Nutrition problems plague a vast majority of our world population today. The sad part is that much of it leads to obesity and all the health issues that go along it. Many people will talk about counting the calories they eat, but is that all that you need to do lower your weight?
Foods are broken into three primary macronutrients – protein, fats and carbohydrates. Each macronutrients each have different roles in supplying what our body needs for fuel. The right balance in the right amounts of these can lead to low body fat, high energy and good health. However, the wrong balance in excess can lead to obesity and a whole slew of health issues.
Let’s look at how these each play a role in our nutrition…
Protein is the basic building material of just about everything in your body. It helps us build more muscle, retain muscle on a caloric deficit, recover from our workouts more quickly and has the highest satiety factor while simultaneously requiring the most energy to digest reducing its caloric impact.
Protein comes primarily from meat, fish, eggs, dairy and protein powders. You can get it from plant sources if you absolutely insist on being a vegetarian or vegan – but you should know that those sources are poor and you’re unlikely to be as healthy or have as easy a time of things as your omnivorous companions.
The internet has made claims too much protein can lead to kidney issues. Please ignore or do your own research in a scientific journal. There are no studies substantiating the claim that high protein intake damages kidney function.
When managing macros in your diet, most people are deficient. Make sure you’re keeping your protein at appropriate levels. Avoid cutting calories from protein sources.
Fat’s the enemy, isn’t it? Causes heart disease, Ancel Keys and all that. Hence all the products shouting about being low fat, right?
Fat is an essential nutrient for your brain.
Bad Science and false claims sparked the low-fat diet craze. The sugar industry had a large hand in this. Read the New York Times article.
Fats are required to live and are necessary for brain function, vitamin absorption and hormone regulation among other things. In fact, one of the most immediate side effects of a low-fat diet is a severe drop in testosterone production and sex drive.
Unfortunately, the macronutrient fat has gotten a bad rap since our society has equated eating fatty foods with gaining body fat. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. In fact, when you see the packaging on foods say “reduced fat” or “non-fat”, the fat that’s been taken out is often replaced with sugars to maintain the flavor.
The best places to get quality fats are from fatty meats (bacon anyone?), most dairy, nuts/nut butter and oils. Avocados are also a good source of them and the only fatty food that is probably considered a fruit.
For the purposes of this article, we’re only going to worry about fat as a whole, but it should probably be noted that overall there are better and worse sources of fat. Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated and Saturated fats are all fairly good for you in the proper amounts of each. Trans fats, or hydrogenated fats however, are absolutely terrible for you and should be avoided at all costs.
Technically speaking, carbohydrates are the one macronutrient that you don’t absolutely need to survive (with the possible exception of alcohol if you count it separately from carbs). If you don’t eat any fat you will get very ill (sometimes called rabbit starvation), if you don’t eat any protein the same thing will happen. Eventually, both of these things can kill you.
If you don’t eat any carbs you’ll feel crappy for a few days while your body adjusts. Your body will start using gluconeogenesis to turn other macronutrients into glycogen and you’ll be fine.
So why eat them at all? Well for one thing, like fats, they have a generally positive effect on hormones that’s hard to replicate through other means. Additionally, they’re the easiest way to replace muscle glycogen effectively, and if you’re going to be training hard (you are going to be training hard, right?) then you’re going to want at least a little carb intake to help you through it.
Outside of all of that, honestly, carbs are tasty. You don’t have to punish yourself to be healthy.
Carbs come from grains, starches, vegetables and sugars. Alcohol too for our purposes since, while technically unique, it behaves close enough to how carbs do to be counted that way. There are complex low glycemic carbs (vegetables and greens) which are somewhat better for you and simple, high glycemic carbs (sugar, refined grains etc.) which are somewhat worse for you.
So what does all this mean for my diet and nutrition?
What are we trying to drive for in a good diet? Most agree that its to fuel your body sufficiently enough to support activity and muscle development, but not excess body fat.
Two factors play a role in your diet – caloric quality and quantity.
As a person is trying to lose body fat (not necessarily weight), they should be limiting their calories below their “Total Daily Energy Expenditure”.
Simply burn more calories than you consume.
What’s Quality? What’s the right balance of macronutrients?
It depends on your goals.
The type of food you take in is quality.
For an active person trying to lose body fat, a ratio of 40% protein, 40% fat and 20% carbohydrates would probably be appropriate to trim down. For someone that’s more sedentary, bringing the carbohydrate number closer to 10% would achieve faster results.
For those more active and at a satisfactory body fat level, increasing the carbohydrates to support greater activity may be more appropriate. The image below provides some macronutrient mix recommendations for different bodies/goals.
Use an app like My Fitness Pal to track your calorie intake. Carb intake can add up quickly, monitoring it is essential. Our society is carb crazy and it’s up to us to buck the trend to get our health back in check.