Looking to burn fat, build muscle, or maintain your active lifestyle? Whatever your goal, adequate intakes of nutrients are key for optimising performance, recovery, and the reduction of health risks. Here, we will focus on the basics of Macronutrient intake – the main energy providers (calories) that perform essential roles in the body and support our physical activity. Macronutrients can be divided into three main nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
A key nutrient for providing energy is Carbohydrates, a source of glucose, which is then converted to energy. The daily requirements for Carbohydrates are highly debated, high carb vs. low carb? But what is important here is that you tailor dietary carbohydrate intake to fuel exercise sessions and other daily activities. Recent research from Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (2015) stated that carbohydrate intake should be maintained at an average population intake of approximately 50% of total dietary intake. To make up this amount, we should look to stay away from high-glycaemic (Simple) carbs packed with sugar and move towards slow-releasing sources of energy such as whole grains and oats as well as healthier options i.e. sweet potato and beans. These types of carbohydrates (Complex) take more time for our body to break down and this means that you’ll have more energy for training and feel fuller for longer.
We all hear now in the gym, online or through word of mouth about the word protein, but what actually is it? And is it any good?
Each molecule of protein is made up of amino acids, which act as the building blocks to aiding muscle recovery and growth. The amount of protein we should look to consume should be according to bodyweight, with the recommend amount being 0.8g/kg. This can be found in whole-food sources such as lean meats, fish and eggs as well as dietary supplements i.e. protein shakes, which are rich in pure protein and amino acid content. When we eat these types of foods, our body breaks down the protein that they contain, creating amino acids. Some amino acids are essential which means that we need to get them from our diet, and others are nonessential which means that our body can make them. In summary, the continuation of a high protein diet aids greater weight loss, greater fat loss and preservation of lean body mass; as well as aiding our bodies in growth and repair.
Whilst proteins are the commonly viewed as the “creme de la creme” of macronutrients, fats are not perceived with the same status. However, contrary to the belief that all fats are bad for you, this nutrient actually has a key part to play in maintaining a healthy body. What is important in daily fats intake is to focus on getting lots of the “good” fats and less of the “bad fats”. To create the right balance around fat intake we should be looking to avoid sources of saturated fats, sweets and fatty meats, and instead look towards unsaturated sources such as nuts and essential fatty acids such as Omega 3, to optimise its roles in the body. “Good” fats allow our body to obtain fast releasing energy, enabling growth and development, as well as, absorbing certain vitamins and maintaining cell membranes.
Macronutrients can be considered as the main part of our diet (Macro = Large) and an understanding of what they are and what they can do is important, whatever our goal may be. Getting the balance right between macro’s in our diet is the key to energising our bodies, each nutrient has it’s own importance and are vital to aid a healthy functioning body.
Written by John Keary.
BA (Hons) Sport, Exercise & Physical Activity – Durham University