The Importance of Macronutrients
Feb 15, 2019
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The human body can be an amazing machine capable of endless potential and capabilities. Like most machines, a well oiled/fueled body runs the most efficiently and produces a greater output. Fuel for the human body for energy, growth, metabolism, and many other bodily functions, come from what are called macronutrients. The word “macro” meaning large, is appropriately attributed as these types of nutrients needed in large quantities to obtain healthy bodily function.
Macros provide the body with the all of its daily caloric intake and are categorized into 3 areas:
- Protein (Can provide around 4 calories per gram)
- Carbohydrate (Can provide around 4 calories per gram)
- Fat (Can provide around 9 calories per gram)
Society’s Inaccurate Beliefs
It is unfortunate that in today’s society, there is a lot of false information and misunderstanding surrounding each of these categories. Many of the fad diets that’s out there falsely accuse carbohydrates and fats as being the enemy. There are even studies out there claiming that “high protein” diets are unsafe. In fact all 3 macros are an absolute necessity in balanced nutrition.
Let’s talk about Protein. Why do we need it?
Protein is comprised of what are called amino acids, which are linked to together in chains that form the properties of protein. There are 20 different amino acids, 9 of which are considered essential due to the body not being able to produce on its own. Protein benefits the body with:
- Preserving muscle
- Muscle growth
- Repairing bodily tissues
- Essential hormone and enzyme production
- Energy, when there is an absence of carbs
A healthy ratio of daily protein intake according to the USDA (Dietary Reference Intakes), should be anywhere from 10-35% of your daily calories. This is not a absolute number and can definitely be modified depending on what your health goals are.
With a high protein diet, it is more beneficial to stick to lean, unprocessed meats, poultry, and fish. Below are a few good examples to incorporate into your diet:
- Chicken breasts (boneless/skinless)
- Turkey (ground or filets)
- Ground beef (lean)
These are only a few of the many examples that qualify as a good protein source. Most people that have trouble getting enough protein in to their macro ratio target, usually supplement with protein shakes/bars.
Carbohydrates. Why are they necessary?
Carbs are the most essential out of the 3 macros when it comes to energy. This should be the largest category in daily consumption. When consumed in the form of starches and sugars, they can give your body the fuel that it needs for day-to-day activities. When some carbs are digested, they are converted into what is called “Glycogen,” which is a readily available energy source that is store in your muscles. A high amount of daily carb intake is justifiable due to the following benefits:
- Act as main source of fuel for the body
- Easily used for energy
- Glucose, derived from carbs, can also be used for energy
- Aides many bodily organs and systems to function at optimum levels
- Stores glycogen in muscles and liver for future use
- Fiber from carbs aides in digestive health; with it’s inability to digest, it helps shuttle waste through the digestive system
A good ratio as a starting basis, according to the USDA (Dietary Reference Intakes), should range anywhere from 45-65% of your total caloric intake. Again, this ratio should altered based each individual depending on what your health goals are. Some examples of carbs that should be incorporated into your diet are:
- Whole grain food items
- Green vegetables
- Sweet potatoes
These are mostly examples of a few complex carbs that are medium to slower digesting carbs, which are great with your daily meals. Try to minimize simple carbs such as sugars/fruits to strictly mornings/post-workout. I will touch on the differences between simple vs. complex carbs in a future blog post.
Fats. Learn why this is not a bad word.
The word “fat” definitely gets a bad rep and causes many people to shy away from it entirely in their nutrition. In fact, if the right kind of “healthy” fats are consumed, they form the essential 3rd piece of the macronutrient puzzle. The most common types of healthy fats that should be included in your diet, should be omega 3, 6, and 9. Consuming the right amount can provide the following:
- Like carbs, fats provide the body with a more concentrated form of energy
- Fats aid in the absorption of many essential vitamins and minerals
- Cushions your vital organs by providing a protective layer called “visceral fat”
- Helps maintain cell membranes
- Have been shown to reduce heart disease
- Increase heart and brain function
A good ratio to include in your macros for fats according to the USDA (Dietary Reference Intakes) is around 20-35% of your daily caloric intake; reiterating one more time that this ratio should be changed to fit the individual according to their health goals.
Some great choices for healthy fats include:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Almonds and nuts (nut butters as well)
- Flax seed
The important note to take away from this when starting to improve your nutrition, is that all 3 macronutrients need to considered and incorporated into a balanced diet.
There are also “micronutrients” that are important for bodily function, however, these are needed in smaller quantities and consist of the many vitamins and minerals that can be found in many foods or supplemented to aid in metabolic health, immune system health, and have many anti-oxidant benefits.
As you become more advanced and in tune with how your body reacts to certain foods, you can make adjustments to your ratios and the types of food you consume to achieve your desired results. To figure out where you should be with each macronutrient, just use any online caloric intake calculator, which will take into account your age, height, weight, and activity level. Here’s a link to a good one that I’ve used:
Once you have an idea of how many calories, your body needs daily, just follow the before mentioned ratios for a good starting point and you will be on your way to healthier you!
McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois at Urnana-Champaign
“Macronutrients: The importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat”
Published 2-04-2014, URL: www.mckinley.illinois.edu/handouts/macronutrients.htm
Science Learning Hub, Science Ideas and Concepts
Published 3-18-2014, URL: www.sciencelearn.org.nz/Contexts/Food-Function-and-Structure/Science-Ideas-and-Concepts/Macronutrients
Nutrition MD, Making Sense of Foods
“Carbohydrates: Simple vs. Complex”
USDA, Dietary Reference Intakes
“Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges”
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