Our PT Lewis Fallon is not just a Personal Trainer, he's a Personal Teacher too! As we noticed there is so much confusion around macros, micros, no carbs, carbs only,... (we can go on for a while here), we asked him to clarify some things. In this blogpost he explains us the main elements of our nutrition. So over to Lewis here!
A lot of people have a good understanding of nutrition nowadays, they could probably give you an example of a carbohydrate, protein and a fat. They may even be able to tell you that calcium is good for your bones. But unfortunately that’s usually where it ends. In this blog we’re going to dive a little deeper and look at everything our bodies digest, including exactly how much energy they give us and how some of the tinniest of nutrients can have a massive impact on our health. So grab your note pad and get ready, this is nutrition 101!
Macronutrients, also referred to as macros. No idea what I’m talking about? Basically, carbohydrates, proteins and fats. These are the 3 macronutrients and they're called so because our bodies require them in large quantities (Macro = large). While nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, and other bodily functions. Macronutrients are also what provide us with energy (energy=calories). However, not all macros contain the same amount of energy/calories. Carbs and protein both contain 4 calories per 1 gram, while fat on the other hand contains 9 calories per gram. Another macronutrient most people forget is our dear old friend…alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol doesn’t serve us any nutritional benefit, in fact all it does is bump our calorie intake up by 7 calories per gram we consume... not forgetting the hangover! Now let’s dive a little deeper still, into the individual nutrients.
Carbohydrates are made up of sugars, starches and cellulose. The body has to break down carbs in order to turn them into glucose, also referred to as blood sugar. There two types of carbohydrates, knowing the difference is very important as the impact they have on your body can vary significantly. We have simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates (sugar) such as table sugar, honey etc, are digested fast and in-turn provide your body with a boost of energy. This is good if you’re about to run a 100m race, but not if you sat at your desk in the office. Complex carbohydrates are comprised of starchy and fiber dense foods. In-turn they are digested much slower than simple carbs. Which means you get a steady release of energy throughout your day. Foods packed full of complex carbohydrates are: legumes, fruits, grains, potatoes, wheat, rice, corn etc.
Protein is the second most abundant chemical compound in the body after water. Approximately 16% of an average 70kg man is protein. Most people will think of protein as a muscle building nutrient and they wouldn’t be wrong. Protein does repair and build muscle tissue, but it also does so much more. Including, keeping your immune system healthy, synthesizing neurotransmitters and creating and signalling hormones. A healthy balanced diet will give you all the protein you require, to sufficiently carry out all these bodily functions. Good sources of protein can be found in such things as: fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Fat, scientifically known as lipids, is the second main energy source in the diet. Dietary fat contains nine calories per gram, which is double the amount of both carbohydrates or protein. Due to its high calorific content, the chance of becoming obese increases with a high intake of fat. Just like carbs, fats also have different types: saturated, unsaturated (poly & mono) and trans. Too much saturated fat can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol in our blood, in-turn raising the risk of a stroke and heart disease. Studies have shown that swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fat can lower cholesterol and decrease the chance of a stroke and heart disease. Trans fats are man-made fats which should be avoided completely. Thankfully these are slowly disappearing off the market, after a lot of bad media coverage.
How much should I eat of each?
How much you should eat is totally individual, we are all different shapes, sizes, we have a variety of different goals and metabolic rates. The best bit of advice I could give you is, don’t be afraid to step on the scales, whether it’s once a week or once a month you’ll be able to see if you’re losing, maintaining or gaining weight. That way you can make changes to your lifestyle before anything too drastic happens. With that said it’s easy to lose yourself tracking everything you eat and being obsessed with any weight change you see on the scale. Listening to your body is the easiest way to stay healthy. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Focus on a bit more carbs when you're intensively training, focus more on protein when you have a sedentary lifestyle. Please do enjoy the occasional naughty meal but be conscious of your diet and your health. It’s all about balance!
Micronutrients are everything else in your food, all the vitamins and minerals. You’ve probably worked this bit out already but these are called micro because we only require them in very small amounts (small=micro). However small these little fellas are, they still play a fundamental role in our bodies normal growth and development of living organisms. For example, Calcium looks after our bones and teeth, no surprises there really. However, did you know that Magnesium helps prevent heart disease by regulating the rhythm of the heartbeats and any muscular activity around the heart? Iodine is essential for correct thyroid development. Iron is important from metabolism and energy balance. While some micronutrients, such as zinc, selenium and phosphorus play a significant role in the regulation and stimulation of other micronutrients. For instance, B-complex vitamins are absorbed better when joined with sufficient levels of zinc. You can acquire all these vitamins and minerals from every kid’s favourite food…vegetables! The government recommends 5 fruit and veg a day. Which isn’t too hard, but really we should be aiming to consume around 7 a day. Try and get as many different colours too into your diet as possible. Dark greens such as kale, spinach and broccoli are great, along with peppers, onions, mushrooms etc.
Okay, lesson over! Hopefully you’ll never have to wonder again whether a micro is an abbreviation for microwave or whether it is a very nasty microbe ;)