Macronutrients: What, Why and How
“Macros” are the building blocks of a healthy diet; everyone knows that but few know exactly what they do or how to implement them. It is easy to just search online what you should be eating or how much, but that does not mean it is true for everyone. We are all very individualized when it comes to nutritional needs, and that is where most people get lost in terms of results or weight loss. There is no cookie cutter program that works for an 18 year old athlete and a 32 year old stay at home mom. If that were true, we would all be running around with 6 pack abs and defined arms. But because that is not how the body and nutrition works, I am here to tell you all about macronutrients and how you can successfully implement them into your diet.
Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. It’s the overeating of calories that makes you gain weight, whether it is intentional or not. Fats are actually a crucial part of a healthy diet. And no, I am not talking about trans-fat found in processed foods. I am talking about the saturated and unsaturated fats, the HEALTHY FATS.
Most whole foods contain some amount of fat, due to the fact that it is the most efficient way to store energy for both plants and animals. Whenever we consume fats, it goes 1 of 2 ways. It can be used by the body right away as energy, or it can be stored in adipose tissue and saved for when the body is low on fuel (between meals). Without fats, the body is running solely on carbohydrates. That is not always a bad thing, but with carbohydrates comes the issue of glycemic index and digestion speed, but we will get into that later.
Not only do we need fat for energy, we also need it for several body functions. It has been proven that fat is a necessary component of hormone production, nutrient absorption, metabolism function and cell signaling. There is also strong evidence that healthy fat can improve body composition, prevent certain cancers and protect against cardiovascular conditions. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!
Now, after all that, imagine what would happen if we cut fats completely? Our body systems and functions would be thrown all out of sorts and it would be a recipe for disaster, so let’s not do that. According to researchers, 20-35% of an average adult’s diet should come from fats. Each gram of fat accounts for 9kcal, so be careful when you are snacking on those nuts and butters!
- Chia seeds
- Nut butters
- Oils (olive, sunflower, avocado, coconut)
- Dairy (pasture raised)
AVOID processed, artificial and factory farmed foods as much as possible, these are the ones that become UNHEALTHY for us.
Ah, yes, carbohydrates. The dreaded food group that makes us all gain weight by just looking at it. JUST KIDDING. Just like fats, carbohydrates are essential for our body both on the cellular level and the functional level. Without carbohydrates we would not have energy to do our daily activities or energy for the body to digest our food. Carbohydrates are separated into two groups “simple” and “complex.”
Whenever we think of carbs we think of simple carbs such as donuts, white bread, cookies, pasta. These are the carbs that our body hates and cause us to gain weight, only because they are quickly digested causing us to overeat them.
Like I said earlier, carbohydrates are put into groups based on their glycemic index (breakdown rate). The foods listed above (simple carbs) are high glycemic. This is because the short chain of carbon molecules is broken down quickly and therefore causing us to overeat before our brain tells us we are actually full. Not to mention that the fast breakdown of food also causes a spike in our blood sugar, which can lead to us storing excess amounts of fat to be used as energy later.
If we then continue to eat these simple carbs and our body continues to store energy; and at some point when the energy stores are full, we begin to store fat. It is a very vicious cycle, but it can be broken by eating complex carbs instead of simple carbs. Complex carbs have a longer carbon chain which takes the body longer to breakdown. This therefore means the body will slowly release glucose (instead of rapid release causing a spike) and the brain can tell us we are full as soon as our energy stores are full. Which means….no overeating!
The average person should be consuming 50-60% of their daily calories as carbohydrates. And again, you want to make sure they are mostly complex carbs with a few simple carbs mixed in sustainability and balance.
- White potatoes
- White bread
- Breakfast cereals
- Thick Pasta
- Potato chips
- Tortilla Chips
- Rolled oats
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole wheat pasta
- Greek yogurt
- Leafy Greens
- Almond Milk
Last but not least, the macronutrient that everyone knows we need a significant amount of, protein. Whether it comes from out diet or made in the body, protein is made from small building blocks called amino acids. Amino acids can build several different compounds to carry out different processes throughout the body.
A few important functions of protein include: breakdown of food for absorption and removal of waste (enzymes), carries oxygen through the body (hemoglobin), send signals between nerve cells to regulate metabolism (hormones), protect against viruses (antibodies). Bones and muscle fibers are also made up mainly of protein compounds. So, as you can see, protein is very important for our body. But our bodies can’t make all these compounds from the protein in the body alone, we need to get some from our diet.
There are two types of amino acids (makeup protein) that our body needs, essential and non-essential. Essential amino acids need to come from our diet and non-essential amino acids are found in the body. Because our genetic makeup is so similar to animals, those are the best protein sources for us; but with the correct combinations we can also get complete proteins from plants.
Researchers say adults need 0.8-1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass. Lining the shelves of grocery stores we see “high protein” on the labels, yet what they don’t include is all of the extra ingredients or “partial” protein makeups. Below are a list of whole protein sources we can get from plants and animals rather than factory made supplements.
High-Quality protein sources:
Meatless Protein Sources:
- Whole grains
- Nut butter
There are also additional benefits to high protein intake other than just daily body functions. Such as increasing lean body mass, increasing bone density, keeps you fuller longer, faster recovery time from exercise and many more. If you are looking to learn more about tracking macros for weight loss you can check out my blog!
With these great benefits come misconceptions as well. Many people believe that the more protein they eat the more muscle they will put on or the stronger they will become. This, however, is not the case. The body can only utilize so much protein, all the extra grams you eat just turns into excess calories (like any other overeating) and causes you to store body fat. So don’t get caught up in thinking the more protein you eat, the more benefits you can reap. There is a limit, listen to your body and don’t overdo it!
Eating a well-balanced diet of macronutrients and whole foods is what is going to get you the results you want. Yeah, it may take some trial and error to figure out how much of each is essential for YOU. But once you do find that balance, you can start maintaining a sustainable lifestyle fit for you! But don’t stop there. Keep educating yourself on new research and information that is out there on health and nutrition. The more you learn, the more successful you’ll be at achieving your goals and living a fulfilled life.