer to digest and delay gastric emptying (which increases the risk of stomach and intestinal problems when training). Thus for meals not combined with training, complex carbs are best. Fibers and whole grains in complex carbs make you feel satisfied for longer, are important for your intestinal flora and contribute higher nutritional value, when compared to simple carbs. 

Examples of complex carbs: whole grain pasta or bean pasta, brown rice, root vegetables, legumes, whole grain bread, crisp bread, berries, fruit and oats etc.

Protein 

Works as a building block in the body, building muscles and other tissues, and aiding recovery. With a positive protein balance, we can limit muscle breakdown and stimulate muscle building. For a runner, the goal is usually not to build muscle, but it’s still vital to feed the muscle mass you have to prevent muscle loss and optimize recovery. It’s very important to include a protein source in each meal.

Just like simple carbs, protein should also be included in meals before and after training. We recommend that you are in energy balance when preparing for a race and eat at least according to our recommendation (15%). However, if you are in energy deficit, it’s beneficial to eat more protein, since muscle might be used as fuel if you are eating below your energy needs.

Example of protein sources: chicken, turkey, beef, ham, eggs, qorun, tofu, quinoa, quark, cottage cheese etc.

Fat

Fat is used for fuel, but it takes longer to extract energy from it, compared with carbs. As a result, it’s mainly used for low-intensity activities. Fat also works as a building block in the body and is vital for hormonal balance. It’s also needed for the body to be able to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. The body’s fat supply is never a limitation during physical work, but fat intake must be sufficient to meet the need for essential fatty acids (Omega 3 and Omega 6) and fat-soluble vitamins. Like fibers, fat delays gastric emptying, so it’s recommended to include fat in meals between workouts. 

There are different types of fat: saturated and unsaturated fats. The difference between them is how the fatty acids are structured. We want to eat more unsaturated fats (mono and polyunsaturated), as they have a positive impact on the body and health. We want to eat less of saturated fats we as they can have a negative impact on our cardiovascular health.

Examples of unsaturated fat sources: avocado, salmon, nuts, seeds, nut butter, rapeseed oil, olive oil and olives.

Examples of saturated fat : high fat meat, sausage, bacon, full fat dairy products, butter, coconut oil, pastries, chocolate and ice cream.

If you find it difficult to reach your daily energy recommendation, simply increase the amount of healthy fats in your diet; per gram, it contains more than twice as much energy as protein and carbs. 

So how much of each macro?

If you’re training for a shorter race (< half marathon) or running a few times a week the guideline (and also Lifesum’s default settings) will suit you: Carbs 50%, Protein 20% and Fat 30%. 

Training for a longer race or doing multiple high-intensity workouts each week will place higher demands on your body. In this case, a slightly higher carb ratio is excellent for fast energy, as it makes sure your glycogen stores are full. If this is what you’re doing, we’d recommend you change your macro settings to: Carbs 60 % Protein >15% Fat >25%

Kajsa holds a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics from Umeå University, Sweden. Having worked as a Clinical Dietitian with a focus on dietary treatments for both individuals and groups, Kajsa now supports the Lifesum team in providing professional and evidence-based interventions to users. Kajsa is a self-confessed training nerd and admits her greatest passions are anything to do with food, science and health.

All posts by Kajsa Ernestam