Whether or not you are new to training and trying to improve your nutrition, you may be a little confused about macros and how they fit into your life.
I’m going to break it all down for you and give you some ideas to work with to help you build a nutritional approach that works for you and whatever your goals are.
Macronutrients are the big blocks of nutrition.
Protein, fat and carbohydrate. These three make up the vast majority of your food, with micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients) making up the rest. And as long as you are eating the right amount of food for your goal in terms of calories, you should be grand. The actual combination of these 3 nutrient groups doesn’t matter all that much, high fat/ low carb works just as well as high carb/ low fat.
However, there are research backed target you can aim for that will be more optimal, and I’ll break these down too.
Protein is the building blocks of your body. Without adequate amounts each day, your body needs to start breaking down your own muscles in order to salvage amino acids to be repurposed for repair and replacement of the various cells that need it. Losing muscle mass is bad on a couple of fronts:
- You are losing some of the muscle that gives you the “toned” shape you want.
- Losing muscle mass makes you weak, and particularly as you age, being weak is dangerous.
Your body goes through a continual cycle of muscle breakdown and synthesis, and having enough protein available ensures that you stay more on the building side of things. For optimal muscle building progress, research has shown that 1.6-2g of protein per kilo of bodyweight is where you want to be, with higher intakes having little value for muscle building. The one time that higher intakes may help more is for fat loss, but this may be an individual effect.
However, if you are lower than that, don’t stress. Your job is to improve just a little each day/ week and build up to 3-4 regular protein servings throughout the day.
1 serving of protein is around 100-125g of lean meat or fish, around 200g of Greek yoghurt or Skyr, 1-1.5 scoops of protein supplement, or similar to give you around 30-40g of protein per meal or snack.
Fat is misunderstood. Due to the low fat craziness of the 80’s and 90’s, fat is still believed to be the root cause of all our fat gaining woes. When in fact, fat gain comes down to overconsumption of calories, regardless of their source.
Fat is essential for a number of our body’s functions, and therefore you need a mix of saturated and unsaturated fats in your diet to maintain health. It’s also the body’s preferred source of fuel for lower intensity activities. Overconsumption of carbs can lead you to become less efficient at mobilising and using fat as fuel, leading to metabolic inflexibility.
Aiming for around 1g of fat per kilo of bodyweight is currently what I recommend for most people. This is probably less than you think it is. A good rule is a thumb sized fat serving per meal or snack. Smaller servings since fat is more calorie dense than either protein or carbs (9kcals/g compared to 4kcals/g).
This works out as around a quarter of an avocado, 30ml of cream or oil based dressings, 2-3 eggs, or half a dozen nuts.
An angel or a devil on your shoulder, depending on who you talk to. Glucose, what carbs are broken down to, is your body’s favourite power supply, especially for higher intensity work. You can produce energy from fat, but it’s slow and can’t keep up with higher intensity demands. So performance drops and recovery between sets of high intensity work suffers. It’s also your brains preferred fuel source. Though, again, in very low (less than 50g per day) carb intakes, fat can be broken down to ketones which after a short period of adaptation, can fuel your brain just fine.
The issue with carbs is they’re so damned more-ish! So they are easy to overeat and take you over your calorie intake. My general advice for most people (since the most common question is “How do I lose weight?”), is have most of your starchy carbs around training sessions since this helps to fuel and recover from those sessions. And the rest of your meals should have non starchy carbs as your main option.
Starchy carbs are potatoes, pasta, rice, bread, bananas, doughnuts and custard creams. If you were pushed, you already know this. 1 cupped handful of these at the appropriate meals is generally the right amount.
Non-starchy carbs are salad vegetables, greens, berries, apples, asparagus, brocolli etc. Plenty of options to build better meals with lower carbs at times when you don’t need the big energy hit.
I hope this helps with your general understanding of macros and how you could start to build slightly better meals that are focussed towards your goals.
If you have any questions, pop it in the comments and I’ll answer asap!