As well as calories we need to ensure that our macro nutrition and micronutrition is working for us. You know how in some professions, people use words which sound complicated, but once defined you realise it’s quite
simple? ‘Macronutrients’ is one of those words. Macronutrients (macros) are essentially the three main food types: fats, proteins and carbohydrates.
Understanding the roles that macros have in the body, where to find them and what your requirements are is the second step (after understanding calories) to get in check when it comes to your diet. What ratios of carbs/fats/protein you chose will go some way to determining your body composition, if you get this wrong - you run the risk of losing weight through muscle wastage or increasing fat when your aim may be to increase muscle. Accurate macro-nutrition is also key in ensuring your body is well fuelled to support your lifestyle.
Over the years, we’ve seen a lot of diets where a specific macro-nutrient is excluded or on the other hand consumed in excess. Usually, these are weight loss diets that rely on cutting a whole food type or alternatively
focusing heavily on another. There are many claims as to the benefits of certain diets, but in almost every case the success of that diet comes down to a reduction in overall calories – a calorie deficit.
Let’s use carbohydrates as an example. Cutting out carbohydrates is a very common ‘go to’ for weight loss. For this reason, carbohydrates, themselves tend to take the rap for being a ‘bad food type’. This is misleading.
Example: After years of being overweight, Dave begins a new diet with a focus on reducing the consumption of carbohydrates - he suddenly begins losing weight. He has removed carbohydrates from his diet completely and
although lacking energy is happy that he is going in the right direction. Has cutting carbohydrates made him lose weight? Not necessarily.
WW. JWC H E A L T H A N D F I T N E S S . C OM
There are two main reasons that Dave has seen such seemingly impressive results.
1) Most people make up around 50% of their diet through carbohydrates. So, by cutting carbohydrates Dave has in fact slashed his calories dramatically, causing a significant calorie deficit.
2) Many carbohydrates are VERY easy to overeat; bread, pasta, rice, dough, pastry, sweets, cereal, chocolate, fizzy drinks, fruit - tasty stuff that is very ‘moreish’.
Dave was overweight not because he ate carbohydrates but because he over-ate, and his carbohydrates were likely coming from poor sources. Dave is also now lacking energy – this is because carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. They provide fuel for the central nervous system and energy for working muscles.
What I want you to understand is that no one macro-nutrient is bad and that all macro-nutrients are in fact essential, but it’s important to understand what the food you’re consuming is doing for you, to ensure optimal quality and quantities.
Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches and fibres found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products. Carbohydrates are classified as simple or complex.
Simple carbohydrates are often found in sweets, chocolate, and fizzy drinks; however, these foods are made with processed and refined sugars and do not have vitamins, minerals, or fibre. They are called "empty calories" and can lead to weight gain with little to no functional benefits.
Complex carbohydrates are often referred to as starchy foods and include beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, potatoes, corn, parsnips, whole-grain breads, and cereals. These are fibrous and offer greater nutritional value. These are the sources that we should be aiming to create the bulk of our meals from in order to ensure sufficient nutrients.
Our carbohydrate requirement is individualised depending on a person’s ability to perform on a certain amount and their daily activities, but as a general rule we would suggest between 40 – 50% of your total calorie intake.
Protein is an essential macro-nutrient that is crucial in repairing and building muscle as well as other tissues. It is most commonly and abundantly found in animal products, though is also present in many other sources.
A deficiency in protein may lead to, muscle wastage, poor skin, hair and nail health, reduced bone density and increased appetite leading to weight gain. A person’s protein requirement is determined by their composition goals and activity. A minimum requirement for an individual with a sedentary lifestyle not wishing to improve body composition would sit around 0.5 – 1.0g per KG of body weight whilst a more active person wishing to increase muscle would be between 1.0 – 2.0g per KG of body weight.
Fat is essential for life and has many benefits. The importance of fat cannot be understated. That said, fat is the highest calorie yielding macro-nutrient meaning that a small volume of fat can quickly push your calorie intake
through the roof.
Fats found in foods are typically saturated or unsaturated fats. Most foods contain a mixture of both types, but we would normally describe a food as being high in saturated or unsaturated depending on which they are most
rich in. Foods high in saturated fats should only be eaten in small amounts due to the risk of increased cholesterol.
On the other hand, unsaturated fats help to maintain healthy cholesterol levels as well as being linked to lowing the risk of heart disease.
Ideal Protein Sources
• Animal Meat & Eggs - I always recommend you source your animal protein from farms that come with high animal welfare standards and are free range. A good way to ensure this is to buy local where possible. If you are
consuming lower quality animal protein due to your budget, opt for leaner meats, toxins from animal feeding practices are stored in fat, so when choosing low quality animal protein opt for lower fat choices and cuts and
add fats to your meals from other sources i.e., olive oil, nuts, avocado, etc.
• Dairy - Low fat is not necessarily a bad thing. Semi-skimmed milk and low-fat Greek yogurt are handy protein sources (just check the calorie load as some products add sugars which ramps calories back up) but whole dairy
will have the greatest nutrient profiles, and the research shows the most benefit for recovery and performance when used in this manner so if calories allow, opt for full fat wherever possible.
• Pulses - I tend to view as a carbohydrate source, however, in the case of a vegetarian or vegan, they can be a great source of protein in your daily diet too. Foods such as Chickpeas or kidney and black beans can provide fibre, carbohydrates, and protein very effectively, and are a very cheap food to purchase in cans or dried for those on a budget.
• Quinoa - one of the few vegetarian sources that contain all nine essentials amino acids required for growth and repair in the proper amounts – quinoa can be used as a breakfast cereal, in a salad or added into hot dishes.
• Tofu - is a great source of protein for vegans or those who are avoiding animal product, as are Quorn and other meat free options.
• Protein powder - While protein powder is not an ‘ideal’ protein source as it’s a refined powder, having a whey protein, or vegan protein at your disposal can be very handy. It is by no means an essential to have, but it can be
convenient to have on hand when travelling, making smoothies, using after the gym when you want something quick and convenient, or adding to food or meals to boost your protein content.
Ideal Fat Sources
• Nuts & seeds - Fantastic natural fat sources that come with a plethora of micronutrients. Enjoy all nuts and seeds such as macadamia, almond, peanut, cashew, pistachio, pecan, brazil, linseeds, sunflower, sesame,
chia, pumpkin etc as well as in butter form, like peanut and almond butter.
• Dairy – Full fat sources such as cream, butter, yogurt, milk, and hard cheeses. Grass fed wherever possible.
• Fruits - such as avocados and olives
• Oils - Best to opt for organic cold pressed virgin oils where possible such as coconut, avocado, canola, ghee, nut oils and olive oil (choose normal olive oil if using it too cook with, and extra virgin olive oil
• Coconut oil and red palm oil.
• Fish oil supplement - Fresh fish can often be cost prohibitive for some, and not a chosen protein source due to the ‘fishy’ taste. In this case opt to have a fish oil as part of your daily regime opting for a high-quality product getting a total of 2g EPH/DHA per day
Ideal Carbohydrate Sources
• Vegetables - such as potatoes (sweet and white), peppers, squash family, beetroots, carrots, parsnips, the more colourful the better
• Fruits - both fresh and dried – Apples, mangos, oranges, banana
• Grains - such as corn and rice
• Cereals - like oats or wheat or products thereof like bread
• Legumes & Pulses - such as black beans, lentils, and chickpeas
Anything that’s not strictly a protein, or fat, is likely a carbohydrate in some form, and should be eaten with variety and abundance in your diet. The above examples are me just touching the surface, the supermarket is full of all sorts of colourful and interesting carbohydrate sources, so get trying and eat as much variety as possible focusing the bulk of your intake on fruits and vegetables as these are the most micro-nutrient dense sources of carbohydrates