In the last article of this series, I explained how to calculate our daily caloric index, an estimate of the number of calories we should consume daily in order to support good health. And I suggest you return to the first and second articles and estimate your daily calorie index.
In this article, I will explain the basics about macronutrient (macro) ratios. Understanding our basic nutritional needs helps to know how much carbohydrate, fat, and protein is alright for us. Then, we can adjust the proportions of macronutrients in our plates to help faster achieve our personal goals. Also, it reduces the anxiety of spending our lives in restrictive diets, counting the calories we eat.
We are living in a time where most people are devoted to restrictive diets, controlling the calories of every bite they eat. And, without any question, caloric restriction can influence or even control our weight but, is exhausting and stressful. Also, in the medium/long run restrictive diets have side effects that can turn against us.
On the other hand, macronutrients in our diet are the ones that influence or even control not only our body composition but also our athletic performance and physical well-being. And by manipulating how much protein, carbohydrate, and fat that we daily consume we can better support our metabolism, hormones, and have a more spontaneous attitude toward our food (1, 2) .
You must be thinking:Why should I track my macros and not my calories?
Calories can control and influence our weight gain, weight loss or weight maintenance. And our macros can influence or control our body composition, athletic performance or how we feel. So, what do you prefer better?
Understanding some basics concepts about macronutrients gives us condition to consider the source of the calories or fuel that we are consuming in our diet and chose foods that allow our body to perform at its optimal level. Selecting proteins, fats and carbs that are nutritious and balanced in vitamins, minerals, fibers, etc.
Besides, by manipulating the amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (our macros) in our plates we can feel satiated faster, and have a better chance to achieve our goals, such as: weight loss, muscle gain, fat loss, improve energy levels and athletic performance, improve sleep, reduce symptoms, reduce cravings, improve blood sugar and cholesterol markers, among others.
Also, tracking our macros prevents us from the stress, sacrifice and effort related to diets that count calories, not always appropriate, and often dangerous to us.
So, by understanding and customizing our macros we can support our metabolism, create a sustainable, stress-free fat loss plan, and improve our overall health and well-being.
First of all, what are macronutrients?
The calories we consume in our daily diet are basically provided through three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. So, everything we eat are digested and broken down into these three macronutrients categories. The calories in these foods (carbohydrates, fat and proteins) is what provides us with energy or fuel, and each macronutrient have different functions in our body.
So, let’s briefly review the macronutrients (carbohydrate fat and proteins), and how our body use them (In the next articles, I am going to talk about each macro in detail).
Proteins are the most versatile molecules in our body. They are the building blocks of muscles, tendons and other tissues, but also work as hormones, enzymes, precursors, fluid balance, transport and store of other molecules, provide us with energy, etc.
Proteins in reality are required for practically every essential function in the body, and from the standpoint of nutrition, the human body does not require dietary protein per se. Rather, it requires the nine essential amino acids that are present in dietary proteins.
Proteins are composed of essential and non-essential amino acids. And essential amino acids are exclusively obtained through proper nutrition, as our bodies cannot produce them. Sources of protein: red meat, chicken, pork, fish, shrimp and crustaceous, organ meat, eggs, bone broths, etc.
Fats are essential in many processes of the body, including the structure of the cell membrane, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, hormonal regulation, brain health and energy for muscle metabolism.
It is crucial to understand that fat is the most important macronutrient in our diet and nourishes our brain and vital organs. That’s why we need to attempt to get the best sources of fat in our diet. Things such as: olive oil, coconut fat, lard, ghee, palm oil, butter, duck fat, avocado oil, etc.
Also, is critical to avoid saturated oils that are easily oxide when exposed to light, heat or air. Also, avoid unsaturated oils that are highly processed and refined. Things such as margarine, canola, soybean, sunflower and corn oils, vegetable oils in general, etc., are completely toxic to our health.
Carbohydrates play an important role in the human body. They act as an energy source, help control blood glucose and insulin metabolism, participate in cholesterol and triglyceride metabolism, and help with fermentation in the intestine. And are subdivided into categories based on the number of sugar units and how the sugar units are chemically bonded to each other, including: sugars (simple or complex carbohydrate), starches and fibers (soluble and insoluble).
Simple Carbohydrates are easily utilized for energy, causing a rapid rise in blood sugar and insulin secretion from de pancreas.Complex carbs take longer to digest and have a more gradual effect on the increase in blood sugar. Starches are carbs that contain a large number of glucose molecules. And the fibers or non-digestible carbs are the main components that include cellulose, hemicellulose, and pectin. Foods that encourage healthy bacterial growth in the colon of the intestine, and act as a bulking agent, easing elimination.
Carbohydrate is a generic term that includes sugar, fruits, vegetables, legumes, roots, salads, vegetables, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, dairy products, juices, grains, seeds, etc. Some of these foods are simple, some are complex carbs. Some are rich in starch, while others contain little or no starch, but provide sugars and dietary fiber.
Some of these foods are rich in starch, while others contain little or no starch, but provide sugars (calories), and dietary fibers.
However, right now it is worth to remember that carbohydrate consumption directly affects our glucose levels much more than any other macronutrient. Then, by understanding how to select and track carbs helps us better control blood sugar and weight gain. And I will explain some easy to understand and apply points about carbs in the next article.
Understanding the basics about macros
Below there are some basic concepts about our macros:
1 - Macronutrients are not created equal
1. Each gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories
2. Each gram of protein has 4 calories
3. Each gram of fat has 9 calories
What tells us that consuming 10 grams of carbohydrate is not the same as consuming 10 grams of fats.
2 - There is growing evidence that rather than macronutrients acting singly, it is their interactive effects, such as their balance, that are more important for health and aging.
We should consider a combination of protein, carbohydrate, and fats in our plates. And depending on our personal goals, it is possible to influence a specific response in our body by using in our favor our macro ratios, or how much protein, fat, and carbs we should serve in our plate.
3 -Take an individualized approach. The ideal percentage of macronutrients varies from individual to individual. There is no one particular amount of carbohydrate, protein, and fat that is perfect to everyone. Or there is no one-size fits all approach.
Each of us requires a customized and personal ratio of macronutrients that is satisfactory and meet our own personal needs and goals.
4- There is a wide variety of macro ratios. To safely determine the percentage/ratio of macronutrients that better attend an individual we must consider:
1. Health status, and if the person has a chronic health problem that could benefit from a specific diet. For example, gut issues and low-FODMAP diet or moderate carb diet, etc. Neurological problems and Ketogenic diet. High-blood sugar levels and low-carb diet, etc.
3. Level of physical activity
4. Energy levels
5. Personal goals whether gain, lose or maintain weight, gain muscle mass, lose fats, control blood sugar, improve lipids, among others.
5 - There is no solid recommendation on where to start, and I usually encourage my clients to try different macronutrient ratios, until they find an ideal percentage that assist their specific case and support good health and energy levels.
When I say try different macros ratios, I mean that after choosing appropriated ratios, it is needed to stick with it for a certain period of time, and if you don’t see any positive result, implement different ratios, and so on.
6- When we implement changes and experiment a different macronutrient ratio in our diet, what determines if this change was appropriate and positive for us is our energy levels.
For example, if you are on a high-carb diet because you need to lose some weight, and you decide changing to a low-carb diet. Let’s say that after a few weeks your energy level drops. It means that you need to reconsider the amount of your carbs, and maybe experiment with another carbohydrate ratio. Or perhaps a moderate-carb diet. Or, review all your macro ratios, until you find a percentage of protein, fat and carbohydrate that works for your specific case, supporting your energy level, physical well-being and vitality.
Wow! Is it too hard to think about macros?
If you find it very difficult to think of your diet in terms of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, simply focus on selecting your food with the highest quality and as diverse as possible. Remember to stick to a nutrient-dense, or nutrient-rich diet, with rainbow colored veggies, and real food that will assist you with the macros and micronutrients needed to good health.
In the next article, I will explain how to chose macronutrient ratios that work for you, and assist you achieve your personal goals
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