Knowing how to use macronutrients as an ally to your diet does miracles in your training and shaping your body! As I explained on my previous blog post How to turn a “diet” into fitness goals, the way we combine macronutrients in our nutrition affects our appetite, hormone levels, energy and general health.
Each of the macros has a different effect on our bodies in ways that help your overall fitness goals. If you use your macros in a smart way, you’ll very soon see results on your body and understand the meaning of “We are what we eat”. So, don’t worry, it’s all about chemistry here, and it’s much simpler than it seems!
Protein: The muscle builder
Why should you love protein and include it in every meal? Protein intake is vital, because it regulates most of our body’s functions. It is important for cell renewal and maintenance of various body structures such as organs, blood circulation and the immune system. If your protein intake is low, structures depending on protein will start to break down. Physically active persons need enough protein in order to repair, recover, maintain and grow muscle tissue. The less muscle tissue we have the less endurance and strength we have.
Protein is also important for fueling muscles with energy, because our body breaks protein down and uses amino acids (building blocks of protein). There are 20 different amino acids, but our body can only naturally produce 11 of them. The other 9 can be obtained only through animal or fish protein sources and are known as essential amino acids.
So what are the food options for protein here? Lean meats, poultry, fish and seafood could be the first option. Also dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese etc) and eggs have a high amount of protein, as well nuts, whole grains and beans. Be careful though, as many of the protein sources are not always low in fat.
“An “essential” macronutrient is a nutrient that our body can’t produce through a natural process, therefore needs to be obtained through diet.”
Fat: Doesn’t always make you fat!
Fats have a major role as energy provider, facilitating the absorption of micronutrients (ex. vitamins and minerals) and are essential for maintaining good health. Fat protect vital organs and plays a role in maintaining cell membranes. However, not all fat sources are the same. There are 3 types of fats: Unsaturated, saturated and trans. So, let’s make clear what the main differences are!
Unsaturated fats: Unsaturated fats are of two kinds, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats; omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These two are essential fats and are well known for their health promoting properties, as they play a significant role in brain, skin, vision and reproductive functions. It has been shown that these fatty acids contribute in lowering bad cholesterol levels, decreasing fat storage and support muscle recovery and growth. Good sources of unsaturated fats are oily fish (such as tuna, sardines and salmon), almonds, avocado, peanut butter and olive oil.
Saturated fats: Saturated fats are not necessarily good or bad and they are found in both vegetable and animal products. Some saturated fatty acids may be healthier than others, but the opinions are controversial. Since the case about saturated fats is still unclear it’s good to limit the intake of those foods.
Trans fats: Trans fats are a type of fat that our body can’t identify, thus process, due to the altered molecule structure and is definitely the type of fat that you should avoid. They are found in foods which use hydrogenated vegetable fats, such as deep-fried and baked foods (also known as junk food). Trans fats can increase bad cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
Carbohydrates: Instant energy
Carbohydrates or carbs, are known for providing energy to our body and is a much debated macronutrient. Carbohydrates are chains of sugars, which our body breaks down and converts to glucose. Glucose is very important for our body as it affects our nervous system, heart and brain. Despite their significance, a term such as “essential carbohydrates” doesn’t exist. Our body, if in need, can produce carbohydrates on its own by breaking down proteins and fats we consume. Carbohydrates are divided into 2 categories according to how fast blood sugar levels raise after consumption: High glycemic index (HGI) and low glycemic index (LGI).
HGI carbohydrates are fast digesting carbs such as white bread, white potatoes, table sugar and white rice.
LGI carbohydrates such as green vegetables, whole grains and some fruits are slow digesting carbs which steadily release glucose into the bloodstream with negligible fluctuations. This way the energy levels remain well balanced giving a feeling of satiety for a long time after consumption.
A little bit more about carbs…
Whether you should include carbohydrates in your diet or not is a much debated issue. The amount of carbs you should consume mainly depends on your fitness goals and the level of activity you include in your day. It is known that excessive consumption of carbohydrates will result into fat storage in your body. Carbohydrates intake should be limited if your target is fat loss, but this is quite subjective. For example, if you are running a marathon you may need to add a considerable amount of carbs in your diet.
Regarding the HGI and LGI carbs, the whole studies are based on how these carbohydrates are affecting our blood sugar levels and the production of the sugar-lowering hormone insulin. The GI of a food can vary from person to person. Moreover the effect that carbohydrates have to the insulin levels depends on the amount of carbs consumed and the combination of foods which can result to a HGI or LGI. The initial studies about GI were targeting diabetics’ diet, but lately had become a more general approach towards nutrition.
I know the blog was quite long, but I wanted you to have a clear understanding on macronutrients so you start making changes that matter. I believe that knowledge is power and that big changes start with understanding!