Macronutrients 101

Thankfully, the medical community is finally coming around and educating themselves on how important nutrition is for long-term health, weight loss, and preventative care. Within this bounty of new scientific discovery is the importance of macronutrients. If you're looking for information on the importance of macronutrients, you've come to the right place. We'll start by breaking it down and explaining to you what these macronutrients are and why you need to pay close attention to how you eat them.

The Difference Between Macro and Micronutrients

We want to take a minute to distinguish macronutrients from the more popular types of nutrients you probably have already heard of: micronutrients. Micronutrients are very small units of nutrition such as vitamins (like vitamin A, K or B3, for example) and minerals (like calcium and potassium, for example). Macronutrients, on the other hand, are much larger. There are three types of macronutrients: fat, protein, and carbohydrates ("carbs" for short). Each macronutrient is digested and processed by your body in very distinct ways. The amount of macronutrients you need to focus on eating on any given day will vary depending on things like sex, age, height and weight, and what your fitness goals are. They may even vary from one day to the next depending on physical activity.


What Are Carbohydrates, and What Do They Do?

Carbohydrates are a type of fuel that is burned for energy by your body. According to the dictionary, a carbohydrate is "any of a large group of organic compounds occurring in foods and living tissues and including sugars, starch, and cellulose. They contain hydrogen and oxygen in the same ratio as water (2:1) and typically can be broken down to release energy in the animal body". We know that's a lot of information to take in all at once! So let's break it down for you.

First, let's talk about sugar carbohydrates. The main types of sugars you can get from your diet are fructose (from fruit), lactose (from milk and other dairy products), and glucose. Glucose comes in many forms; unfortunately, many of those forms are bad for you. These bad forms of sugar are often included - and in large numbers, too - in soft drinks, sports drinks, store bought breads, cookies, cakes, candies, donuts, and other such foods. These sugars provide the least amount of micronutritional value per gram. They give you a quick burst of energy, but usually with a sugar crash shortly after.

Lactose and fructose are better for you, depending on where you get them. Getting your fructose from fruits and vegetables is not only healthier for your body, but the added fiber is good for your gut health, too. Lactose is in a similar boat. Lactose contains the greatest source of probiotic, gut-healthy bacteria that you can find. But you want to get your lactose from natural, minimally processed dairy sources. Getting it straight from a farmer's market would be ideal (although difficult for most). If you're in the grocery store, stick to plain milk and yogurt.

What Is Protein, and What Does it Do?

Protein is a very complex macronutrient. Depending on the animal or animal product protein comes from, a gram of it could be composed of as many as 20 different amino acids. Some of these amino acids are essential, meaning that the body cannot produce them on its own and you must get them from the food you eat. Other amino acids are non-essential, meaning that your body can make its own version of those amino acids as long as it has the building blocks to do so.

When these amino acids are arranged in a certain order, they produce proteins. Protein serves a number of different functions in your body. It creates enzymes, which are like little keys that lock and unlock the cells of your body so that nutrients can pass in and out. They create connective tissue, such as collagen and elastin, that connects your bones to your muscles and help your skin look youthful and tone when you have them in abundance. Lastly, protein is the tissue which makes up the bulk of your muscle cells. If you don't ingest enough protein, muscular atrophy can be a big problem. So can joint pain and injuries, especially from falling or from strenuous exercise. It can even make your skin look dried out, tired, and cause premature aging if you don't eat enough protein. Just be careful not to eat too much because excessive protein intake can strain your kidneys and cause damage over time.

What Exactly Is Fat, and What Does it Do?

Fat, like carbohydrates, is another form of fuel for your body. Fats are similar to protein in that they are made up of different fatty acids depending on the type of fat you eat. "Clean" fats like saturated fats are considered the healthiest according to nutrition experts. Saturated fats are considered to be less healthy and more oxidative, but if you get them from foods like avocado, olive oil, or organic animal products, they're not quite so bad. Fat is important because the walls of every single cell in your body are made up of fatty acids. Fat is also necessary for proper hormone balance. Lastly, specific organs like your brain and your heart actually prefer to get their energy from fat as opposed to carbs; but those organs can run on both depending on availability.

How to Calculate Your Macros

Calculating your macros has gotten a lot trickier in recent years. The Standard American Diet (which many people have been following for the past 50 years or so) recommends a large portion of your calories to come from carbohydrates, with a moderate amount of them coming from protein and a much smaller fraction coming from fat. According to popular guidelines, up to 65% of your daily caloric intake should include carbohydrates, which equals about 150 g for the average person. Most fitness experts also recommend about a gram of protein per day per pound of body weight for the average person. The rest of your calories should come from fat because the amino acids are necessary for the health of your cells.

As you can tell, there's a lot of information out there when it comes to macronutrients. And we're only just barely scratching the surface! Check back for future updates where we will take a deeper dive into each macronutrient and give you advice on how to apply that knowledge for better health, wellness, and weight loss.

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