Macronutrients are essential nutrients that are needed in large amounts on a daily basis. If we consider our daily intake of food as a jar to fill, macronutrients would be the big rocks that take up the bulk of the room in the jar.
These important nutrients help run the ship of our body as each one has important functions to keep our body sailing smoothly. Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Some sources consider water a macronutrient as well.
Although Alcohol is not a macronutrient, I want to add it to this discussion as it is perhaps one of the most misunderstood substances and most controversial. In this article I will get into each of these individually as over the years in fitness and owning CrossFit West Houston, I have seen that there can still be confusion as to foods are what macronutrients. Hopefully, this will bring clarity.
We eat food and food is comprised of macronutrients. While most food is predominately one macronutrient, there are elements typically of one or more macronutrient. For instance, broccoli is a carbohydrate but it also has some fat and some protein. Let’s get in to a little more detail.
A carbohydrate (carb) is organic molecules typically classified according to its structure. There are two types of structures of carbohydrates: Simple and Complex Carbohydrates. Carbs have several functions in the body: quick energy, regulating blood glucose, breakdown of fatty acids and providing dietary fibers.
Simple are made of one or two sugars (monosaccharides or disaccharides). They are typically quick and easy to break down in the body thus quickly absorbed. These tend to be your “fun” foods pasta, cake, cookies, ice cream, sugar sweeteners, fruit juices and the much maligned high fructose corn syrup. These types of carbs can cause a big spike and drop of insulin which can lead to a yo yo of energy and hunger as they do not help manage blood sugar well.
Complex Carbs have more than two sugars linked together. Given their structure they are slower to digest and absorb, so they stay with you longer which helps manage blood sugar. These types of carbohydrates are vegetables, fruits and starches. The other advantage of this type is that they are high in fiber which manages hunger.
|Simple Carbs||Complex Carbs|
|High Fructose Corn Syrup||Fruits|
|Baked Goods||Whole grains|
|Whole Wheat Bread|
Carbohydrates can be very controversial. Some people suggest high carbs, some low carbs, some all carbs and some no carbs. It is easy to see why there is such confusion about what to eat and how much. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer of how much to eat as it is really dependent upon the individual. Some things that can affect how much to eat:
Here are some general guidelines to assist in types and amounts:
- Abundantly eat plant based carbs ie; vegetables and some fruit. When eating real food like vegetables and fruits choose the colors of the rainbow in food choices (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet). Ideally daily get 1-2 servings each day of the different colors.
- Strictly limit your simple carbohydrates. If you do consume them, try to consume the after a bout of exercise.
- Limit the quantity of starches especially if your goal is weight loss/management.
- Eat carbs at every meal.
Proteins are organic molecules made up of amino acids. Those amino acids are comprised of essential amino acids, conditional amino acids and non-essential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be produced inside the body so they must be ingested through food. Conditional Amino Acids cannot always be made in amounts our bodies need (typically times of stress) .Non-essential amino acids are easily produced within the body.
|Essential Amino Acids||Conditional Essential Amino Acids||Non-essential Amino Acids|
We need protein to survive and thrive. Protein supports many functions of the body:
Here are some guidelines and rules:
- Have protein at every meal. It is important to keep a continuous supply of protein.
- Vary your sources of protein to ensure to consume a variety of the important amino acids.
- Consume enough to fuel and repair for your activity.
Like carbohydrates the amount of protein to consume depends on a few factors. The main one being activity level. If you are active your protein needs are much higher. It will typically be .64 to .9 g per bodyweight in lbs.
Fats are organic molecules made up of carbon and hydrogen elements combined together to make hydrocarbons. There are many different types of fat with unique characteristics i.e. saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Luckily we have moved past the notion that all fat is bad, however we do need to be selective on the fats that we choose.
Not all fats are created equal; there are some fats that are unprocessed and some that are highly processed. The best way to determine if a fat is healthy or non-healthy is how processed and perishable it is. If it is perishable and unprocessed than you should consume it examples are animal fats, nuts seeds, and oils such as coconut, avocado, olive oil. If it is highly processed than you should not consume it, examples are trans-fat and hydrogenated fats and oils like vegetable, canola, safflower and sunflower.
|Animal Fats||Olive Oil||Omega-3||Omega-6|
|Tropical Oils||Avocados||Flax||Most Seed Oils|
For many years fat was considered an enemy, and many experts recommended a low to no fat diet. The reality is that we need fat and it is an important nutrient. Fat has several major roles in the body:
There are other benefits from consuming fat as well. There is strong evidence that fat:
Additionally, there is some evidence that fat:
There is a pretty strong case to eat fat. We could not function without it.
Here are some general guidelines:
- Eat a small amount of fat at every meal.
- Strive to eat unprocessed fats.
- And vary fat types to get a wide range of benefits.
Technically alcohol is not a macronutrient. It provides no nourishing attributes to the human body. But it is consumed so I am going to address it here. In full disclosure, I do occasionally drink alcoholic drinks, sometimes wine, sometimes beer and sometime margaritas. I do so with full knowledge of the consequences.
Alcoholic beverages have calories but provide absolutely no nutritional benefit to you, which make them empty calories. Going back to our daily jar of food analogy, if Alcohol “rocks” take up too much room in your jar, you’re trading Alcohol for healthful foods in your diet. You can monitor the calories by eating less food to make up for the calories that you consume but this means that you will miss out on the vital macronutrients that food supplies and are necessary for overall health. In addition, you also miss out on vital micronutrients, which we’ll cover in an upcoming post.
Here are some drawbacks with alcohol consumption:
As they say, think before you drink. Do a cost benefit analysis. Is having the alcohol worth the potential negative affects?
Hopefully, this helps explain what each macronutrient is, what foods are what macronutrient and how they benefit us. Remember it is important to consume each nutrient daily. They are the big rocks that fuel the machine that is the human body.