In this article, I'm going to answer a simple question: What are macronutrients? I will be explaining what each macronutrient does, giving you examples of foods that fall under each category and how to select quality foods from each of these macronutrients. It is important to have at least a basic knowledge of food to help you make the correct choices when it comes to losing fat and maintaining healthy muscle tone and function. So, to not waste any time, I'm going to get right to the facts. Macronutrients AKA ‘macros' are found in everything we eat. Each macronutrient plays a vital role in our overall health and aids in our goal towards weight loss, maintenance or weight gain. Macros come from three primary groups that provide us with the energy our bodies need to perform daily functions. These groups of macronutrients are 1) proteins, 2) carbohydrates and 3) fats.
ProteinsProteins are the building blocks of muscle, they assist in building and repairing tissues. There are two categories of proteins - complete and incomplete. Complete proteins are from animal products that contain all necessary amino acids and are high in essential amino acids (amino acids your body cannot product on its own). Incomplete proteins are plant-based products low or missing amino acids that the body needs to repair muscle tissue. You can however combine incomplete protein together so they create a complete protein. This is why vegetarians will mix certain foods in order to provide the body with complete protein.
- Lean sources of complete proteins include: turkey, chicken, fish, eggs, greek yogurt, cheese, tofu and protein supplements like protein powder.
- Sources of incomplete proteins include foods such as: rice, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.
- Rice and beans
- Spinach and almonds
- Hummus with whole grain pita
When choosing a protein source the recommendation is to intake anywhere from 0.8 - 1.0 gram/pound of body weight. For example, a 150-pound person would intake a range of 120 grams (150 x 0.8) up to 150 grams (150 x 1) of protein. This will aid in building muscle or if in a weight loss phase, preserve muscle from being depleted.
CarbohydratesCarbohydrates are our primary source of fuel. For the most part, the body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose which is then absorbed into the bloodstream and used within our cells for energy. Within carbohydrates, there are two types: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are slow digesting and provide longer lasting energy, many times have a fiber component to them. Simple carbs provide fast energy, are absorbed quickly, have little to no fiber content and potentially added sugars.
- Sources of complex carbohydrates include: raw oatmeal, sweet potatoes, whole grain rice, beans, whole grains (bread, pasta), many fruit and vegetables.
- Sources of simple carbohydrates include: candy, most baked goods like pastries or donuts, sports drinks, and processed rice.
When choosing a carbohydrate to include in your nutrition program, look for fresh products like sweet potatoes and fresh fruits and produce like green vegetables, tomatoes and squash.
FatsFats provide energy, regulate hormone function and transport and absorb nutrients. They are an essential part of health and wellness including any weight-loss plan. And some are healthier than others. There are three categories of fats: unsaturated, saturated and trans. Unsaturated fats are healthy fats that help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. Saturated fats can clog arteries and are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and high cholesterol levels.Trans fats begin as an unsaturated fat but have been processed so they act like a saturated fat. These trans fats are typically found in packaged foods and include fried foods.
- Sources of unsaturated healthy fats: avocado, oils (i.e. olive, coconut, grape, avocado), nuts (i.e. almonds, cashews, pistachios), seeds (i.e. flax, chia, pumpkin), peanut butter, and almond butter.