Nutrition 101 – Macros

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. I am not a registered dietician and this should not be taken as medical advice.

Nutrients are compounds found in our food that are essential for life and health. They provide energy, build and repair tissue and regulate chemical processes in the body, such as our metabolism. They are classified into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are nutrients we need in larger amounts; whereas, micronutrients are needed in smaller amounts. There are six classes of nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, lipids, water, vitamins and minerals. Today, we’ll be focusing on macros and water.

Protein

Proteins are considered the main building blocks of the body, yet we cannot store protein in the same way we store carbs and fats. They can be broken down into essential and nonessential amino acids. Essential amino acids cannot be produced in sufficient quantities by the body, so we need to get them from our diet. Whereas, non-essential amino acids we can produce in sufficient quantities.

Complete proteins are proteins that contain all 9 essential amino acids in the right amounts. Animal proteins, such as: meat, eggs and milk, as well as, quinoa and soy are considered complete proteins. Incomplete proteins do not contain all 9 amino acids in the right amounts and therefore need to be paired with other complementary incomplete proteins. You can combine nuts or seeds with whole grains (peanut butter on whole wheat bread/toast), whole grains with beans (brown rice and beans) or beans with nuts or seeds (salad with chickpeas and sunflower seeds) to form complete proteins. Stews and soups are also a great way to combine incomplete proteins.

Functions:

  • Growth and repair of tissues
  • Metabolism
  • Manufactures antibodies and some hormones

Recommendations:
0.8g- 3.3g/kg of body weight (10%-35%)

A simpler way to measure protein without breaking out the scales is with hand measurements. One serving of protein is about the size of your palm. 1-2 palms of protein are recommended per meal.

Carbohydrates

Carbs are our main source of energy and fiber. For those who are unaware, fruits and vegetables are considered carbohydrates. Carbs can be broken down into simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs break down into glucose more easily than complex carbs and therefore are absorbed faster into the body. Complex carbs can be further broken down into starch or dietary fiber. The following are examples of simple carbs: soda, honey, baked goods and fruit juice concentrate, and complex carbs high in starch: whole grains, beans, lentils, potatoes, pasta and rice.

Dietary fiber is classified as soluble or insoluble, though we cannot digest either form. Soluble fiber helps you feel full longer, feeds your gut bacteria, slows glucose uptake and helps trap and eliminate cholesterol. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool to promote a quicker exit. High fiber foods include: citrus fruits, vegetables, whole grains, berries, beans and oats. High fiber diets can help reduce your risks of colorectal, breast and prostate cancers, heart disease and diabetes.

Functions:

  • Provides energy
  • Aids in digestion
  • Regulates gut health

Recommendations:
225-325g/day (45%-65%)

One serving of carbs is about the size of your cupped hand. 1-2 cupped hands of carbs are recommended per meal.*
* For very active individuals or those looking to gain mass, increase the handfuls per meal or meals per day.

Fiber
25g/day minimum & 35g/day for women (optimal)
38g/day minimum & 48g/day for men (optimal)

Lipids (fats)

Fats are another source of energy for the body, however, it takes several hours to be digested and transported to the blood stream. Fats are broken down into fatty acids and are classified as either unsaturated, saturated or trans fats. Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature (i.e. olive oil); whereas, saturated fats are usually solid (i.e. butter). Dietary fat provides two essential fatty acids, omega 3 and omega 6. These unsaturated fats can be found in cold-water fatty fish, such as: salmon, tuna or sardines and nuts, such: as walnuts, almonds and cashews respectively. Other sources of healthy dietary fats include: avocados, eggs, dairy, meat and seeds.

Trans fats are not good for our bodies and mostly made through the chemical processing of unsaturated fats. This chemical processing is called hydrogenation. Although there are a few trans fats that are naturally occurring, they do not seem to have the same negative effects. Thankfully, Health Canada banned partially hydrogenated oils in foods, a major source of trans fats, in September 2018. Manufacturers had a two year period to phase these changes in and therefore as of September 2020, food made in or imported into Canada cannot contain artificial trans fats.

Functions:

  • Provides energy
  • Aids in absorption of fat soluble vitamins
  • Regulates body temperature

Recommendations:
44g-78g/day (20%-30%)

One serving of fats is about the size of your thumb. 1-2 thumbs are recommended per meal.*
* For very active individuals or those on a higher fat diet, increase to 2-3 thumbs per meal or add more meals.

Water

Water is essential for life and makes up 50-60% of our bodies. We need to balance the water coming in with the water going out. We get water through drinking liquids and eating water-rich foods and lose water through sweating, breathing and excretion. The surrounding temperature, as well as, our consumption habits can also determine water needs (i.e. we need more water in warmer and/or drier conditions, when eating salty foods and while drinking alcohol).

Functions:

  • Regulates body temperature
  • Transports oxygen, nutrients and waste
  • Aids in digestion

Recommendations:
3L (12 cups) / day*
* ~1L (4 cups) comes from our food leaving 2L (8 cups) / day to drink.

There is no universal “best” diet when it comes to improving your eating habits. The best diet is really what’s best for you, your body and your particular goals. The best diet is one that you can stick to consistently over time and helps you feel your best. These just provide the building blocks necessary to create a diet that is sustainable for you in the long-term.


Are you well hydrated?

The best indicator is the colour of your urine. Pale yellow is what you’re aiming for.

Stay tuned for part 2/4 in the Nutrition Basics Series, Nutrition 102, where I’ll cover vitamins.

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