Proteins, Fats and Carbohydrates. I am sure if you have any sort of nutritional education, you probably know what these are or at least have heard of them. Protein, fats, and carbohydrates are known as the three macro nutrients and are found on every nutritional label on every food or drink product. Macro nutrients provide the body with calories which are the measurable unit of energy that body uses to carry out a vast number of functions from building muscle to breathing and pumping blood from the heart to the rest of the body. All three have their value and how they are used can be strategically implemented to achieve different health and wellness goals. Out of the three macros, only two of them are essential for survival, and I am sure you will be surprised on which one is non-essential. We will dive a little deeper into on what each are, how they impact the body, and what are the best sources of each macro nutrient are.
Protein is arguably the most popular of the macro nutrients. It is known as the “building block” of muscle. Proteins provide the body with four calories per gram. Chemically, proteins are composed of amino acids, which are organic compounds made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, or sulfur. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and give them their structure. According to the Jessica Crandall, a registered dietitian and national spokesperson of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, when a protein is broken down in the body, it helps fuel muscle mass, which helps metabolic processes.
Protein is one of the most important macronutrients out there. Not only is it needed to build muscle mass, but it also plays a vital role in strengthening our hair, connective tissues, antibodies, enzymes, and more. I recommend that you should strive for eating about 0.7 to 1.0g of protein per pound of body weight if you are looking to gain muscle and achieve optimal health. Protein is most abundant in animal meats such as beef, chicken, fish, and pork. If you are vegetarian, you can find decent sources of protein in eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Now, when looking at vegetarians and vegans, I will not bash anyone for their diet choices but it important to understand that there are valuable nutrients that are being missed out on. Animal proteins are full of B vitamins, iron, and creatine. I am not saying that you cannot be healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet, but it is important to understand that these diets tend to be deficient in some key nutrients and supplementing with them would be incredibly wise.
Fats are the most demonized of the macro nutrients. I remember reading about the low-fat craze from the 1960’s, and the idea that fats are bad was being shoved down our throats and off our plates. It is important to know that the whole notion that fats are bad is incorrect and dangerous for anyone trying to be healthy. Fats are the most calorie dense macro nutrient and provide the body with nine calories per gram of food.
I am a fan of a show called Alone where ten contestants are dropped off in the middle of nowhere with only a small number of supplies. They must live off the land and out-survive each other to win the grand prize of $50,000. In one of the seasons, a contestant took down a moose with a bow in the second episode. You thought to yourself, “This guy is going to win the show after getting that large source of food.” Yes, this a decent assumption, but it is important to note that moose are very lean animals and do not carry a lot of fat. He built a meat platform to store his kill and keep it from other animals. He was smooth sailing until a wolverine got into his fat supply and ate all of it. This contestant who took down a large animal was on the brink of starvation because he did not have any fat to consume. Fat is an essential macronutrient, and without it, normal bodily functions begin to shut down.
Fat is a hormone sensitive tissue and not having enough of it can lead to many hormonal issues. Therefore, you will hear about female athletes not menstruating or male body builders losing their sex drive. This is because their bodies are so lean that it goes into survival mode and shuts off any functions that are not essential to survival.
There are several different types of fats, most notably unsaturated and saturated fats. The unsaturated fats are the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and are known as the “good” fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in foods such as olive oils, avocados, nuts such as almonds and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are found in high concentrations such as sunflower and flaxseed oils, walnuts, and fish. Fish is also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids which play a role in lowering risk of premature death in older adults according to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health. In a Dutch research study, it was found that those who ate enough polyunsaturated fats decreased the amounts of low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and increased the amount of protective high-density lipoproteins (HDL) in the blood.
Saturated fats are known as the “bad” fats. All foods containing fats have a mix of different fat types. Even, lean, healthy foods such as chicken and nuts have small amounts of saturated fats, though it is much less than the amounts found in ice cream, cheese, and pizza. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting less that 10 percent of your daily calories from saturated fats.
Carbohydrates (carbs) are arguably the most beloved macro nutrients. Who does not love a good carb? They are tasty and most of the time, most palatable. Although they are delicious, they are NOT essential for survival. This means that you do not need them to live, but that does not mean that they do not have value. Carbs come in the forms of sugars, starches, and cellulose and provide the body with four calories per gram.
Carbs are a great source of energy and are utilized by athletes all over the world to power their workouts and competitions. When consumed, the body metabolizes carbs and releases quick and fast energy. This bodes well for the times when you need a quick boost of energy. Carbs also spike blood glucose, so therefore people also experience a crash when consuming too much.
It is not all doom and gloom when it comes to carbs. Some of they best carbs to consume are fruits and vegetables and provide they body with several great vitamins such as vitamin C, D, and K and nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, and fiber. I recommend my clients eat as many fruits and vegetable as they like given they do not have any dietary intolerances towards those foods. I do this simply because people tend to not eat enough of the powerful, nutritious carbs and gravitate towards the more processed forms such as breads and pastas. Some of the best carbs to have in your diet are foods like berries, potatoes, and dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale, and brussels sprouts.
Let us Bring it All Together!
When it comes to food, it always best to look to whole, natural foods when trying to get all your nutrients. This means that the ingredients are minimal. For example, the only thing that should be on the label for a chicken breast is chicken. I recommend that after you finish reading this blog, you should read my blog on dieting titled “Dieting Made Simple.” When it comes to addressing your macro count, I recommend prioritizing protein by shooting for 0.7 to 1.0 grams per pound of body weight. It is the most satiating macro and if you make sure you get enough, you will naturally eat less. Also, be sure to get an appropriate amount of mono and polyunsaturated fats and get plenty of clean carbs such as berries, potatoes, and dark leafy greens.
There is a lot of hoopla when it comes to our food, so it is important to remember that our bodies have not evolved enough to where having a well balanced diet that is tailored to you as an individual does not work. Keep it simple, and I promise you that you will get tremendous results.