We’re moving towards the top of our pyramid of importance. An area that often gets a lot of attention but not one that is often well understood – macronutrients!

All food can be broken down into three main categories. Commonly known macronutrients. The three macros are fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Each of these, in a balanced diet, come together to give us our calorie intake for the day.

Fats actually give us the most amount of energy (9cal per gram). Carbs and protein give us equal amounts (4cal per gram). Each one is essential for different components of the overall health and well-being of our bodies. Your daily calorie intake will be made up of different percentages of these macronutrients depending on the person, day, meal and food.

Although most foods will contain at least a small amount of each of these macros, you will often find foods labelled as one or the other. Knowing what these macronutrients do and where they can help us plan out our nutrition in a more efficient way.

Fats

Calories per gram: 9cal

Used for:

– Energy (slow release)

– Helping absorb fat-soluble vitamins

– Production of new healthy cells

– Good for hair, skin, nails

– Firing and wiring of the nerves throughout the body and brain.

As previously mentioned, fats actually give us the most amount of energy per gram. They’re also what our body uses for energy when doing low-intensity tasks for sustained periods, such as walking the dog for an hour. Fats actually take longer for the body to digest meaning we stay fuller for prolonged periods.

Not all fats are great; trans fats found in processed foods should be avoided as much as possible. The three types of fats you should be eating are outlined below.

Saturated:

Animal fats, butter, eggs, cheese, coconut oil

Monounsaturated:

Nuts, seeds, avocado, extra virgin olive oil

Polyunsaturated:

Sunflower oil, walnut oil, flaxseed, oily fish

Saturated fats also come with a lot of potential issues for your health such as increasing cholesterol and blood pressure so should be eaten as cautiously as possible. Unsaturated fats (poly and mono) are the fats that take longer to digest and also help to reduce cholesterol, so you may want to look for sources of these to make up the majority of your fat intake. Just remember fats are high in calories so need to be eaten in mindful portions.

Protein

Calories per gram: 4cal

Used for:

– Repair and growth of muscle tissues

– Maintaining the structure and strength of cells

– Hormone production

– Repair and growth of the immune system

When performing any type of resistance based training, protein is a vital element in your recovery process. For this reason, it should be the centre of every meal, alongside your colourful, fibrous plate, with the rest of the macronutrients being built in around it. Proteins are made up of amino acids that are actually already found in the body. They are essentially the building blocks of the body making up not only our muscles but also our organs and other body parts!

Having enough protein in our diets not only means we fuel our muscles but our bodies too! We need roughly 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per kg of lean body mass. We should try and source our protein from as varied a pallet as possible. A Lot of people don’t realise that they get protein from lentils, beans, peas, legumes and vegetables such as broccoli and also asparagus. Nuts, seeds, potatoes and even avocado contain high levels of protein.

Carbs

Calories per gram: 4cal

used for:

– Main source of energy during exercise

– Contain fibre, good for intestinal health

– Help the central nervous system

A common misconception people have about carbs is that they make you fat. This is wrong, the thing that makes you gain weight is a calorie surplus (overeating). Carbs shouldn’t be ignored or avoided as they are in fact a great source of energy, especially post-exercise. Apart from ketones (we won’t go into that here) carbs are the only source of energy our brains can use.

During high-intensity exercise, our bodies rely heavily on their carbohydrate stores. Having carbohydrates after exercise is a great idea, even better when consumed alongside protein. This is because the protein actually attaches to the carbs and gets taken to the muscles a lot faster.

Another mistake people make about carbs is that brown is always better than white. Whilst they both have different properties they are essentially the same. So if you love a bowl of white rice, you enjoy a bowl of white rice (as long as it’s within your calorie intake), just remember the fibre in the brown rice will aid your digestion.

What we should really be looking at when it comes to carbs is whether they are simple or complex! Complex carbs are long-chain molecules which means they take longer to be broken down and contain the fibre found naturally in the food. Simple carbs are compounds such as glucose or fructose (the sugar found in fruits) which have one or two molecules so are absorbed by the body almost instantly.

Glycemic Index

The final consideration when talking about carbs is something called Glycemic Index (GI) which is a scale from 0 to 100 which indicates how rapidly the food is digested, absorbed and metabolised by the body. In other words, how quickly the energy is moved into the bloodstream.

Foods with higher GI scores cause a quick spike in blood sugar levels so give you lots of energy in a short space of time. However, this energy spike will wear off quickly whereas lower GI foods release energy into the body at a slower, more consistent rate over a longer period of time.

For more consistent energy levels low GI foods are recommended so as to avoid crashing throughout the day. The quick spike of energy produced by the higher GI foods can be really good for giving us a much needed immediate boost, however, they should not be relied upon often. For more information, you can search for foods on www.glycemicindex.com

Building A Meal

When it comes to building a meal it could be suggested to start with your protein source! By building your meals from your protein source out it enables you to ensure you get an ample amount of protein in your calorie intake. Once you’ve picked your protein then decide what vegetables you’re going to have with it – remember to try and get a variety of colours. Eat a rainbow with every meal!

Then you can add your carbohydrates and fat sources. When doing so you need to consider how active your day is. If you’re going to be having a slower and more sedentary day it’s probably better to include slightly more fats within your meal. If you are having a more active day, or have worked out that day, a more carbohydrate loaded meal will be beneficial.

The main thing you want to take from all of this is that you don’t need to cut out the foods you like. As long as you stay balanced and at the end of the day your calorie intake is below what it should be (if trying to lose weight), you’ll be winning!!!