What's In the Macro's?
This week we want to look beyond calories and focus on what those calories are made up of. So we want to discuss macros, or macronutrients to put it more formally.
So what are they exactly? Macros are the three major nutrients that we get from food, yes, food provides us with vitamins and minerals (these are micronutrients), but what we largely require are the substances that help our bodies function, grow and perform at the cellular level.
These are your proteins, carbohydrates and fats, all of which are broken down by the body for cellular needs, these are literally the building blocks to what makes you, you at the physical level. Today we’ll focus on carbs and protein, which both contain 4 calories per gram, but play pretty different nutritional roles in the body.
What is a carb?
When we hear the word “carb” your mind probably goes straight to bread and pasta. This is an accurate picture, but in reality, almost all food sources contain carbohydrates. At the molecular level, carbs are basically big complexes of sugars, that are bound together. When ingested, they are broken down into simple sugars, which your body primarily uses to generate energy. If you go back to your high school biology classes, you’ll remember the term “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” the carbs that your body breaks down provide the mitochondria with the “coal” to make that “power”. This occurs via a process called glycolysis, where the mitochondria produce ATP, which is the energy molecule that facilitates all energetic processes in the body.
Of course, as amazing a fuel source as carbs are, there’s also a downside. Once your body has broken down and taken all the carbs it needs to make all this energy, all the extra carbs you’ve eaten get stored. First, excess carbs are surrounded with water molecules and stored in muscle tissue in a molecule called glycogen, these are the first reserves. Once all the glycogen that can possibly be stored has been, your cells then start converting those excess carbs into triglycerides for long-term storage A.K.A fat. So finding a balance in carb consumption is highly important!
What about protein?
Proteins from your diet provide your body with the building blocks for protein synthesis in the body, these are called amino acids. The most obvious sources that may come to mind are from animal products such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs, but all living things require proteins to function, and as such you also get protein from plant derived sources, like legumes, leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. In fact, protein is so abundant that most people hardly suffer from protein deficiency, unless they’re malnourished or have a disorder.
When you eat proteins, your body can break them down to use in your own bodily proteins, this includes muscle growth, and muscle repair but providing amino acids for your cells to function and repair. The key thing to focus on is making sure you’re eating complete proteins, if you eat animal products this is fairly easy, but if you’re plant-based you need to make sure eating enough variety to get all 20 amino acids in your diet.
What about fats?
To round off the focus on macros, we’re going to give you a little primer on fats. Fats, compared to carbs and protein, provide more calories per gram (9 as opposed to 4 calories per gram), this is largely because in the body, fats can be stored in adipose tissue without needing additional processing, so they can be packed tightly together as long-term energy reserves.
Fat stores occur naturally in the body, even the skinniest models or the most ripped athletes have some percentage fat in their body, because fats play a vital role both metabolically, and structurally in the body. Metabolically, fats provide the starter materials for many hormones in the body, they help metabolize fat soluble vitamins, they’re a source of energy, and they help protect against toxic substances by diluting them. Structurally, visceral fat (the fat that’s underneath the abs, not the stuff that gives you a muffin top) acts as a shock absorber for impacts to protect your vital organs.
So now you know that fat plays an important role, but what sorts of fats are better to be eating, and how much? The answer to that is complicated, and it really depends on your individual needs, but dietary fat comes in two forms, saturated and unsaturated.
The difference between the two names for these kinds of fat gets complicated and we don’t want to go down a chemistry rabbit hole but essentially, saturated fats are solid at room temperature (like butter or lard) and unsaturated fats are liquid.
Most studies show that eating unsaturated fats as opposed to saturated fats decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, and if we look into the actual foods we’re comparing, we can see why. Saturated fats include cheese, dairy and animal products. Unsaturated fats include nuts, seeds and olive oil which also provide essential fatty acids that are good for brain development.
Ultimately, what you consume is up to you, but how will you be serving your goals? LOL!!!!