Updated: Aug 18, 2019
WHAT ARE MACRONUTRIENTS?
So, what are these macronutrients everybody keeps going on about & why are they so important? Macronutrients are, basically, the nutrients that our body needs in large amounts in order to survive and function properly. There are 3 types: fat, protein & carbohydrates. Each one of these have their own roles and functions in supporting the body. However, all three supply the body with calories and therefore with energy.
What exactly is this protein that all these gym folk live and breathe? Well, stripped down to its basics, protein is a macronutrient that is made up of amino acids (building blocks of protein) there are 20 in total, 9 of which are essential (meaning we must get them through our diet). Protein also makes up around 15% of your total bodyweight!
So, why does this make it so important? Well, Protein (amino acids) play vital roles in the body when it comes to building, repairing and regenerating cells and body tissues. This is where protein makes its big appearance in the sports world. Those who are more physically active put their bodies under more stress, which means more muscle tissue breakdown that needs repairing.
Does this mean protein is only important in repairing cells? Definitely not! Protein has many, many roles in the body. Protein also helps the body to manufacture hormones, create enzymes essential for digestion and also to keep the immune system healthy and strong.
Ok, ok you get it, protein is important I've made my point. But how much do you really need? This is very dependent on the individual. There is no set number (as much as some nutrition labels may try and make you believe). Protein should make up around 10-35% of your daily calorie intake OR between 0.8-2g per lb of body weight (depending on amount of exercise).
The big scary macronutrient, FAT! Well, I'm here to tell you that fat shouldn't be remotely scary. Fat is so, so important! It's needed for brain function and development, cellular production & regeneration and assists in cell functioning. Fat also plays a very important role (the role most people dislike) protecting the body and to keep us insulated. Body fat helps us keep warm in the winter and also creates a cushioning to protect the bodies organs. There are also certain vitamins (A, D, E & K) that require fat to be absorbed into the body, so without fat we would quickly become deficient in these and bring on a whole new host of problems for ourselves.
Should be around 10% of daily calories (15-30g)
You remember that kid at school, who got in trouble no matter what? That's saturated fat. Its reputation has been destroyed since the fat free craze that started in the 80s. Yes, saturated fats will increase cholesterol, but in a 2010 study sat fat got its break. It's been shown to increase large LDL and HDL (types of cholesterol) which are not associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease. It was the original "increased total cholesterol" that caused the outrage. However, as with anything moderation is key to keeping good health.
This type of fat is found in many foods and oils. There is plenty of studies backing this fats health benefits. The reason for this fat being 'healthy' is that it helps to increase HDL (good cholesterol) which helps to decrease the risk of things like heart disease and strokes.
Polyunsaturated fats contain many of the similar health benefits to monounsaturated, if eaten in their natural forms (not overly heated etc.) two of the main types of polyunsaturated fats are Omega-3 & Omega-6. Omega 3 hosts a whole bunch of health benefits, from increasing HDL (good cholesterol) to reducing blood pressure. There is also some evidence that omega 3 rich diets can help with things like arthritis and although there is sign's that it can help with dementia, studies are still inconclusive at this point.
Trans fats are rarely in the diet 'naturally' they're only found in small amounts in certain foods. You'll generally get these in your diet through a process called 'partial hydrogenation' this process helps prevent things like ready meals from becoming rancid. So, generally added by companies to keep their product better looking, tasting & a longer shelf life. But at what cost to the consumer? An increase of LDL (bad cholesterol) is definitely one of them!
Carbohydrates are probably the most debated macronutrient of them all. Some people love them, some people think they're the devil in disguise. Personally, I love carbs but I understand the effectiveness of low carb and carb cycling diets (depending on your goal). Anyway, carbs are made up of sugars, starches and fiber and we get them from lots of different food sources, some better than others!
Carbs will generally make up the largest portion of our daily calories which should be between 45-65% total calories. This is because it's our bodies preferred source of energy. They fuel our central nervous system and our muscles when we workout. Carbs are also very important for general brain function and can affect our moods and memory.
Carbs are usually categorized into 2 categories; simple & complex. But what really is the difference? Well, without getting into a biology lesson, the difference is the chemical structure and ultimately how quickly they are absorbed into the body. Simple carbs are split into monosaccharides (singular type of sugar) e.g. fructose and disaccharides (two types of sugars combined) e.g. lactose. Complex carbohydrates (polysaccharides) are just that, complex. They contain 3 or more sugars and create the starchy foods we know and love. So how does this effect the body? Although all types of carbs are relatively quick energy sources for the body, simple sugars are much quicker and cause quick bursts of energy, but this comes at the price of a spike in blood sugar and a short length of energy, whilst complex carbs cause a slower more sustainable energy.
These are my own views through published research, please speak to your nutritionist/doctor before drastically changing your diet.