The simple guide to macronutrients.
Today I am going break the three macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates, and fats into very, very simple and easy to understand summaries.
I’m going to cover only what you need to know. I’m not going to go into massive amounts of detail, because I’m going to keep things as simple as possible.
I’m also going to keep it to what you actually need to know in order to get results. If you would like to get more detail, please do check out the links I have put in podcasts and my site.
If you are just someone who wants to get fitter and healthier, I’m going to give you a breakdown of what you actually need to know.
An easy thing to remember is ‘protein to grow’ and this is the best way to think about that what protein does in our bodies.
It is mostly important for growth and repair for the whole body, not just muscle mass. Sometimes people get alarmed at the idea of increasing protein because they don’t want to become too ‘bulky’.
Protein has many functions in the body for creating muscle mass and tissues. It is the building blocks of every organ in your body and it’s got important hormone production function, immune function and enzyme function.
Protein is also instrumental in keeping your fluid balance within the body and managing your energy balance. Much more than just building muscle.
There are many benefits to eating more protein for your bodily function as a whole.
How much protein should we be eating?
This does vary depending on your sports, depending on your activity levels, basically depending on your overall needs.
The recommended amount is 0.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. This is the minimum needed to avoid a deficiency.
I would recommend that this is too low even for regular people doing very little exercise. I would recommend more towards one to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight.
If you are doing regular exercise then you ought to be looking more towards 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilo of bodyweight, especially if you’re doing endurance training.
If you are a strength athlete or a bodybuilder then you could be looking towards 1.8 to potentially 2.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight which is very very high.
If you are not in one of those categories then around 1 to 1.2 grams per kilo is definitely going to be okay for you.
Additional benefits of protein include healthy hair and skin, increased chances of weight loss through increased fullness levels post meal.
Protein also promotes better muscle mass retention, meaning more lean tissue and less muscle loss during a weight loss period.
It is very necessary for your immune function and there are also great benefits to elderly populations.
Keeping your protein levels up in later life helps you reduce your chance of sarcopenia and your chance of brittle bones, increasing a chance of healthy ageing.
Carbohydrates, to go! This is the best way for you to think about your need for carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are your body’s energy macronutrients.
They are mainly broken down into glucose and then stored as glycogen within the body. They are your body’s preferred source of fast fuel source.
Carbohydrates are not essential, you don’t actually need them to survive, your body can make glucose from other components.
It just doesn’t really like doing that because it’s very energy expensive. Your body can also live off fatty acid production ketones.
Again, it’s not as efficient as using carbohydrates and if you’re using a lot of anaerobic energy, you’re doing a lot of high intense activity then fats aren’t going to cut it for you.
If you’re not doing a lot of weight training, you’re not doing a lot of intense activity, all you’re doing is living, walking, breathing, then having a lower carbohydrate, higher fat diet would be absolutely fine.
However, non-essential does not mean non-beneficial!
Carbohydrates are beneficial for better energy levels throughout the day and for better sleep. They can bring increased fullness with meals, especially with extra levels of fibre from extra vegetables.
They’re great for sparing muscle mass during activity, if you eat carbohydrates pre training, they can spare your muscle tissue from being used as energy sources.
Having carbohydrates that have got a low fat count, things like whole, green, starchy, carbohydrates other fruits and vegetables with high fibre are good for your digestive and gut health.
This is absolutely vital for better moods and better health in general as well as better energy levels. They have a lot of really great benefits within the body.
The last macronutrient we really need to consider is fat. Alcohol is technically the fourth macro but obviously not essential for health.
Think ‘Fats for Mojo’! Thank you to Martin MacDonald from Mac-Nutrition for that one! The easy to remember ditty is; Protein to Grow. Carbohydrate to Go. Fats for Mojo.
Fats are vital for our Mojo or to put is another way, our hormonal health. Fatty acids are essential for our hormone production.
They have many important roles within the body, including the formation of healthy cell membranes and proper development and functioning of the brain and the nervous system.
Fats have very important structural components, they are involved in cell signalling, they are electron carriers and regulate many bodily functions including blood pressure.
How much fat do we need?
There is some disagreement in research and there aren’t really set ratios on how much fat we actually need. There is some consensus that 0.5 grams per kilo of body weight is a minimum.
Using that recommendation a 100 kilos individual would need at least 50 grams of fat per day, which does seem to be a good minimum.
At the other end of the scale, 1 gram per kilo of bodyweight seems to be at the ceiling for a lot of people, to then fit in the amount of protein and carbohydrates they need.
The thing with fatty acids, is that a variety is best for overall health. You want to make sure that you’re getting plenty of unsaturated fats in your diet, a mixture of poly and mono unsaturated as well as saturated fat.
Many of the fats in food are a combination of these three anyway, they are usually just grouped in with what fatty acid they have the most of.
Saturated fat foods would include meat, dairy products and coconut oil. For monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, foods like avocados, olive oil, olives, nuts or seeds and oily fish.
If your diet is mostly comprised of meat and dairy, you don’t get a lot of nuts, seeds or olive oil, then try to balance it out with a few more mono and polyunsaturated fats.
The reason that macronutrients come second in the pyramid of importance is because we know from research that every diet under the sun that controls for calories, seems to get a good result in body composition.
The difference in whether they lose fat or lose muscle tissue is within the macronutrients they eat, mainly in the protein quantity.
In the Journal of International Sports Science and Nutrition, a study in 2017 by Alan Aragon et al into diets and body composition proved that every diet that controlled calories and had the participant eating plenty of protein allowed them to maintain muscle tissue and lose body fat.
You could be high fat, you could be low fat, you could be high carb or low carb, whatever, as long as you were eating enough protein, you would get great results.
Overall calories and macronutrients come before food quality because even if you ate a ton of junk food, while not being great for your health, if you maintained the calorie amount and the protein amount you would still get good results.
I will cover more about food quality tomorrow but for now, remember, proteins or grow, carbs to go, fat for mojo.