What are macronutrients? Why do we need them and how to get them? And how much is too much?
Starting this post, I need to say that I have neither a medical background, nor one in nutrition. I have simply read plenty of books and blogs out of personal interest – you can find details on the sources at the end of this post.
For quite a while now, I’ve been into sports and healthy eating. More or less on its own, you eventually reach the point where it is no longer just about calories and their consumption, but more about the composition of our food.
At this point you’ll become aware of the first very important fact: Calories are not all the same. Unfortunately, it does make a difference whether I eat a chocolate bar or a portion of cottage cheese with nuts and fruit – especially in terms of portion size and feeling of satiety; even if the number of calories is similarly high.
That doesn’t mean I give up wine and chocolate on the weekends, I’m just interested in what’s in our food and what different ingredients do for us – or not 🙂
What are macronutrients?
The three most important elements of our diet are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Each of these nutrients has different, important functions in our body.
How much we ultimately need is very individual. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guideline for Americans provides some guidance:
45-65% of daily caloric intake should be carbohydrates, 25-35% fats, and 10-30% proteins.
45 – 65% Carbohydrates
25 – 35% Fats
10-30 % Proteins
The three most important elements of our diet are proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
| What are proteins and what do they do for our body?
Protein shakes, powders or bars – it is impossible to imagine the gym and supermarket shelves without them, because we know them primarily as a nutrient for muscle building.
Proteins are essentially a chain of amino acids that are responsible for said muscle building, but also enzyme formation and hormone balance. As a building block for muscles, tendons, bones, hair and skin, they are an essential component of the body. They repair cells and support the immune system. Our body can produce some of these proteins itself, others we have to take in through food.
| Animal or Plant-based?
Generally, you can separate between animal and plant-based proteins. While animal proteins contain all the amino acids we lack, and are therefore also called “complete” proteins, it is different with many plant sources. However, this does not mean that vegetarians or vegans have to resort to inferior sources of protein. Nuts, legumes, grains and vegetables are just a few examples of non-animal complete protein resources.
| How much protein should you consume?
Proteins keep us full for a relatively long time. Therefore, many diets that focus on weight loss advise a higher protein intake. In addition, they have significantly fewer calories per gram than fats and carbohydrates – so we can eat more of them.
A rough guide is 0.8 – 1g of protein per kilogram of body weight.
| Good sources of protein
The most popular and healthiest animal protein sources include fish, chicken, eggs and dairy products. Good choices for plant sources of protein are chickpeas, nuts and nut butters, oats, soy, beans, lentils, spinach and broccoli.
In addition to natural protein sources, you can of course also include protein powders, shakes and bars into your diet. But beware: these often contain a lot of sugar, as well as various additives and unnatural flavors. Generally said, the shorter and more comprehensible the list of ingredients, the better.
| Why do we need carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are drastically reduced in many diets. But they are an important part of our diet, because they provide the body with energy for the brain, nervous system and metabolic processes.
But not only that – carbohydrates are also recommended before working out, because they ensure that we can perform well during training.
| What are the different types of carbohydrates and in which foods can we find them?
Our body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose (= sugar), which leads to higher insulin production.
A distinction is made between monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. This has to do with the length of the molecular chains. The longer the chain, the more time the body needs for decomposition.
Monosaccharides and disaccharides are mainly found in sweeteners (sugar, syrup, honey) and candy. The body can process them very quickly, so a lot of insulin is produced and we quickly feel hungry again. That is why we often speak of “empty” calories.
This type of sugar is also found in fruits and vegetables. Nevertheless, they are the better choice, because through these foods you also absorb vitamins, minerals, fiber and proteins.
Polysaccharides are mainly found in bread, rice, pasta, legumes and whole grain products. The body needs significantly longer to break down the more complex molecular chains, produces less insulin and we feel full for a longer time.
So, in general, the quality of the carbohydrates is crucial.
| Fat makes fat?
Not necessarily. Our body needs fats to store heat, protect organs and absorb vitamins. Fats store energy and support the building of cell structures. Once again, the type of fat we consume is crucial.
| Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids
The body can produce saturated fatty acids itself, so we need less of them from our food. Too many saturated fatty acids, often part of animal products, cause excessive LDL cholesterol levels (so-called “bad cholesterol”) and increase the risk of various diseases.
Unsaturated fatty acids, especially omega-3 and omega-6, must be taken in through our food. These improve the balance of blood cholesterol levels. In general, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids should be 1:5.
| Sources of good fat
There are many foods that are rich in good fats. These include avocados, nuts and nut butters, seeds and kernels, olive oil, coconut oil and fish.
Learning? We need proteins as well as fats and carbohydrates to live. The essential factor is an appropriate balance and good quality of nutrients.
- PAM Fitness & Food App
- Growingananas Nutrition Guide
- Heather Robertson Nutrition Guide
- Eat Smarter