What are macro-nutrients?
'Macros' stands for macronutrients and is made up of:
1 Gram of Protein = 4 Calories
1 Gram of Carbohydrate = 4 Calories
1 Gram of Fat = 9 Calories
Fat contains the greatest number of calories; it is very easy to go over your allocated daily fat allowance. I suggest when planning out the day ahead, the best way to ‘budget’ your macros is to plan out your protein first.
Protein is the toughest macro to hit as you will soon realise! Unless you’re a big meat eater, it may be necessary to invest in (whey protein isolate) powder to ‘fill in the gaps’ for your protein intake.
What is Protein?
Protein is the macro-nutrient known as being the “building block”. It is important for growth, maintenance and cellular repair. Just about every function of cells is regulated by protein. Protein is made up of thousands of units of amino acids.
Nine of these are essential, meaning they cannot be synthesised in the body and need to be consumed in one’s diet.
How Much Protein Do We Need?
To work this out, it’s best to use your lean body mass (LBM) weight in kilograms as a guide. Start with 2-3g of protein per kilo of lean bodyweight depending on your activity level.
For example, if you’re at the sedentary, less active end of the scale, you will require less protein due to less repair work needed.
Therefore, you would be closer to the 2g mark. If you have a very active and intense lifestyle, you will require more repair and the need for more protein so you would be closer to the 3g mark. This is what I work out for all my clients, if you need any help get in touch!
What Are Fats?
Dietary fats are the next macronutrient we include in your breakdown and plan. Dietary fats are complex in nature and there are a few subcategories. The three main subcategories are unsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans-fat.
This is often referred to as the “healthy” fat because they positively impact heart health, cognitive function and recovery.
This is broken down into further subtitles; monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat. Within polyunsaturated fats you have omega 3,6 and 9, also known as essential fatty acids. Unsaturated fats generally come from plant-based foods and can also come from non-plant-based foods such as seafood. Salmon contains good amounts of omega 3 polyunsaturated fats.
This is not essential to our diets but can still play an important role in our bodies by positively influencing testosterone production and optimising hormone production.
Often regarded as “bad” fats, trans fats negatively impact heart health and increase your risk of developing several metabolic abnormalities.
How Much Fat Do We Need?
The amount of fat one consumes in their diet can vary depending on a few factors. These factors vary from your personal goals. Are you trying to be in a calorie surplus or calorie deficit? Are you usually better at dealing with high fat diets or prefer higher carbohydrate diets?
Gender is also a factor that comes into play. Males generally tend to metabolise a higher carbohydrate intake better than females. The effects low fat diets can potentially have on the female reproductive hormones and system is also another reason we consider macros. A very generalised range for fat intake for females is .6-1.5g per total body mass in kilograms.
Guidelines suggest females should consume 20-35% of calories from healthy fats.
What Are Carbohydrates?
Of the three macronutrients, carbohydrates are the macro of choice when it comes to providing energy and being a fuel source.
Carbohydrates are also the macronutrient which does not have an essential element to it, meaning it is not essential to consume through our diets. This is mainly due to two processes that the body can do to either use energy or make on its own for fuel.
Carbohydrates, just like fat, can be broken down into a few categories and subcategories; Simple Carbohydrate. A simple carbohydrate has a simple molecular structure of only 1-2 molecules long and therefore is readily usable as energy.
These complex carbohydrates have a long, complex molecular structure of ten or more molecules long. Long complex molecular structures still end up getting broken down into glucose but takes longer for this process to happen.
The other subcategory is called non-starch polysaccharides, which make up the majority of what we know as “dietary fibre”.
Sugar The current daily sugar intake guideline is 90 grams. This can be very easy to go over and it’s crucial for your overall health to stay within this recommended guideline. Sugar has been demonised in the media recently for obesity, however, isn’t the true cause for it.
Excess calories in general is the cause for weight gain and eating excessive amounts of sugar adds calories to one’s diet, therefore causing weight gain. However, if you excessively consume any food that puts you in a surplus to what your metabolic rate is at, then you will gain weight even if that food is a healthier option! A take home message is to select complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are generally minimally processed therefore keeping in the nutrient level of vitamins and minerals and positively impacting your overall health. With the fibre in complex carbohydrates digesting slower, you will also keep your satiety level greater and remain fuller for longer. Complex carbohydrates also provide better sustained energy and regular bowel movement.
Fibre Dietary fibre
This is the indigestible part of plants. Almost all complex carbohydrate food sources you will consume will have a starch element and a fibre element.
There are two types of fibre: Insoluble Fibre and Soluble Fibre.
Insoluble fibre cannot dissolve in water and helps keep your bowels regular due to its ability to absorb water and move through the digestive system easily.
Insoluble fibre is found in the skin of fruits, vegetables, cereals, nuts and seeds. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and slows down your digestion. It can be found in oats, dried beans and lentils, fruits and vegetables.
Consuming fibre is important as the foods that contain fibre are nutritious and usually contain a variety of vitamins and minerals which are key when it comes to health. Both fibres work together to allow for gut health and better absorption of vitamins and minerals. This occurs through fermentation, bulking of food matter and water absorption so it can pass through the small intestine and large intestine for nutrient absorption, then easily through the colon to be excreted.
It’s crucial for overall health to select foods that are rich in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Choosing nutrient dense foods should be the norm, rather than the occasional ‘add-in’.
Think whole grains, fruits, vegetables and naturally occurring fat sources like avocados, eggs and nuts. The current Australian guidelines for fibre intake are between at least 25-30 grams each day.