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Day #5: Understanding Macronutrients

Posted Jan 06 2010 12:33pm
Your diet is probably comprised of macronutrients. Carbohydrates, protein and fat all contain calories and provide energy. Now, within those macronutrients, you will find micronutrients which are known vitamins and minerals. Macronutrients are needed in large quantities whereas micronutrients are needed in small quantities. Macronutrients will give you energy whereas micronutrients will aid in energy-yielding reactions. If you choose a wide selection of healthy macronutrients, it is likely that you will receive a variety of micronutrients....which is a great thing for the health of your body.

Before you determine the percentage of each of the 3 macronutrients that will support your lifestyle, it is important to understand what each macronutrient provides to your body.

Carbohydrates provides 4 calories per gram.
Protein provides 4 calories per gram.
Fat provides 9 calories per gram.
Alcohol (although not a macronutrient) provides 7 calories per gram.

According to the USDA, here are the general guidelines (Also known as the Dietary Reference Intake) for the 3 macronutrients:
45-65% of total calories should come from Carbohydrates
10-35% of total calories should come from Protein
20-35% of total calories should come from Fat


Carbohydrates?



Yes-bread is filled with carbs and perhaps too many carbs may make you feel fat (carbs contain water which is why many people lose a lot of immediate weight on the scale when starting a weight loss program or reducing total calories), but carbohydrates are the foundation of fuel production. Your body's main source of fuel are carbohydrates and are easily used for fuel/energy. Digested carbohydrates not used immediately for energy (glucose) become glycogen when stored in the muscles and liver for a potential use of energy. Glucose is used by all tissues and cells (even your brain) for energy. Carbs are used for the all parts of the body, especially for the muscles, heart and brain during physical activity.
Where can you find Carbs?
Starchy foods (potatoes), whole grains, oats, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, beans, pasta, pizza, raisins, crackers, chips, fast foods, sweets, cereal and rice.

It is recommended to choose complex carbs (whole grains) over simple carbs (fruit juices, syrups, jams, sugary products, etc. in an effort to promote filling at meals and reduce the risk for fluctuating blood sugar levels between meals. If you choose to have a simple sugar carbohydrate, choose to indulge (on occasion) after an hour or more workout (recommended 90 min. or more) when your body can afford the sugars (and extra calories). It is recommended to combine carbohydrates with protein, especially after workouts.

Is Fiber a carb?
Yes and no. Fiber is a type of cabrohydrate but your body can not digest them. Therefore, fibrous foods pass through the intestinal tract (intact) and excrete waste from the body. High fiber diets (25-35 g/day) help lower cholesterol, reduce constipation and hemorrhoids and decrease the risk for colon cancer. Low fiber diets may increase the risk for heart disease, obesity and high cholesterol. Because fiber digests slowly, carbohydrate foods, rich in fiber, are encouraged with meals and snacks to promote fullness when eating and to slow down digestion between meals and snacks.
Foods high in fiber include vegetables, fruits, beans, oats and whole grains.

Protein

Protein is a must in the diet of athletes. It often seems as though athletes prioritize carbohydrates over protein when re-fueling after workouts. While carbohydrates are needed in the diet, quality protein is necessary for tissue repair, muscular growth, to assist in glycogen resynthesis (when combined with carbs) and preserving lean muscle mass. When consuming protein with meals and snacks, protein-rich foods (specifically lean and/or low fat protein fosters growth in individuals of all ages), helps in immune system functioning and assists with hormones, enzymes and metabolic processes.
The building blocks of protein are amino acids. Essential amino acids are needed from foods that we eat whereas nonessential amino acids are produced in our body. Although many essential amino acids are found in animal sources, whey protein, eggs and milk are ranked high in terms of the biological value of protein. Therefore, it is likely that even a lacto-ovo vegetarian can receive all of the essential amino acids in the diet, increase lean muscle mass and build muscle strength without eating meat....so long as he or she consumes quality protein. Therefore, regardless if you are a vegetarian or meat-eater, it is important that you focus on lean or low fat protein food sources with meals and snacks and especially post-workout in order to obtain essential amino acids (which include the 3 BCAA's-Branch Chain Amino Acids Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine).
Foods rich in protein:
Fish, 3 oz, 21 grams
Chicken, 3 oz, 21 grams
Turkey, 3 oz, 21 grams
Meat, 3 oz, 21 grams
Milk, 8 oz, 8 grams
Tofu, 3 oz, 15 grams
Yogurt, 8 oz, 8 grams
Cheese, 3 oz, 21 grams
Peanut butter, 2 tbsp, 8 grams
Eggs, 2 large, 13 grams
(Although protein bars provide a convenient way of meeting protein recommendations and may look like a substantial source of protein, I recommend protein sources that are as natural as possible - few or no ingredients- especially after training and with meals. When looking for a quality whey protein to be added to milk or in a smoothie, I suggest Body Fortress from Wal-mart or Target or online. Always be sure the first ingredient in whey protein concentrate or isolate and contains at least 18g protein and around 80-130 calories per scoop/serving).
Other sources of protein include nuts and legumes and many starchy foods and vegetables. 3 1/2 ounces of Broccoli or Asparagus contains around 3g of protein.


Fats


Fats are needed in the diet. I suggest passing on the decadent deserts, fatty meats, cheesy entrees and greasy appetizers and opting for healthy fats.
If you are a female, the regularity of your menstrual cycle may be a good predictor if you are obtaining a healthy amount of fats in the diet (my good friend Cass can tell you all about that topic if you have any questions http://cassandraforsythe.blogspot.com/)
Fats are necessary for normal growth and development and to help absorb vitamins. Fats provide cushioning for organs and help maintain cell membranes. Although fats are a concentrated source of energy (9 calories per gram compared to 4 in protein and carbs), fats will give food taste and will help with filling at meals. Adding a little bit of healthy fat (specifically when it is found in lean or low fat protein) to your pre-training snack (ex. Peanut butter, nuts, egg, piece of cheese, low fat yogurt, etc.) will help athletes who seem to have plenty of energy during workouts but feel extremely hungry towards the end of the workout or immediately after.
Foods high in fat include meat, poultry, fish, egg yolks, dairy products, butters, margarines, oils, grains and dressings. Flax and natural PB are also healthy sources of fats.
Remember-saturated fats should be limited in the diet (less than 10g/day), as well as trans fats. Baked foods, processed foods and well, most of the foods that you likely crave, are termed "unhealthy" fats and do not support a heart-healthy diet. Unsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oils, nuts, avocados, peanut butter) are healthy fats and help decrease risk for heart disease.

Stayed tuned for my blog on Fri, where you will learn how to plan out how much of each of the macronutrients you will eat on a daily basis.
Let me know if you have any questions on today's post. :) I hope it makes sense and you can start understanding your food choices a bit better (and easier).
Starting today, look at your diet and write down the foods that you eat that are rich in carbs, protein and fat. Then ask yourself how many fruits and veggies you are eating to meet your fiber recommendations.
Evaluate your food choices. If you can swap some of your higher calorie/higher fat/higher sugar foods for whole grain carbs (complex), lean and/or low fat protein and healthy fats, start thinking of some small ways that you can improve your daily diet without feeling hungry or unsatisfied at meals and snacks.
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