The Importance of Macronutrients
In simple terms, macronutrients are foods that are required in large amounts in the human diet to be able to sustain life. There are three macronutrients: Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat. Each plays a big part in supplying energy and calories to your body. I like to think of macronutrients as a 3 legged stool; all three must be consumed in order for the stool to stand correctly.
There are many fads out there that say “fat makes you fat” or “carbs are killing you” or “eat only protein to build muscle.” I’m here to tell you that you need all 3 throughout your day and why cutting out one or specifically focusing on one will seriously damage your system. I’m not a health expert but I’ve personally experienced a few detrimental symptoms that have slowed down my progress. Luckily, I noticed and identified these symptoms in the very early stages in which I can treat and naturally reverse.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PROTEIN
There is a lot of controversy over how much protein we should consume in a day. Your muscles, organs, immune system, hair and nails are made up mostly of protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair tissues, and to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. Protein is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. It builds, maintains, and replaces the tissues in your body. With that being said, YOUR BODY NEEDS PROTEIN!!!
The amount of protein required to function properly isn’t all that much. BUT if you’re goal is to gain lean muscle(to burn fat) then you are going to want to supply your body with enough amino acids to encourage your muscles to build!
There are 22 amino acids and your body can make 13 of them effortlessly. Your body can’t make the other nine amino acids, but you can get them by eating protein-rich foods. They are called essential amino acids because it’s essential that you get them from the foods you eat. Protein that comes from animal sources (lean meats, eggs, dairy) contains all of the essential amino acids that we need. On the other hand, plant sources of protein(nuts, seeds, beans) do not contain all of the essential amino acids. However, the plant sources also provide other good nutrients such as fiber, healthy fats and vitamins. With that being said, try to focus on the animal sources for your main source of protein then add the plant sources for additional flavor and nutrients!
Don’t be afraid to eat protein(that means you ladies). Protein shakes are not just for bodybuilders. They are actually quick, easy meals that could taste like a dessert… if prepared right!
THE IMPORTANCE OF CARBOHYDRATES
I cannot stress this one enough. Most people go on a diet and immediately try to eliminate all carbohydrate sources. I was one of them. I listened to the media and the current “fad” without ever asking “Why am I doing this?” So after eliminating carbs, you become hungry, irritable, tired, and your thinking gets foggy. And just after a few days your cravings take over and you give in and then you are right back to square one. Sound familiar?
Now, if you were to keep going on this no or low carb, long term complications can develop. As your body goes into ketosis (a state in which fat and protein is burned for fuel instead of carbohydrates) your body will produce compounds called ketones. Your body might begin to break down muscle tissue to act as fuel. (We never want to break down muscle because muscle burns fat!) As the levels of ketones rise in your bloodstream, your blood can become more acidic, placing stress on your kidneys and other organs. Because many of the foods containing carbohydrates are rich sources of other nutrients, you might also develop nutrient deficiencies and hormonal imbalance(more about hormonal imbalance below).
Now that doesn’t mean that potato chips and ice cream can now be consumed limitlessly. There are good carbs and there are bad carbs. Determining good carbs from bad carbs means looking at the micronutrients they contain. For example a good carb would be low in sugar, cholesterol, fat, but high in vitamins, potassium, fiber, protein.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FATS
This one gets kind of tricky but once you got it you will be golden!
Fat has developed a bad reputation for being the cause of weight gain and heart disease. While too much fat can affect your health negatively, small amounts of fat in the diet are important for normal functioning. The fats in your diet allow you to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, which include vitamins A, D, E and K, and promote normal growth and development. Fat also cushions your major organs, protecting them from harm, and provides a layer of insulation underneath your skin that helps you maintain normal body temperature.
There are 3 types of fats: trans fat, saturated fat and unsaturated fat.
- BAD: Trans fat (found in baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, and margarines)
- BAD: Saturated fat (found in foods like meat, butter, lard, and cream)
- GOOD: Unsaturated fat (found in foods like fish, olive oil, avocados, nuts, and canola oil)
You should completely eliminate trans and saturated fats from your diet. BUT you need the the perfect amount of unsaturated fats to function properly. Eliminating fat completely can really mess up your system. I personally made the mistake of eliminating all fats from my diet(except for that found in lean meats… which is close to nothing since its LEAN). I thought that eating fat meant body fat. At first, I just felt tired but I just assumed it was from training hard. I started loosing focus, I felt like my brain was foggy and I was in a weird sort of daze. Again, I assumed it was from the training and the stress of college classes. Then I started getting acne on my chin when I have never ever had acne before in my life. Yet I assumed it was the hard training/constant sweating as well as stress. It wasn’t until I lost my period for 2 months that I decided to look into these symptoms. What I found was that I wasn’t getting enough fats in my diet. I was afraid to add fats back in my diet because I thought I was going to gain the weight back… SO I slooooowly added fats back into my diet and after 3 months of eating no-to-low fat I had finally begun eating the correct amount of essential healthy fats. HOWEVER the symptoms did not disappear automatically. Infact, another 2 months later I am STILL recovering from the terrible terrible mistake I made.
Now, there are many many many factors that contributed to all this but two that I like to place the blame on. First off, I completely changed my lifestyle. I went from exercising 2-3 times a week to exercising 1-2 times a day. This naturally increased my testosterone levels. Secondly, I’m a female. Females need more fats than males because we need to be able to support a baby. Without sufficient supply of fats estrogen levels will decrease. In conclusion, my hormones were completely imbalanced and caused all these symptoms to occur.
How do you prevent your hormones from becoming imbalanced? BY CONSUMING THE CORRECT AMOUNT OF ALL 3 MACRONUTRIENTS!!
There are many sites out there that will help you figure out your macronutrient needs based on your body weight, activity level and fitness goals. My advice is to try a few, find the average range and to aim for that range. Remember those numbers are just an estimate because everyones body works differently. Try it out and keep a food diary. After a few weeks judge how you feel and perform. If you are feeling great then keep it up! If you sense something is off do not ignore it!! Check it out, ask others and do research. Make some changes, continue to keep a diary and judge how you feel after another few weeks. Find your balance.
Check out this macronutrient calculator
Also, My Fitness Pal is a great app to help you track your macronutrients