Nutrition 101 - Understanding macronutrients

I don’t know if this is a Western Pennsylvania thing, but for the sake of efficiency, we drop the “what” when asking a question:

"Hell you doing?"

You can find this screen on MyFitnessPal by clicking on your calories. From there you have the option of viewing calories, nutrients or macros. A good place to start is setting the goals you see to the right of the macros: 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% fat. 

You can find this screen on MyFitnessPal by clicking on your calories. From there you have the option of viewing calories, nutrients or macros. A good place to start is setting the goals you see to the right of the macros: 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% fat. 

"Hell you eating?"

"Yinz guys going dahntahn to watch the Stillers?"

Ok, that last one requires translation.  

It’s the eating part I want to focus on today. Specifically, macronutrieints.

"Hell is a macronutrient?" 

Glad you asked :) 

When clients begin to overhaul their diet, they download MyFitnessPal, set a calorie a limit and begin the laborious task of tracking nutrition. First of all, if you are tracking your food, you’re off to an excellent start. But as most of you know, it’s not just the number of calories but the type of calories that can make an impact on your health and nutrition. (I’m not talking only about fat loss here, even though that’s the focus for many. )

What I want you to do is click over to the screen in your MyFitnessPal that shows you a macronutrient breakdown. Click on your calories and you'll see a screen like the one to the right. See it? Ok, good. That’s where we start. 

What is a macronutrient?

“An essential nutrient that has a large minimal daily requirement.” 

That's the definition, but what do they do and how many should you have of each? Glad you asked. :)

There are three macros: protein, fat and carbohydrates. 

You’re familiar with all of them, and perhaps you’ve tried to go one route over the other. 

High protein! Paleo, yes! I'm in. Why do I have the meat sweats?? 

Low carb! I’m in! Yes, no carbs. Why am I so punchy? 

Low fat! That tastes awful! I'd rather lick the bottom of my lawnmower. 

If you’re curious and like math, both protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, while fat provides 9 calories per gram. 

A brief explanation of each:

Protein

Protein is the single most important macronutrient as it helps to build muscle, burn fat, boost recovery and immune health and improve digestion. The Precision Nutrition recommendation* for protein consumption for muscle gain is 135grams for a 180 pound man and 110 grams for a 150 pound woman. 

As I’ve written in the past, higher protein consumption promotes fat loss in part because it’s the most satiating macro - eat a serving of cottage cheese and then eat a serving of crackers and see which one fills you up more. When you’re satiated, you consume less calories over all. 

Protein also ensures that most of the weight you lose is actually fat, and when consumed after a workout, can help to build lean muscle.

Carbohydrates

We know carbs. We have friends who do low carb diets, we’ve done low carb diets (I’ve done low carb diets), we’ve seen the Atkins diet and watched people wrestle over a doughnut hole. 

Ok, that was me, wrestling Sheila for a doughnut hole when I was trying to go low carb. It wasn’t pretty. Also she won. 

As a result of many of these popular diets, carbs have become vilified.

They’re not. 

Carbs help ensure that our stress hormones stay low, that our thyroid functions well, that our sex hormones stay healthy and that we sleep and recover well. 

Have you ever tried to go super low carb? Like less than 10 grams per meal? I have. And I was an a***hole. And I wrestled Sheila, not just for a doughnut hole but a piece of baking chocolate. 

There’s science behind that. A low carb approach can elevate your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels which can affect your over all stress response, mood digestion and energy levels. 

One reason that low carb is appealing is the rapid weight loss that can happen. In the beginning you're primarily losing water and glycogen - but if you are going low carb, you’re probably increasing your protein - because those calories have to come from somewhere - so is it the decreased carbs or the increase in protein that’s helping your weight loss?

Fat

We know low fat. I’ve never been grocery shopping in my lifetime that low fat wasn’t an option; cottage cheese, milk, ice cream (that’s just wrong) - but the thinking was that consuming a lot of fat made you fat. 

Also that too much fat caused heart disease. 

Then you wondered how your great-grandfather lived to be 95 and ate bacon and eggs every day. 

Well, because nutrition isn't black and white. 

Without going too far down the rabbit hole on fats, it's important to understand that you need an appropriate amount of healthy fats. (We'll get to the healthy part in a second). The appropriate amount can help your cells to work properly, build a strong immune system, and even help provide some satiation between meals. 

Because we are only scratching the surface on macros in this post, I think what's most important to understand about fats, and all of the macros, is which sources are healthy fats. Nuts and seeds, whole foods like avocados, all natural peanut butter (yes, the kind with oil in it), and olive oil are just a few sources of healthy fats that you can incorporate into your diet.

In terms of a recommendation of how you much of any one macro you should consume in a day, it depends on your goals. As mentioned above regarding protein consumption, if you're looking to build more muscle, (or tone, which is a post for another day), then higher protein is a good place to start. But if you're just trying to get a handle on the types of calories to consume, the breakdown of the screen shot above is a place to start. 40 percent protein, 30 percent carbs, and 30 percent fats.

Whew. 

Now, next time you're in Western PA and someone asks you 

"Hell is a macro?"

You'll at least understand that they're asking you a question. :)

*I'm currently pursuing my Level One Coaching Certification from Precision Nutrition and much of this information comes from that program. Click on the PN link for infographics regarding meal prep, stress management, and sleep.