Macronutrients – What are they, really?

While I love cooking, baking, and all things food, there’s a lot of science available on what foods and nutrients are best to fuel our fitness. So, I’m excited to finally be getting more of that info out there on my You Tube channel and this blog. Before I go into depth on some of the trendy topics out there in the fitness and nutrition space, I thought starting with the most basic info on macronutrients (often referred to as “macros”) would serve everyone best. This should lay a solid foundation for some videos and post coming this fall and winter, while helping you better understand the “why” behind some of the ingredients and recommendations with my recipes.

macronutrients for fitness

Macro-what?

There are three macronutrients – carbohydrate, fat and protein – and ALL are necessary to fuel your active body, even on rest days (or rest weeks). Cutting out any of these nutrients can lead to detrimental effects on the body, mind, and performance. They are the only nutrients that provide us with energy – otherwise known as calories – and as their name suggests, we need a lot of them!

Carbohydrates

First on the list is carbohydrates. Carbs are the most recent target of diet culture. Contrary to popular belief, carbs are not the enemy. In fact, they should be the body’s primary energy source. Stop. Breathe. Repeat that. Carbs should be the body’s primary energy source. They’re the preferred energy for the brain and muscles among plenty of other body functions. Carbohydrates also provide a protein sparing action — meaning they are used for energy so that protein can be used for other necessary things such as tissue synthesis and immune support. While there are many types of carbohydrates, like starch, fiber, and oligosaccharides, I’ll save all of them for another post.

carb needs for exercise

A Constant Energy Supply

It’s time to change your mindset around carbs are realize they aren’t to be demonized. First, to squash the “carbs make you fat” thought: no single nutrient increases fat storage. A calorie surplus may, and so may gut health, genetics, and other individualized health considerations. Cutting carbs, or even just sweets, often just leads to craving them more since the body is wired to use them. Think about “blood sugar”. It’s purpose is to have a constant supply of energy running through our body’s road map (the circulatory system) so that cells are able to obtain it consistently. What happens when blood sugar drops? Well, if you don’t take in carbs, you’ll find yourself irritable, overly hungry (#hangry), maybe even dizzy or with a headache. And what happens later? You may overeat compensating for what you didn’t provide your body with earlier.

Carbs for Fitness

If you’re an athlete or active individual, carbohydrates are especially important. We store carbs in our muscles as glycogen so that they’re ready to go when we start exercising. Muscle glycogen and blood carbs are most helpful at exercise of high intensity and long duration. They’re also stored as liver glycogen to help keep blood sugar levels normal during activity (as well as between meals and when we’re sleeping at night). Therefore, decreased carbohydrate consumption can negatively impact training and performance — think of a car running out of fuel.

Carbohydrate Sources

whole food carbs

It’s pretty simple to identify carb sources. Was what you’re eating originally a plant? Other than the carbohydrate in dairy – lactose – or honey, all other carbs come from plant foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. sAnd it’s totally OK to include some refined carbohydrates in your diet here and there too, I promise.

Recipes 

Fat

Now let’s talk about fats. Fats are the most energy dense (9 Calories per gram compared to 4 in carbs and protein) and are a necessary energy to store on our bodies. They provide us with energy at rest for basic body functions like temperature regulation, and are a good source of fuel for lower intensity and long duration exercise. On top of being an energy source, fats are important for proper inflammatory responses for recovery, joint lubrication and protection, nutrient absorption and even brain function. They also help us feel satisfied when we eat meals and snacks, so be sure to include a fat source each time you eat.

Types of Fats

There are many different classifications of fats occurring in nature – and believe it or not, all can have a place within your diet. Mono-unsaturated, poly-unsaturated, and saturated fats may all be familiar terms.

Without getting into the chemistry of them all, the mono-and polyunsaturated sources are those that  These types of fats are great for improving brain health, joint fluidity, muscle recover and have an anti-inflammatory effect. 

Saturated fats, which we want to limit are impossible to eliminate from the diet as even our healthiest fats – like those from olives and avocados – contain some saturated fat. It’s all about balance.

Fat Sources in Food

healthy fat sources

My big tip is always to choose more fats coming from plant foods and from fish. Things like avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish (salmon, tuna, anchovies) should be the focus as they contain high amounts of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. I’ll get more into poly-unsaturated omega-3’s another day!

Saturated fat is found in meats, butter, cheese, many fried foods, and baked goods. These foods can be included in your diet, but in a way that promotes a mindful indulgence. It may be best to avoid these foods in large amounts before a workout or the night before a race, too.

Recipes

Protein 

protein functions

Lastly, but not least, we have protein. Rather than be a significant energy source, protein is best suited as a structural and metabolic nutrient. In addition to muscle, it also builds all of our organs tissues, makes the framework of our bones and creates compounds like immune proteins, hormones and enzymes to protect the body and regulate metabolism.

It’s important to note that over consuming protein won’t lead to extra muscle gain; instead it will just be excreted. This is why I recommend eating moderate amounts of protein with all meals and snacks (except for snacks immediately prior to exercise) every rather than a lot of protein post-workout and at dinner.

Protein Sources

top protein sources

It’s no secret you can get protein from meat, but you also obtain high-quality protein from foods like eggs, fish, soy products, peas, beans and lentils. Grab a few more grams from nuts, seeds, whole grains and even vegetables!

Recipes

So, what are your big questions on macronutrients?

Let me know and I’ll cover them in future videos and blog posts! 

 

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