Macronutrients. What are they and why you should care?
What are macronutrients?
Macronutrients make up our food. We have carbohydrates, protein, and fats. These macronutrients are composed of micronutrients, which we’ll go through next time.
Why should I care about macronutrients?
Macronutrients are essential to know to live a healthy life. For the healthy, general population who have no medical conditions, macronutrients are going to determine how you look and feel. Carbohydrates, protein, and fats all have distinct roles they play in our body. Some of the thing’s macronutrients effect includes:
- Our bodies ability to digest and absorb nutrients from food
- Our hormone production
- Our immune system health
- Our cell structure and functions
- Our body composition (how much fat vs muscle mass we have)
- Our metabolic function
- And a lot more!
It is vital to get an adequate amount of each macronutrient. It not only helps with the functions listed above but also helps us achieve the aesthetic look and mental benefits that we want.
In this article, we will do a quick overview of each macronutrient; what they are and what happens to them after we eat them.
We’ll begin by defining standard terms that you might hear sprouted by fitness influencers or medical practitioners.
Glucose: Glucose is the collective term given to carbohydrates once they are in our bloodstream. When we get our ‘sugar’ tested in a blood test, they are looking at how much glucose is in your bloodstream.
Glycogen: Glycogen is the term given once glucose has been stored. There are two areas glycogen can be stored; 1) The liver, and 2) Muscle. Glucose stored in the liver is known as liver glycogen. Liver glycogen can store around 80-100g of glycogen.
Glucose stored in the muscle is called muscle glycogen. Muscle glycogen storage ranges between 300g – 600g depending on several factors including muscle mass, activity levels etc.
Fructose: Fructose is found from whole fruit sources. Current research suggests that most people should get no more than 50g of added fracture per day from human-made fructose sweeteners, corn syrup, juice etc. Whole food fructose, like those from fruits, doesn’t seem to contribute to the sugar problem because of their fibre, water, and phytonutrient content.
Fructose can only be stored in the liver. As we discussed above, liver glycogen can only store around 80g-100g at a time. I think this is why the whole “fruits are bad for you movement” started. Depending on the type of fruit you eat, and how much you eat, it can have up to 50g-100g per serving. Quality matters though, so don’t be afraid to eat your fruits! Just limit human-made processed stuff.
Fibre: Fibre is generally lumped together with carbohydrates. Fibre has a whole lot of benefits which include:
- Helping us feel fuller for longer
- Helps lower our blood lipids and cholesterol
- Lower the risk of colon cancer
- Keeps things moving through our GI tract, and
- Boosts overall gut health.
It is recommended that everyone gets at least 25g of fibre per day. However, for optimal level, women should get around 35g, men 48g of fibre per day.
Our brains need about 130g of glucose per day. We can quickly get this from our diet. Or, through other means when there isn’t enough glucose available.
How much carbohydrates?
There is no adequate amount of carbohydrates for everyone; it is dependent on a lot of factors. These factors include:
- The size of the person
- How much lean mass to body fat ratio they have;
- How active they are
- How intense, long-lasting, and frequent that activity is,
- How old they are, and what stage of life they are at,
- Intake levels of other macronutrients,
What I would suggest is if throughout the day, you sit the majority of the time, you do not need that many carbs. These are your office workers, etc. You might think “I trained hard daily, surely I can eat more carbs?!?” Sorry to burst your bubble but no matter how intense your daily training session is, if the rest of your day is stationary, it won’t make much difference. So, for these types of people, I’d recommend as low as 100g to 200g. Again, this is a rough outline. It will be different depending on the factors listed above.
To sum carbohydrates up:
- Carb amount, along with total energy, is essential,
- Carb type, along with other nutrients in a given food is essential,
- Carb sensitivity matters, active people need and use carbs most effectively,
- Carb timing can matter for high-level athletes.
Protein is the collective name given to amino acids. Amino acids are classified into essential amino acids, non-essential amino acids and conditional essential amino acids.
When we say protein, most people think “muscles”. This is half true. Protein is responsible for cellular repair, not just muscle cells. Protein is responsible for our hair, skin, nails etc. Our bodies are constantly shedding and growing new cells, and it is crucial to consume enough protein to help with these processes.
Besides cellular repair, an essential job of protein is helping us feel fuller for longer. The reason for this is it takes time and energy for our bodies to break down the protein into amino acids.
Essential amino acids: As the name suggests, these are essentials. There are 8 of them. They are necessary because the body cannot create them on its own. We need to take in these amino acids through our diet.
Non-essential amino acids: These are amino acids that the body can synthesis from existing stores it has in the body. There are around 12 of these.
Conditional essential amino acids: These can be synthesised by the body if it needs it but isn’t as effective as consuming it.
Eating a variety of protein sources is essential as most protein sources have all the required amino acids but in different amounts. To ensure you get all the amino acids our body needs to work optimally, we need to eat a variety of protein sources.
How much protein?
The minimum amount to survive is around 0.8g/per kg. So, someone who weighs 80kg that equates to 64g of protein. That is, however, not optimal. The minimum amount is to prevent protein deficiency. For individuals who train regularly and want to optimise their health, the recommendations go up to 1.4g/kg – 2g/kg. So, someone who weighs 80kg needs between 112g-160g of protein per day.
Final thoughts on protein
Protein needs to be replenished regularly during the day. Protein is unique in that to optimally perform; our bodies need regular protein throughout the day. This means consuming 3-4 meals, spread out throughout the day is most likely better than eating two big meals of steak or chicken. However, people have different schedules. So, ideally, have your protein spread throughout the day. If that’s not possible, eat protein whenever you can. Unlike carbs, protein timing seems to be a legit thing, as shown by studies.
Fat has six primary functions in the human body. These are:
- Providing our bodies with energy (fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient)
- Fat helps make and balance hormones, particularly our steroid hormones.
- Fat forms our cell membranes
- Fat forms our brains and nervous systems
- Fat helps transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K
- It gives us two fatty acids our bodies can’t make: Omega 3 and Omega 6.
There are 3 main types of dietary fat: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Saturated is usually called “bad fat”, whereas mono and polyunsaturated fats are known as “good fats”.
Before we go any further, I want to redefine “bad fat” and “good fat”. Industrially processed and designed fats should be the ones classified as “bad fat”. Why would big brand companies mess with fats? Because it increases the shelf life of products. Plenty of non-perishable items include human-made fats.
Good fats are whole, natural sources of fat. I want to make this distinction because if we use our modern definition of “bad fats” then saturated fat is in that category. However, saturated fat is found in animal products: fish, beef, chicken etc. These types of meat are consumed worldwide and have been for a very long time.
With that rant out of the way, let’s continue!
Omega 3 fatty acids
The most crucial omega-3 is alpha-linolenic (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). We can’t convert ALA to EPA/DHA so when looking for food sources, try to get ones from direct EPA/DHA sources.
An essential reason that omega-3s is essential for our bodies is that it keeps our cell membrane more “fluid” which have a host of benefits, including:
- Neurochemical messages, such as serotonin, can be transmitted easier. Getting enough EPA/DHA early in life helps with brain development, getting it later in life helps prevents or slows neurodegenerative disorders.
- When muscle cell membranes are more fluid, it increases insulin sensitivity.
- Omega 3s also play a role in cardiovascular function, nervous system function and immune health.
- Omega 3s are also considered anti-inflammatory
Omega 6 fatty acids
The 3-key omega-6 fatty acids are linoleic (LA), gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and arachidonic acid (AA). Omega 6s are considered pro-inflammatory. They have different functions of omega 3. Omega 6 constricts blood vessels, increases inflammation, cause blood clotting, increasing pain, and constricting our airways. These processes seem negative, but we need them. If we didn’t’ have these functions, we wouldn’t be able to recover from injuries or training sessions.
In our hunter/gatherer days, our ancestors ate an abundance of different foods. They would also eat every part of an animal, not just muscle, but organs, brains and everything else they could. This gave them a ratio of omega-6/ omega-3 of 2:1, in favour of omega 6. However, with the modern western diet, that ratio has blown up to 10:1 to 20:1 in favour of omega 6.
In the early 80s and 90s, there was a whole “saturated fat is very bad”. The low-fat movement was mainly seen in Western countries such as America, UK, and Australia. This led to the rise of low/no fat product replacements such as margarine, carton of egg whites and many more. However, other countries such as France, Greeks, Scandinavians kept eating high-fat foods such as butter, cream, and fatty meats. People who consumed a high-fat diet managed to live healthy lives, relatively free of cardiovascular disease. Scientist even called this the “French Paradox”.
What was happening?
- People in western countries ate more processed foods. This may be due to low/no fat and fat helps us feel fuller for longer.
- People ate more processed sugars and salts to make up the missing fat. If you take the fat out, you usually have higher sugar and salt to make up for the lack of fat. This is due to fat giving the food we eat flavour.
The bottom line is saturated in and of itself is not inherently bad. A lot of saturated fat COMBINED with a lot of sugar/and processed/refined carbs is unhealthy. Saturated fat should be eaten in balance.
Mono and Polyunsaturated fat
The difference between mono and polyunsaturated fat is their chemical make-up. I won’t go through the scientific version because it is not relevant. Just know mono, and polyunsaturated fats help with the benefits listed above. Sources include nuts (all types), and oils (all types)
I tried to write this article as plainly as I could. Not to say that my readers are “dumb” but rather make it easy to read for everyone and not have you Googling up every second word.
The recommendations in this article are the average for most people. You, however, is not an average person. If you want tailored nutrition plans, I would highly recommend you work with a nutrition coach, nutritionist or dietician. Getting help removes a lot of time and trial and error. If you want me to be your coach, send me a DM or comment. If not, find someone
you trust and like, it’ll help, I promise. Peace!