June 21, 2021 (Updated: July 25, 2021)
Note: This article contains general information only. It is not intended to be used as a scientific or medical source.
If you’re new to nutrition and dieting, an important concept that you will hear discussed is macronutrients (often shortened to just “macros”). But what exactly are macronutrients, and what counts as a macro?
As the name implies, macronutrients are the “large nutrients,” where here “large” refers to the amount that your body needs to consume to survive, and not the size of the nutrient itself. Beyond that, the definition gets hazy. To get an idea, just check out how many different definitions are listed in the Wikipedia entry. Clearly, a definitive answer here is not going to be possible.
However, two important factors often come up in definitions of macronutrients:
The two points above describe all of the nutrients listed in the USDA’s Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR), and are typically what most people mean when talking about macros. As can be seen from the AMDR’s, the three main categories of macros are protein, fat, and carbohydrates. And that's why these are the three macros you can set when generating a custom meal plan with our app.
Water is frequently classified as being a macronutrient, and it shows on the USDA’s list of macronutrients. This is because water needs to be consumed in (relatively) large quantities in order to survive. However, unlike protein, fat, and carbs, water does not provide any energy, and therefore has zero Calories. This makes it much less relevant when dealing with things like fat loss or muscle gain, which is usually what people are most concerned about when making casual changes to their diet. For that reason, it is rarely brought up when people discuss the macros of a particular diet.
Alcohol is the opposite of water in this regard, in that it does not need to be consumed in large quantities for survival (and, of course, shouldn’t be), but when it is consumed it does provide the body with energy. Since it is not an essential nutrient, it is typically not classified as a macronutrient from a medical perspective. However, because each gram of alcohol contains roughly 7 calories (making it second only to fat in caloric density), many people will still include alcohol when counting their macros. This makes sense from a dieting perspective, since too much alcohol will certainly have a detrimental effect on your fitness goals, so it would be a bad idea to ignore it if you do choose to consume alcohol.
As discussed above, water is (generally) technically considered a macronutrient, while alcohol is not. However, for counting macros, you would typically want to classify them the other way around. This is because macro counting is really just about keeping track of the source of the calories that you are eating, and ensuring that they are consumed in healthy proportions.