My final post in "THE KEY TO WEIGHT LOSS" series.
Macros (macronutrients) are not just one of many diet trends but are in fact a normal and important part of a healthy diet. There are 3 macronutrients. Carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Lots of people will include alcohol as a 4th macro due to how often it is consumed by a large majority of the population and it being a main offender for people struggling to lose weight.
All 3 macros have had their time in the fad diet limelight. Initially it was the Atkins Diet targeting carbohydrates. Carbs were perceived as an enemy (and still are) to many a failed dieter and were solely to blame for their failures.
Then came the low fat trend. No-one wanted to buy anything unless it was the lowest fat version of that product. Lurpak butter for example went from “lighter" to “lightest”. It’s funny really. An even lower fat version of low fat fat…hmmmm.
Then, of course, came the “HIGH PROTEIN on everything possible even if it’s not really protein” trend. This particular trend is still quite pronounced. I certainly advise my clients to ensure their protein is adequate for their needs, as despite the trend, many people don’t eat enough. However, most products are marketed as high protein when in fact, per 100g, compared to many other products which aren’t marketed as such, really do fall short of the definition for being “high” in something.
So why are macronutrients so important? It’s there in their name. A macronutrient is defined as a type of food which is required in large (“macro”) amounts in the diet. Taking that literally, it doesn’t really imply that any should be eliminated from a diet. However, many still blame one or more of the macronutrients to be the cause of their weight gain or lack of weight loss. Referring to my previous posts on calories and energy balance, there isn’t just one culprit to blame other than yourself and the plethora of misinformation out there. It isn’t simply (or correctly!) a case of blaming carbohydrates or fats in causing the global obesity epidemic.
Here are some simple definitions of each macro and why each are important to include in a balanced diet.
Carbs are the preferred fuel source in our bodies for higher intensity exercise as well as being essential for cognitive function. That’s your brain, so arguably pretty important! Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, they do actually help improve your body composition by assisting recovery from your training sessions. If you don’t recover well, you can’t exercise effectively again and if you can’t exercise you can’t build muscle or assist weight loss. Getting your carbs from a variety of sources, for example, pasta, bread, veggies, cereals, rice, fruits etc is the best way to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the micronutrients and all important fibre.
Another essential source of fuel for our bodies and one to not be feared. It is what our body will use for low intensity exercise and for energy at rest. You do need to be wary of portion size as per gram it is the most calorie dense of the macros (carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram, fat is over double at 9 calories per gram). Consequently, it is easy with all its deliciousness to overdo it. That is not to say avoid it. There are a few types of fat, some of which are actually essential and are referred to as essential fatty acids. Namely omega 3 and 6 which are found in oily fish (salmon and mackerel), nuts, oils and seeds. It is best to minimise the amount of synthetic trans-fats found in shop-bought pastries and cakes and highly saturated fats found in highly processed meats such as corned beef and bacon. However, they can be included in a balanced diet and enjoyed from time to time!
Not just for building muscles, protein is responsible for life; your DNA is made of it. Healthy hair, skin, nails and immune systems are all a product of adequate protein intake. Having sufficient amounts of protein in our diet will help to build new muscle tissue and recover from intense bouts of training. Having adequate protein in your diet can also help you feel satiated, particularly during phases of weight loss. The recommended amount to consume is anywhere between 0.8g/kg of bodyweight to 2g/kg. However if you are looking to gain a bit of muscle then try to hit the higher end of the range between 1.5g-2g/kg BW.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, 20 of them to be precise and there are 9 that we must obtain from our diet as our bodies can’t make them. Animal based sources such as chicken, red meat, fish, eggs, poultry, yoghurt, and whey protein powders contain all 9 essential amino acids. It can be more difficult to obtain all 9 essential amino acids from vegan/vegetarian sources. Quinoa, tofu and quorn contain all 9 EEAS but you can also hit them by pairing sources such as kidney beans & brown rice. Complete protein sources found in supplement form for vegans and vegetarians are much more readily available now (but as always, sourcing from whole foods is always recommended over and above supplements).
Depending on your goals, the amount of each macronutrient that you should consume will vary. With my clients who are mainly looking for weight loss and/or muscle gain, I focus primarily on hitting their adequate protein intake, ensure they are consuming a lovely colourful array of veg and fruit and complex carbs and including a variety of essential fat sources such as oily fish (ideally 2 portions a week), oils, nuts and seeds. I ensure the foods they enjoy are always included with minimal restrictions. Inclusive diets will always trump exclusive diets with too much elimination.
Disclaimer: ***I would like to clarify I am talking on a general population level regarding weight loss and diet rather than referring to any possible medically proven health benefits or for athletic performance***