First of all, let me start by saying there are no bad questions when it comes to nutrition. Learning about health, diet, nutrition, and exercise is a lifelong journey and we only learn by finding answers to what we don’t know about. One area of nutrition it’s important for anyone trying to eat healthier and lose weight to understand is the concept of macronutrients. The body needs proper nutrition to survive. The nutrition we consume in the form of food can be broken down into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients.
• Macronutrients are the type of food our body needs the most of because they are what give our body energy in the form of calories. These foods can be further categorized as fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
• Micronutrients are the more potent nutrients we need in smaller quantities and are categorized as vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Each of the three macronutrients are necessary for our bodies to remain healthy. Each plays a different role in nutrition and each affects the body in how it provides fuel and is digested. Understanding how your body responds to and digests each of the macronutrients will help you better understand how to create a diet that fuels your body well while helping you maintain and healthy weight.
Often vilified by people trying to lose weight, carbohydrates are incredibly important to your body as they are your #1 source of caloric fuel. Your brain, heart, and nervous system particularly need carbohydrates in order to function correctly. Carbs are one of the most easily digested macronutrients, meaning they don’t keep you full as long as protein or fat. However, the more fiber a carbohydrate contains, the longer it takes to digest. This means focusing on eating complex carbs (like whole grains) rather than refined, processed options.
Calorie breakdown: 4 calories per gram.
Thermogenic Rule: For every 100 calories of carbs you eat, your body will use 5-15 calories digesting it.
Where to find it: Starchy foods such as potatoes, whole grains, and vegetables. Nuts, seeds, and dairy products also contain carbohydrates in smaller quantities.
How much to eat: 45-65% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates.
This macronutrient is valuable for many reasons, particularly in how it can contribute to a healthy weight loss strategy. Protein is essential for growth, tissue repair, and immune function. It’s responsible for creating many of our essential hormones and enzymes, and serves as a source of reserve energy when carbohydrates aren’t available. One of the best attributes of protein is its ability to preserve lean muscle mass, especially people who are trying to lose weight combine it with strength training. Protein also takes more energy for your body to digest, keeping you feeling full for longer.
Calorie breakdown: 4 calories per gram.
Thermogenic Rule: For every 100 calories of protein you eat, your body will use 25-35 calories digesting it.
Where to find it: Animal protein (meat and fish) are the most obvious choices, but dairy products are another option. Vegetarian sources of protein are found in nuts, legumes, beans, and grains such as quinoa. Note, however, that there are 9 essential amino acids that form a complete protein, and there are very few plant-based sources that contain all 9.
How much to eat: 10-35% of your daily calories should come from protein.
Another macronutrient undervalued by many people, healthy fats are not to blame for weight gain. In fact, fat is incredibly important to our bodies as it is the most concentrated form of energy. It also helps maintain cell membranes and enhances our body’s ability to absorb certain micronutrients. Fats come as either saturated or unsaturated. The best kind to focus on is unsaturated fats.
Calorie breakdown: 9 calories per gram.
Thermogenic Rule: For every 100 calories of fat you eat, your body will use 0-5 calories digesting it.
Where to find it: Oil, fish, meat, dairy products, and nuts are some of the main places you’ll find fat.
How much to eat: 20-35% of your daily calories should come from fat. Understanding the macronutrient breakdown of your food will help you understand how to strategize your weight loss and weight maintenance diet. As you do this, using a tool like MyFitnessPal to track what you eat and show you the macronutrient breakdown of everything you record could be helpful.