The Basics - Nutrition, Macronutrients
In today’s modern society we’re bombarded by the newest diet, fad, trend and celebrity endorsement of what foods to eat to lose weight to gain muscle and more. Unfortunately, telling you that all these claims and diets are bullshit is hard because many of them are based on fact. However, it is often more complicated than you are led to believe. The best way to make sense of it is to educate yourself so you can draw your own conclusions - after all, if it was as easy as move more and eat less everyone would look great.
What exactly is a calorie? A calorie is a unit used to measure energy. The number of calories in a certain food are essentially telling you how much energy you will receive from eating it. Calorie deficit and abundance are the two greatest factors in gaining and losing weight. If you are always eating too many calories, that extra energy will be stored as fat. Likewise, if you eat fewer calories than you use daily, your body will draw that energy from sources within you (fat and muscle) resulting in weight loss. Gaining weight in terms of muscle mass can typically be regarded as a good thing and reducing the amount of body fat we have is also desirable. However, what we eat also has an effect on how we lose or gain weight. To achieve our performance and physique goals it is important to understand the building blocks of food, known as macronutrients. Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are probably terms you’ve all heard of but in this article we’re going to cover the function and basic information of each of them.
First, let’s take a look at protein. Protein, and the animo acids that make it up, are responsible for muscle building but also most of the tissue in the body. Protein contains 4 calories per gram and proteins are essential for life but particularly for people doing intense exercise. While protein is abundant in meats, fish and chicken, it can also be found in various other sources such a legumes and nuts.
One misconception about protein is that the simple consumption of it will not lead to an increase in size of muscles (ie. you won’t get jacked from drinking a protein shake alone). Instead, it is the breakdown and repair of the muscle tissue that increases muscle size. Naturally, having the building blocks to repair after a tough training session will aid in recovery time and increase strength and (potentially) size.
Next, let’s look at fat. Fat contains 9 calories per gram and it is very easy to overeat and hardest to measure. Although care must be taken when incorporating fat into your diet as it is the most calorically dense macronutrient “good” fats are essential for many bodily functions including hormonal production. Testosterone, in particular, is important for not only building muscle but also dropping weight. Moreover, fat keeps you satiated for longer, helps your body absorb certain nutrients from food, and is another one of your body's basic energy sources.
Fat comes in several different varieties - saturated, unsaturated, and trans fats. We will talk more about these in a later post, for now it is important to understand that naturally occurring fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, nuts and high quality animal fats (grass fed and pasture raised) are all healthy sources of fat. On the other hand, eating large quantities of trans fat has been shown to have negative effects on various biomarkers such as blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.
In recent years carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap but they’re not all bad news.Let’s take a look at the facts. 1 gram of carbohydrates contain 4 calories. When eaten, carbohydrates are broken down into simple sugars and then used by the body for energy. Carbohydrates are the easiest source of energy for your body to break down but also have the greatest effect on blood sugar levels after consumption.
Many people mistake carbohydrates for processed foods. But make no mistake, both fruits AND vegetables contain carbohydrates. Fruits and veggies come with a healthy dose of fiber which typically limits how much of each that you can eat. Processed carbohydrates, on the other hand, typically don’t contain that much fiber and thus are very easily to overeaten. Have you ever eaten a piece of candy and still felt hungry? You are receiving the energy contained within the bar (calories) but you don’t feel full because candy bars typically contain zero to little amounts of fiber. A good rule of thumb, most people will benefit from eating carbohydrates (especially if they are doing intense exercise!) while inactive people should look at limiting their intake.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what each macronutrient does, you can begin to understand the importance of each. Without measuring and weighing all your food, a good way to way to achieve balance with each meal is to divide your plate into thirds: ⅓ lean protein (fish, chicken, low fat meat), ⅔ carbohydrates with the main source being vegetables and some starchy carbohydrates (depending on activity), and just a dash of fat (a drizzle of olive oil or a small handful of nuts). By following these general guidelines, you should see improvements in body composition(!) and biomarkers markers fairly quickly.
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