macros and more
As you likely already know, the three primary macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These nutrients are typically measured in calories and grams and factored into a recommended daily amount. While generally speaking, the recommendations are a decent start, they don't take into consideration the variations in activity level, the lifestyle differences, and contributing genetic or metabolic conditions that at unique to the individual. That's where learning your body through a detailed journal that tracks your activity, consumption, and your body's response comes in handy. My latest book, My Workout Log, Does all this for you as well as teaches you how to develop a workout program using the industries foundational tools. I want to take this opportunity though, to teach you some of the basics regarding macros, as a basic understanding of them is essential to making real progress in your wellness and fitness journey. Mind you, this will be brief, but it will also be the need to know regarding the subject.
The Powerful Carbohydrate
Carbohydrates are the fastest-acting source of energy our body uses. When the body needs energy now, it primarily uses glucose, which is what about 80% of carbohydrates become once your body metabolizes them. Dietary carbohydrates are the most available form of glucose. Eating enough carbohydrates is essential for muscular performance, central nervous system functions, and efficient use of fat. Wait! What about KETO?! Well, Keto diets, when done with discipline, work. However, the body works better on a balanced diet than it does on fat-based or even overly protein based diet. Short term they work well, but long term, they have the potential to do be damaging.
How to know if you're getting enough carbs.
If maintaining the intensity of your workouts becomes difficult, one contributing factor could be a lack of carbohydrates/available glucose. Other factors could be lack of sleep/recovery, excess caffeine in your diet, or just poor diet in general. This is why it's important to track your diet and journal your energy level and overall well being daily. Not all carbs are equal. Simple carbs, usually found in pastries, soda, candy, and every other delicious treat we love to eat, are quickly broken down by the body and absorbed. As you know, this is not where you want your consumed carbs to come from. Instead, you want complex carbs. Complex carbs take longer for your body to breakdown and absorb. However, if the complex carbs are processed they can be broken down just as quickly as simple carbs. The point I'm making here is to eat whole unprocessed carbs to your body's needs rather than your mouths desire.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends people consume about 55%-65% of your total daily calories from carbs if you are very active (exercise daily). If you are less active they recommend 55%-60%. Again these are starting points.
Protein, The Building Block of The Body
Proteins are used to build and repair tissues like muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Proteins are not a primary source of energy, but they are an essential part of our diet. The subunit of protein is amino acids. These are essential to building muscle, bones, cartilage, skin, blood, as well as enzymes and hormones. Although the body has the ability to make 21 amino acids, there are at least 8 amino acids that the body cannot make; these are called essential amino acids and we get them from consumption. Animal sources of protein, such as meat, poultry, eggs, fish, milk, and cheese, provide complete proteins. These proteins contain all of the essential amino acids the body needs to build lean muscle tissue. Some plant-based foods, such as quinoa, buckwheat, hempseed, soy, and amaranth provide complete proteins as well. Individual who chose to eat meatless diets and want to gain or maintain lean muscle must know how to combine foods so they consume complete proteins. Some examples are; grains and legumes, nuts and legumes, dairy and grains, pasta and beans, beans and tortillas, and peanut butter and bread. I am not an advocate of meatless diets but I wanted to provide some info on how to get complete proteins without meat because the meatless diets seem to be a growing trend.
ACE recommends your daily caloric intake be comprised of 12%-20%. This will vary according to the individual's activity level and activity type. It comes down to how much muscle is being broken down during training bouts. There will be a drastic difference in the protein needs for someone who does primarily resistant training and the individual that does primarily cardio based training. As mentioned earlier, grams are another measurement that we will see our macros measured in. For some, it may be easier to use grams to measure protein as the total daily calories are less important because protein is not stored. ACE recommends .08g -1.0 g of protein per kg of body weight for athletes.
Fat, The Most Energy Dense Macro
Fat is used by the body for manufacturing and balancing hormones, forming cell membranes, forming brain an nervous system and transporting fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K). Fat is not only good for us, but it's also essential!
Not All Fat is Equal
There are primarily three types of fats to be concerned about, saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. We'll start with saturated fats since most people are somewhat familiar with these. Saturated fat is a type of fat in which the fatty acid chains have single bonds "saturated" with hydrogen. You can assume a fat is saturated if it's solid at room temperature. We find them in animal products such as beef, pork, poultry, butter, lard, cheese, and various other dairy products. We can also find saturated fats in plant-based oils like; palm oil and coconut oil. The only difference between the plant sourced saturated fats and the animal-sourced saturated fats is the plant-based do not contain cholesterol. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we ingest only 5%-6% of our total calorie intake from saturated fats.
Mono and Poly Unsaturated fats
As the name suggests, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have unsaturated carbon bonds. Both mono and polyunsaturated fats help reduce the bad cholesterol in our blood. This, as we know, is important to reduce the risk of the number one killer of western society, heart disease. This is even more important when you're considering starting a new fitness program as you will definitely be subjecting yourself to more stress.
Foods and oils that are rich in monounsaturated fats contribute vitamin E which is an antioxidant. Foods that are high in monounsaturated fats are typically oils that are liquid at room temperature. Some examples are olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil.
Foods and oils that are rich in polyunsaturated fats also called Omega 3 and Omega 6, cannot be produced by our bodies, they are, therefore, essential. Soybeans an soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower seeds, and sunflower oil are all high in our Omegas.
So how much fat should I eat?
Most people are surprised to hear that a balanced diet should have 20%-35% of the caloric intake from fats.