A simple Guide to Macronutrients
In my article “A Simple Nutrition Guide” I described what the goal of my nutrition is, as well as some quick rules and an easy, but flexible, meal plan.
While this might be enough for a beginner to start, there are some technical terms like “Carbohydrates” that are probably not already known by everyone. Also, I think it is valuable to dive in a bit deeper into this topic, since our nutrition is important for a healthy look and well-being.
Therefor I will write down my knowledge in regards to macronutrients, in order to complete my previous guide. Of course, I keep it as simple as possible again.
Definition of Macronutrients
Our food consists of 3 macronutrients, or short “macros”. We call them carbohydrates (short “carbs”), proteins and fats. Our body uses these nutrients either for energy or as building material for its various components (muscles, fat, organs, skin, bones, cells, hormones, enzymes, DNA, etc.). In addition to water and micronutrients (e.g. vitamins), they are important for survival and to ensure the functioning of our body.
Energy delivery in kilocalories (kcal)
- Carbohydrate(s): 4 kcal / gram
- Protein(s): 4 kcal / gram
- Fat(s): 9 kcal / gram
Which means, that if our food consists of 30g carbs, 50g fat and 20g protein per 100g it will deliver 650kcal of energy to our body [(30g * 4kcal) + (50g * 9kcal) + (20g * 4kcal)].
One would not think, “ok, fats have the highest energy delivery / gram, if I want to cut down I just eat no fats at all”. This is not entirely true, as mentioned before, each macronutrient has also a different role as a building material.
Carbs occur in bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, fruits, etc. As soon as something sweet tastes (except sweeteners), we can bet that carbs are involved. After all, most of them are sugar molecules that are strung together in different ways. Other carbohydrate forms are starch and fiber.
Carbohydrates are not essential (as opposed to protein and fat). We do not have to feed them from outside to survive. Does that mean we should not consume any carbohydrates? No, they still have their use and benefits! For example, fruit and vegetables contain a lot of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, that are important for a healthy body too. Oatmeal provides long-term energy and containes fiber, which ensures a good digestion.
However, if I personally want to lose body fat, I will start by reducing my carbohydrate intake for exactly this reason – even though they only have 4 kcal / gram compared to fats with 9 kcal / gram.
So, if they are not essential, why and when to use them?
It is pretty easy for our body to gain energy from carbs, no complicated conversion processes is necessary for this. Therefore, when fast & high energy needs to be provided, e.g. for heavy lifting or sprinting, carbohydrates are the best energy suppliers.
That being said, the right amount of carbohydrates depends on your current situation and goals. The higher our training volume and intensity is, the more carbs we need to be efficient.
Endurance athletes with very high training volume need carbs the most. Although strength training has an even higher intensity, carbohydrates are often less needed. They are not insignificant in our plan to lift heavy and build testosterone, but we need less than you might think. For this reason, I claim that too many people are eating too much carbs.
In the end it comes down to your own parameters of volume and intensity, as well as your goals. Hence, I can not make suggestions of how much carbs you should eat each day. Though, our body can generate its energy completly from fats. For example, the “Ketogenic diet” follows this principle.
If we don’t want to fall into this “Ketogenesis” and don’t practive any sports, we will need at least more than 100g of carbs / day, which equals 1-2 g carbs / kg of our body weight. Anything else depends on what sports we are practicing, but I think that this number is a good lower limit.
If I want to lose body fat, I try to stay below 100g of carbs, usually around 50g. I will those 50g mostly with vegetables, since vegetables contain lots of good micronutrients and most green ones fiber (helps digestion) too.
DO NOT LISTEN TO THE FLAT-RATE SUGGESTION OF “YOUR NUTRITION SHOULD CONSISTS OF ~60% CARBS”. NEVER EVER. THAT IS BULLSHIT!
Protein is more common in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, tofu, etc. It is the major component of cells in our bodies and therefore necessary to build and keep muscle mass, as well as growing, hair, nails, etc. or regenartion. Hence it is an essential macronutrient. While there are controversial suggestions on how much protein one should really eat, my daily goal is an intake between 1.5g – 2g of proteins / kg of bodyweight, just to be sure. I have read from and watched many guys in the fitness industry and this was the most common “truth” between all of them. Personally I have followed this advice for 10 years now and never had any issues with it so far.
However, most official nutrition organizations recommend a fairly modest protein intake. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. This amounts to: 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man. There are also lots of rumors of misconceptions going around, that protein is dangerous. Most of this is complete nonsense or only applies to seriously ill people (for example, renal failure).
You probably have to find your own truth, but here are some more sources:
Fats are found in oils, greasy meats, cheeses, butter, etc. (further subdivision into O3 & 6, as well as MUFA, PUFA, SFA and TFA).
In times of low-fat diets, fats are demonized because of their high calorie content (9 kcal / g). In recent years they are celebrated by low carb and paleo supporters. The truth is that fats are important for a healthy diet and basically essential!
For example, they play a major role in the structure of cell walls and in the formation of many hormones (testosterone, estrogen and others). Furthermore, fat is the ideal energy storage. With no other macronutrient the body can store so many kcal in a small amount of space. If one wanted to replace 15 kg of fat by glycogen in a person, it would require 150 kg of glycogen.
Finally, too little fats in the diet can have a negative impact on testosterone levels. Some fats cannot even be produced by the body. If they are not supplied by our food, deficiency symptoms will occur.
Different kinds of fats
Also, fats are divided into the following sub categories:
- Saturated Fats have long been demonized, which is slowly being revised. Above all, intake of many carbohydrates in combination with saturated fats seems to have negative effects on many health markers. Apart from this case, the effect of saturated fats in the body is controversial, but we need them to build testosterone! We can find them in e.g. meat, eggs or cheese for example.
- Unsaturated fats are regularly associated with beneficial health effects. For example, this type of fat is credited with preventing diseases of the cardiovascular system. Among the unsaturated fats there are the so-called essential fatty acids. These cannot be produced by the body itself and there are deficiencies if they are not sufficiently supplied. There is a distinction between omega-6 fats and omega-3 fats. We can find omega-6 in e.g. fat fish and omega-3 in e.g. walnuts or almonds.
- Polyunsaturated fats are attributed to have a number of health effects such as lowering blood pressure, brain development, cardiovascular and bone health and much more are associated with these fats. Those fats can be found in e.g. avocados or olive oil.
That is mostly all we have to know about macronutrients. Yes, with a high fat diet it is very easy to add too many calories. In contrast, it is much harder to over eat with a low-fat diet such as lots of lean protein and lots of vegetables.
However, that does not mean that we automatically increase body weight with a high-fat diet either. We can even lose weight with diets that are relatively high in fat. Furthermore, all the benefits of fats can and most likely will be lost in low-fat diets. Since lots of carbs are not essential to the body, the choice of dieting should be rather logical.
As a final disclaimer I want to make clear, that I am not a medical doctor. I have solely written down what I have learned over the years by my own experience and from different other sources. Please take note of my medical disclaimer and consult a medical doctor for personalised medical advice and treatment.