Nutrition 101: Part 1
The Macro Breakdown
I am going to write a simplified introduction to what I call "Nutrition 101" This is a great place to start if you are looking to drop some weight, focus on improving your health, and/or improve your athletic performance. By no means am I telling you in order to achieve those improvements you have to count every calorie- BUT your certainly want to be educated on it so you can fuel your body properly and make healthier choices in your diet that support your goals.
It will be a 2 part series including:
Part 1 Calories & Macronutrients
Part 2 Micronutrients & Nutrient Density
A calorie is a unit of measure for energy that the body uses to fuel all of its metabolic processes. You are constantly burning calories but the rate the body uses these calories is constantly changing. When we speak of calories in relation to food, we are talking about the amount of energy that a particular food provides our body with. We can use these calories to super simplify how weight control can work. If we take in more energy than we use the rest will get stored as fat. If we create a caloric deficit and burn more energy than we consume, the body will rely on our energy stores for fuel. Everyone has a fairly different basal metabolic rate and your daily caloric requirements will forever be an estimate simply because your daily activities change day by day. It is important that you balance your calories with your activity level. To do this in a more effective way you will want to breakdown your calories and dial in on your macronutrients.
Macronutrients are what make up food. Food is made up of complex molecules that provide the body with energy (calories). The macro view includes our proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
1 gram of protein equals 4 calories
1 gram of carbohydrates equals 4 calories
1 gram of fat equals 9 calories
It is important to find what ratio works best for your body and your lifestyle. Some people do great low-carb while others respond great to a higher carb diet. An average healthy ratio is 40% of your calories from carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Although the Standard American Diet or any school textbook will probably tell you 50-60% from carbs, 20-30% from protein, and 10-20% from fat. How's that going America? Anyway.... You can change these percentages by increasing and decreasing each one until you find what works best for you. You can also adjust according to your activity level day by day. Ex. For instance on an easy day where you do not plan to workout you can maybe lower your carbs and bump up your protein and fats. While on a day where your activity level is high and you plan on having an intense workout you might want to bump the carbs and protein up while lowering your fats.
Carbohydrates: They are made up of sugars, starches, and fiber.
Come in two forms: complex or simple (which ultimately all breakdown into simple sugars or glucose in the body and used for energy or stored for later use)
1) Complex carbs are a chain of sugars linked together. Upon digestion these chains are broke down into their individual links. These carbs are slow digesting and offer more sustained energy, appetite control, and mood control. Examples of these foods will be found on the "Low Glycemic Index" and include foods like basmati rice, sweet potato, and rolled oats. Low GI foods are good because they don't raise your blood sugar levels to high or to fast and give you energy over a long period of time.
2) Simple carbs or simple sugars rush into the bloodstream more quickly. An example would be natural sugars from fruit. Bad examples of these will be found on the 'High Glycemic Index" which we want to stray away from. Anything processed will be found on this list..such as items that are puffed, made instant, or gelatinized... think rice cakes and instant oatmeals...These foods cause insulin to spike and later make you crash, store more fat, bring on mood swings and keep you wanting more. It is a bad cycle to get caught up into. Fruit is ok because it contains a high fiber content which will slow down digestion.
Summary of importance: Carbs are converted into glucose in the bloodstream and are stored in the body as glycogen which can be found in the muscle and liver. Carbohydrates are the main substrate (fuel source) for high intensity training. They are key for maximum speed, energy, stamina, concentration, and recovery. Muscle glycogen is important in exercise because it directly affects the length and intensity you work at. Liver glycogen stores are required for "brain food" and to be released into the bloodstream to maintain a normal blood sugar level. That is why when you have been low carb for a while you can get a little foggy or light headed.
Fats have been demonized for a long time but are finally starting to make a come back. Eating fat will not make you fat. There is so much to talk about when it comes to fat but I am going to try and just cover the basics and will do a more in depth post at a later time.
Saturated (SFA) = single bonds, typically solid at room temp, and are less prone to oxidation (breakdown)
Healthy examples: grass fed butter, coconut oil
Unsaturated (MUFA or PUFA) = Liquids at room temp and become more prone to oxidation
-monounsaturated= one double bond
-polyunsaturated= more than one double bond, consists of omega-6 and omega-3
Healthy examples: extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil
Important note: since these oils can quickly oxidize it is important to purchase and consume higher quality here. Look for words like "Cold pressed" and "Extra Virgin" and packaging that is dark or glass.
Fats to avoid: hydrogenated oils, trans fat, vegetable oils, refined oils (beware when purchasing coconut oil) Ex. canola, cottonseed, soybean, rapeseed, grapeseed, corn, safflower, margarine, vegetable
Note: Americans get way too much omega-6 and need more of the anti inflammatory omega-3's to balance it out. You can consume more omega-3's by eating more fish such as salmon and/or pastured eggs or by supplementing with a high quality fish oil that does not make you burp (if so it may have went rancid).
Summary of importance: Healthy fats allow you to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and essential nutrients from food, aid in repair and recovery, produce a feeling of satiety, insulate and energize the body, transport and metabolize, supports brain functions and the CNS, the main substrate for long and slow activity, and a whole lot more.
Made up of long chains of amino acid which are considered the building blocks of our body. There are two categories: essential and non essential which make up the 20 amino acids needed by the body. The body produces the nonessential which leaves us to get the essential through our diet. This is pretty simple if you are a meat eater. Meats and eggs contain all 10 essential amino acids. The only thing you have to worry about is if you are consuming the right amount for you. In most cases... an average american is under eatings protein while over consuming carbohydrates and an average meathead is probably overeating protein.
The only other concern when it comes to selecting proteins is the source it comes from. It is important you buy grass fed beef, organic pasture raised chicken, eggs, and turkey, and wild caught fish (check origin) -always locally farm raised if possible. This actually makes a HUGE difference in the nutrition profile of what you consume and is worth every penny, plus it is better for the planet and more humane for the animal so its a triple win. Grass fed beef generally contains lower amounts of fat but has higher amounts of the good healthy ones such as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and omega-3's while also having more vitamins! This will lead us into part 2 of the series to discuss why food selection is SO important on a macro and micro level.
Summary of importance: Protein builds and repairs structures within the body. You need it to make enzymes, hormones, and chemicals and to build/repair tissues, cartilage, bone, muscle, skin & hair.