Posted on September 08 2015
Carbohydrates, proteins, and fats: They’re where you get your calories from everyday, and they’re each important for their own reasons.
In the previous blog, I discussed the importance of micronutrients (more on that here), and that even though they are vital to life, they are only needed in small amounts each day. Macronutrients are also essential to life, but unlike their smaller counterparts, they are needed in large amounts each and everyday to sustain life and all of the body’s processes.
CARBOHYDRATES: THE MACRO THAT PROVIDES THE BODY WITH ENERGY
1g of carbohydrates = 4 calories
Have you ever been on a ‘low carb’ diet? If you have, you know that the mood swings and lethargy associated with one is enough to make you want to pull your hair out, and eat it. You feel weak and hungry and your muscles may even begin to feel soft, but why does this happen?
When you eat carbohydrates, your body breaks them down to their simplest form, glucose, before they can enter the bloodstream.
Glucose is the body’s primary source of fuel.
- Once in the bloodstream, the brain will get first dibs on the glucose. The human brain relies on carbohydrates alone as its energy source, and because of this, going without carbs, or severely cutting them from your diet, can result in the inability to concentrate or focus.
- After the brain has its fill, the glucose will circulate throughout the body and feed all the tissue and muscles.
- Any remaining glucose will be converted to a stored energy source called glycogen, which is found in your liver and muscles. If your muscles don’t have adequate amounts of energy, they will rely on the stored glycogen in your muscles and liver for energy.
- If the brain, muscles, tissues, and glycogen stores have been sequentially filled, any remaining circulating glucose will be converted and stored as fat.
Carbs come in all shapes and sizes, but I recommend consuming your daily allotment from whole, unprocessed, and unrefined food sources such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
PROTEIN: THE MACRO THAT BUILDS AND REPAIRS
1g of protein = 4 calories
When you eat any kind of protein source, your body will break it down into its simplest form known as amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are considered to be the building blocks of your muscles as well. Amino acids are often pushed in the fitness world as a “recovery drink”, but that is only a portion of what they are used in the body for! Sure, ‘Amino’s’ help to recover and repair your muscles after a workout, but they are also the used to create hormones, antibodies, enzymes, and connective tissue.
Remember, when you hit the gym or do any other type of physical activity, you are actually placing stress (the good kind!) on your muscles that results in tiny little micro tears in the muscle fibers. Consuming protein, amino acids, or a combination of both helps to repair those tears, and reduces recovery time.
Now unlike carbohydrates, protein cannot be stored for later. If you consume more than your daily requirement of protein it will either get converted to energy or it will be converted and stored as fat.
FAT: THE MACRO OF MAINTENANCE
1g of fat = 9 calories
Fats sometimes have a bad rep in the health and fitness world. Literally speaking, its common sense to assume that something called “fat” would make you fat, right?
Yes and no.
Too much of any of the three macronutrients will cause your body to convert and store the excess as fat, but from the proper sources and amounts, fat is an essential component of our daily intake.
Fat is a more concentrated and storable energy source, with more than double the calories than carbohydrates. Fat is also essential to the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K. In addition, your cell membranes rely on the fat that you consume daily to create their membranes and your organs rely on it for cushion and protection. Lastly, fat acts as a precursor to many of the body’s hormones. Have you ever heard of someone losing a large amount of body fat and skipping their period? Hormones govern a great deal of the body’s processes such as metabolism, appetite, mood, sleep, growth and development, and sexual functions. Keeping healthy fats in our diets is important in regulating our hormones and keeping our whole bodies functioning properly.
To get adequate amounts of healthy fats in your daily diet, opt for micronutrient rich sources such as avocado, nuts, wild caught salmon, organic cold pressed oils like avocado, olive, flax and pumpkin. Another nutritional powerhouse that is high in healthy fats is seeds, such as pumpkin, hemp, flax, chia, and sunflower seeds.