In today’s blog, we will be continuing our series of YQL Nutrition’s Hierarchy for a healthy lifestyle by looking at MACRONUTRIENTS!
First thing’s first… what are Macronutrients?!
Macronutrients (“macros”) make up the calories in the food that we eat and serve different roles and functions within our bodies. The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
These are different from micronutrients, which are smaller nutritional categories that include vitamins and minerals such as zinc and vitamin D. While micronutrients are important for overall health, this blog is going to be focused on macronutrients and how much is appropriate for YOU as an individual, your goals, and your activity level. The beautiful thing about learning about macronutrients is it helps us to be AWARE of what we are consuming and how it makes us feel.
Although foods can be categorized as protein, carbs and fats, it is important to remember that food and eating is more than just macros – Food is also a way of celebrating, connecting with others, and engaging in cultural traditions.
It is our intention through writing this blog you will see that food is more than protein, carbs, and fats, and by nourishing your body with enough of each of these groups, you will be able feel, look, and perform your very best!
Checkout this macronutrient cheat sheet to see what foods belong to each macro group:
Did anything surprise you?
Now that we’ve seen some examples of what foods belong in each macronutrient group… let’s explore what each macronutrient does for our body!
First things, first…
Shocking… I know. If you have talked to us for any amount of time, or followed us on social media you have heard us mention protein at least once (probably more like 23214 times). There is a reason for this! Checkout this image depicting what protein does for our bodies and why you want to incorporate it into your diet!
As the image depicts, we need protein to complete normal, bodily functions. How much protein you need to eat depends on a variety of factors, including: age, body statistics, activity level, and calorie intake (deficit, surplus, maintenance) (3).
If you are confused about how much you should be eating, a general recommendation is 0.8-1.2g of protein per lbs of lean body weight – So for example, if you are a 140 lbs female, eat 140g of protein each day! If you are trying to achieve fat loss and you have a significant amount of body weight to lose, 0.8g of protein per 1 lb of bodyweight may be more appropriate. For example, if you are a 180 lb female, eating 145g of protein per day would be a great goal!
Other factors that increase your protein needs include: higher physical activity, if you are lean and in a calorie deficit (as the goal is to minimize muscle loss), and if you are in aging population due to normal muscle loss that occurs as we age (4)
Different proteins are composed of different amino acid profiles, so when thinking about what protein sources to eat, VARIETY is key here so you are consuming a variety of different amino acid profiles (3)
Can you eat too much protein?!
Unless you have a specific medical condition such as pre-existing kidney or liver disease, it is quite difficult to eat too much protein (3)! At this time, current research has not found the limit of “too much protein” in healthy individuals (3). Studies of high protein diets (including studies conducted over two years!!), found that feeding people up to 2g of protein per lb of bodyweight resulted in no ill effects (3). That is like a 130 lbs female eating 260g of protein EACH DAY! And still no ill effects! In fact, despite taking in more energy, individuals in this study did not gain body fat, nor did they show any metabolic health problems or issues with their kidneys or bones (3). The individuals in this study who were strength training actually gained muscle while losing fat; and although 2g of protein per lbs of bodyweight is quite extreme and not what we recommend, it does help us understand the importance of consuming enough protein and to reassure us we are not at risk for ill effects at the ranges we recommended above.
When it comes to protein, we do like the saying “real food first”, but supplementation with protein powders/bars may be needed or preferred by some to hit their protein targets – and that is totally fine!
Now that we know that protein is ESSENTIAL for our bodies… are there any other macros that are essential?!
The other essential macronutrient is FAT! We need fat in our diets to support hormonal health and our nervous system (3). This is important to remember when choosing how to divide up your calories, or what “macronutrient split” you will follow.
A macronutrient split involves looking at how we “budget” our calories into each group (protein, carbs, fats). The amount of calories we need depends on our goals, individual body composition, and activity level- checkout our blog on energy balance to learn more about this HERE! Once we know how many calories we need to eat to hit our goals, the next step is to assign targets to protein and fats because they are essential macronutrients!
So… how much fat do you need? When might it be beneficial to eat slightly more fat…? Checkout this image to learn more!
As you can see, fat serves a very important role in our diet! In addition to the roles mentioned above, fat also helps us transport fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and it gives us two fatty acids that we can’t make on our own- linoleic acid (omega 6 fatty acids) and linolenic acid (omega 3 fatty acids) (2,3).
As with protein, we thrive on a variety of fat sources! Checkout the macronutrient cheat sheet above when going to the grocery store to make sure you are choosing different sources! DOWNLOAD it HERE
There are four types of dietary fats: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats; and while we could go into great depth on the various types of fats and what they do in your body, that will have to be saved for another blog!
However, we would like to highlight some key things and hopefully clear up some common confusion
- Whole foods will always be king! Choosing a variety of whole food fat sources is key for overall health
- Saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats all describe fatty acids with slightly different chemical structures, due to the kinds of bonds they have, which results in different functions and effects in the body (5).
- Trans fatty acids are usually the product of industrial food processing (food manufacturers use this in their processing to extend the shelf life of packaged foods), and is the one type of fat that you definitely want to avoid or at the very least limit in your diet. Trans fatty acids are directly linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, complications during pregnancy, colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, and allergy (5)
- Some examples foods with trans fats include – Vegetable shortening, some margarines, some cooking oils, many processed and baked goods…. Any product that lists “partially hydrogenated oil” contains trans fats (5)
- The World Health Association (WHO) recommends limiting consumption of trans fats to 1 percent or less of daily calories (5)
- Saturated fats aren’t “bad”, a healthy diet will naturally include some saturated fats, but it is recommended they be consumed in moderation (5)
Curious what sources are included in various types of fats? Check out this image!
As mentioned above, we NEED Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids from our diet as we can’t make them on our own (2,3). Omega 3 fatty acids are considered ANTI-inflammatory, they do things like: dilate our blood vessels to improve bloodflow, lower inflammation, decrease pain, and support our immune system (2,3). Omega 6 fatty acids are considered PRO-inflammatory, they: constrict blood vessels, increase inflammation, increase pain and constrict our airways (3).
We need BOTH of these fatty acids in order to have optimal health- balance is crucial! The ideal balance of Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids is 2:1 to 8:1; however, in our current society due to the lack of omega-3 fatty acids eaten in our diet this ratio is more like 10:1 to 20:1 in favor of Omega-6 fatty acids… YIKES (3)! The high amount of Omega-6 fatty acids in our diet comes from processed foods and oils such as corn, cottonseed, soy, safflower, and sunflower – so one way to offset the imbalance of omega 6 fatty acids is to reduce your intake of these sources.
Adding these foods to your diet can allow for a decrease in inflammation and more balance in your body!
In addition, some individuals find it helpful to supplement with fish oil to help achieve this balance.
Now that we know what protein and fat does for our body…
What about Carbohydrates?!
Although carbohydrates are not essential, they are VERY important for overall health.
Checkout this image to learn more about what carbs do for us, and when we may need MORE carbs!
While carbohydrates are extremely important for our diet, not all carbs are created equal. We want to focus on choosing complex carbohydrates from whole food sources like vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole food starchy carbs (potatoes) and whole grains most of the time and limit highly processed carbohydrates (cookies, cake, chips, table sugar, white bread) (2). Complex carbohydrates help keep us full longer and are packed with fiber that helps keep our blood sugar and insulin levels stable(1,2). If you eat a variety of whole foods, getting your fiber in should not be an issue; whereas it is more difficult if your diet consists of more processed foods and less whole foods.
Curious what foods are high in fiber? Checkout this list of high fiber foods!
It is important to note that there are two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber is soluble and absorbs liquid. It has a sticky, gel like quality to it- because of this, it binds to things like excess cholesterol! If you are struggling with high cholesterol… it may be worth examining the fiber in your diet (1)
Soluble fiber also:
-lubricates our bowels promoting healthy digestion (1)
-has prebiotic activity, meaning it acts as food for probiotics (the good bacteria in our bodies!) (1)
-is the type of fiber that lowers the glycemic load of food (how quickly it is absorbed and impacts our blood sugar), and therefore helps regulate blood sugar (1)
The other type of fiber is Insoluble fiber. As the name suggests, it does NOT dissolve in liquids, and because of this it adds bulk to stool and aids in bowel movements (1). It also helps us feel satisfied with our meals and thereby helps regulate hunger.
If you want a goal for fiber, women should aim for 30-35 grams of fiber per day, and men should aim for 40-45 grams of fiber per day (1.) It is important to note, this is a GENERAL recommendation, and everyone’s digestion responds differently to various fiber intakes.
Another reason to be aware of your carbohydrate intake is if you are active and exercise regularly, It is beneficial to have carbohydrates both pre and post workout (2). This is a concept called nutrient timing and can help enhance athletic performance and recovery. If you would like to learn more about nutrient timing… keep an eye on this blog! A post diving into this topic is coming soon!
If you are relatively active, try adding in more carb sources- specifically starchy carb sources like potatoes, oats, and rice around your workouts and assess your recovery and performance (2). The better we recover, the sooner we can be ready to perform again! If you notice you are zonking out mid workout… it may be time to analyze your diet, specifically your carbohydrate intake!
Now that you know what each macronutrient does, you can begin to analyze your diet and look for ways to make improvements!
As we said, food is so much more than it’s individual parts, but by having the appropriate quantity of each macronutrient in your diet, you can optimize your energy, health, physique, and athletic performance! Knowledge is power, and we hope that by reading this blog you feel more confident in your dietary choices going forward. If you have any questions or want to work 1:1 with a coach to dive deeper into your specific goals, please schedule a call with us to apply for coaching HERE
All the love, Robyn & Megan YQL Nutrition
- Andrews, R. (2021). All About Fiber. Retrieved from: https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-fibre
- Cholewski, M., Tomczykowa, M., & Tomczyk, M. (2018). A comprehensive review of chemistry, sources and bioavailability of omega-3 fatty acids. Nutrients, 10(11), 1662.
- Precision Nutrition (2021). Precision Nutrition Level One Certification Handbook. Chapter 11, Macronutrients.
- Nutritional Coaching Institute (nd). Nutritional Coaching Specialist Level One Certification.Chapter 4, Macronutrients and Vitamins.
- Picot-Annand, A,& Kollias, H (nd) Saturated Fat: Is It Good Or Bad For You. Retrieved from https://www.precisionnutrition.com/is-saturated-fat-good-or-bad