Macronutrients are what help us stay energetic, strong, and quite simply put – keep us alive. This is not to say all other nutrients are of lesser importance, but macronutrients are the larger three that all foods fall under for classification. These three are protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Learning about macronutrients is imperative not only for athletes and those who train, but for everyone who wants to live a healthier life. In school we’re often taught about all the food groups and shown this pyramid we’re supposed to base our diet on. But what the hell are they even trying to show everyone with this?
The food pyramid usually confuses the average person and does nothing to enlighten society about macronutrients. All it simply says is eat a bunch of simple carbs and doesn’t even inform anybody that vegetables and fruits are carbohydrates as well.
Let’s look at the basics of macronutrients so you can have a better understanding of how your diet should look to survive and stay strong.
We all hear the phrase “protein is the building blocks of life”, but what does this even mean really? Protein is the nutrient that is used during all the processes that deal with repair and cellular growth, which could range from muscular growth, cuts on the skin healing, or even bone re-growth after breaking it.
The human body weight is 20% protein, which makes it the second most abundant following water. 1 gram of protein = 4 calories.
Muscle building and fat loss are at their highest point when in an anabolic hormonal environment created by protein, but when your body lacks protein intake then these two actions begin to suffer. Fitness enthusiasts and athletes seek higher protein consumption for this reason.
Behind the Scenes with Protein and Muscular Growth
Protein plays a very active role when it comes to building muscle. When you actively contract your muscles during
exercise for long enough periods, you cause injury to muscle fibers microscopically. This is why your muscles feel sore after training them.
After training your body realizes the muscle fibers have been torn, and will attempt to heal itself naturally with the help of protein. The nutrient enters the cells and allows repair to take place during the next 24 hours of rest that you are supposed to utilize during a workout program.
Once repaired, your muscle cells have not multiplied, but rather have gotten larger, thus increasing your muscle mass over time.
This is how your body uses protein to build muscle, so remember it when somebody falsely advertises that protein powders build muscle when they only support its development; your hard training and nutrition intake cause them to grow.
Better Understanding Protein
Let’s proceed on now that you have a better understanding about how protein assists your body. Protein is broken down into two categories: complete and incomplete. In order for us to know what category a protein is, we have to look at amino acids, which are smaller molecules that make up what we know as protein.
An incomplete protein is one that is missing one or more essential amino acids. Essential when it comes to nutrition means that your body is not capable of creating that particular nutrient, so it must be received through the foods we eat. That means an essential amino acid is one that we gain through the foods we eat only.
There are nine essential amino acids:
– Leucine (BCAA)
– Valine (BCAA)
– Isoleucine (BCAA)
If incomplete means one or more is missing, then complete proteins contain all nine of these amino acids, which is also called a “whole protein” by some.
Amino acids don’t just perform the whole tissue repair and growth process. The hormones created also help regulate blood sugar levels and blood pressure, and then they are also responsible for your metabolic rate.
The Talk About Carbohydrates
This macronutrients name takes a beating constantly because of false accusations. Carbs are often said to be the root of fat gains, which is true in a sense, but nobody really wants to accept the fact that carbohydrates provide numerous benefits as well.
The primary benefit of carbs is being the fuel for your metabolism to produce energy, which leads to body movement. Consuming carbs can lead to fat gain only because they are eaten excessively, and then is also a result from the types of carbs you consume. There are two categories to take into consideration: simple carbs and complex carbs.
Let’s keep this basic and note that simple carbs are comprised of large amounts of sugar, which includes soda, maple syrup, and even the plain granulated sugar you use for coffee. Basically any type of snack containing sugar is probably a simple carb if it is listed in the top five ingredients. This type of carb is the one expert’s always tell you to avoid while dieting, which often has a purpose behind it since they offer little benefits.
This category is the reason fad diets call for no carbs or seriously low amounts of carbs to be consumed.
Doing so is supposed to cause a metabolic switch, which is when your metabolism shifts from using carbs for energy and instead burns fat in the form of ketones.
However, there’s a problem with this belief. Yes, your body will use its own fat to provide this new energy, but it could now start to use your muscles as well; placing it into a catabolic state, which essentially leads to severe muscle breakdown. We will cover this more in-depth during your nutrition dieting brief.
For now, just know that simple carbs should be consumed in moderation because they are, for the sake of simplicity, bad carbs when eaten excessively. However, simple carbs can be healthy too because fruits fall under this category along with pasta and white rice.
For example, white rice is actually good for your digestion when eaten appropriately, but constant large amounts over time cause weight gain and possibly diabetes.
Do you see how there’s a good and bad to everything you eat? Too much of something is bad, and too little of something is not helpful. There’s always a balance to life especially with nutrition.
This category for carbs means that they are more complex in the mount of nutrients they contain, and usually have more fiber. This could be foods such as sweet potatoes, beans, oatmeal, and whole-grains. These are referred to as the good carbs because they provide higher amounts of valuable nutrients.
The concept to remember about both simple and complex carbs is that they are both broken down into blood sugar that is used to create energy. They may be referred to as being good carbs, but if you eat too many of them they become just as bad.
Most people often respond to low carb diets very well because it allows the person to eat enough carbs for energy, but not enough to be converted over to fat gains. This is the ideal method for potential fat loss to occur.
Green vegetables are complex carbs as well, but can somewhat be a bit controversial. The amounts of carbs they contain are important to note, but nobody has ever really gotten fat because they consumed too many vegetables.
The possibility of this happening is pretty slim, and this is one reason why counting carbs is not the best solution for dieting. In short, eat plenty of fibrous vegetables to receive all the benefits of the micronutrients they contain. 1 gram carbohydrates = 4 calories
The Truth About Dietary Fats
Dietary fats are just like carbs because they are often considered bad. For nearly two decades, the country was keen on stating that all fats are bad for your body and clog your arteries, but now we are pretty safe to say the complete opposite occurs. 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
Healthy fats give your body a variety of benefits especially when it comes to your heart, body muscles, and even testosterone levels as well. A research study conducted by the CDC stated that obesity actually increased dramatically due to the belief in fats being harmful for our bodies, which lead to excessive snacking and meal consumption.
Now that fats are being seen for their actual benefits, the amount of obese people walking around has slightly decreased. It’s fair to say more would have lost weight if it was widely announced that fats are good for us, but instead we focus on stating red meats cause cancer with little proof to show.
Dietary fats are most notably responsible for helping your body perform functions within properly. For example, there is a specific coating around your nerves created by fat.
This coating allows messages transmitted from your brain down the nervous system to travel at a heightened speed, which means better movement and reaction.
Hormones known as eicosanoids also assist your body better with the use of healthy fats. This hormone regulates things such as blood clotting, blood pressure, and even inflammations. Fats also help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. In short, the reasons behind consuming dietary fats outweigh any that oppose it.
Fats are broken down into subcategories since they provide different benefits for your body, but there’s an exception to trans fat, which is currently in the process of being completely banned from all products sold by the FDA.
This type of fat is blamed for health problems just as much as carbs, but the reasons behind the accusations are a bit biased. The common belief for years was that saturated fats lead to heart disease dating back to the 1950’s, but the researcher of that time did not use useful statistics that showed saturated fat consumption lead to deaths deriving from heart disease.
Factual information is that there are tribes throughout the world that consume large amounts of calories mainly from saturated fats, which is calculated to be around 50%-70% of their daily intake. Their hearts are completely healthy, and in fact appear to be more superior to those with low saturated fat consumption.
We can also safely assume that our caveman ancestors ate a large amount of saturated fats since meat would have been a primary food source. This is somewhat the driving force behind what we know as the Paleo diet.
Let’s look at cholesterol, which is another hormone that we should briefly discuss for the sake of defending saturated fats. Cholesterol is used by your body as an antioxidant that fights against free radicals in your bloodstream, which are the radicals that cause heart disease.
So why would a hormone that protects against heart disease cause it to happen instead?
Admittedly we have believed this theory until years of research concluded that cholesterol is actually good for your heart, hormones, and other functions.
Cholesterol is like insulin in a sense that it is released into your bloodstream once high amounts of sugar and trans fat are consumed, and something is needed to suppress their harmful effects.
Cholesterol, as hinted upon earlier, healthily supports testosterone levels as well, which is needed by both men and women.
The higher your cholesterol is in your bloodstream usually means the higher your testosterone levels are as well, which means the potential for muscular growth and fat loss becomes heightened from higher cholesterol levels to an extent. Eat butter. Eat red meats. Ignore the lies. But don’t get carried away.
Again, you have to remember there’s a balance to everything we eat!
These fats possibly increase your potential to lower fat levels. Monounsaturated fats are proven to increase fat burning, and lower bad cholesterol (LDL) while increasing good cholesterol (HDL).
This type of fat generally derives from fatty fruits such as avocados. Olive oil contains plenty of monounsaturated fats, and nuts such as cashews and pistachios as well.
When we look at this type of fat, the primary benefit is that they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential for your body to remain healthy. The abbreviation you may see on supplement labels is EFA; meaning “essential fatty acids”.
This type of fat also fights bad cholesterol, and helps your heart, skin, and organs as well. Polyunsaturated fats can primarily be found in fatty fish, fish oil supplements, seeds, soy, and sunflower oil.
Macronutrients are Pretty Interesting…
Hopefully the information provided helped you learn a little bit about the basics of macronutrients. Protein, carbs, and dietary fats are essential for us to function properly throughout the day. Yes, carbs are technically not “essential” for life, but definitely help give us life by providing energy.
Nutrition is about balance, and this is not an easy concept for everyone especially when it comes to just macronutrients. I do offer meal program coaching and nutrition advise for those that need it. Please checkout my other page for prices. Stay strong and healthy friends.