Macronutrients and micronutrients: an introduction

Author: Emily Taylor
Date: 05/02/2018
Category: Grow Nutrition

“Abs are made in the kitchen”

 

Whatever fitness goals you have, nutrition is an absolutely critical component to success. Think of your body as a finely tuned sports car – you wouldn’t expect to win the Grand Prix if you filled the tank with cheap, dirty fuel! In the same way, there’s no point setting yourself challenging goals in the gym unless you’re also going to think about what you’re putting into your body.

 

The food we eat has a massive impact on our training, influencing both our performance and our ability to recover and grow muscle. Ever heard the phrase “abs are made in the kitchen”? There’s a lot of truth to it. You could spend hours in the gym trying to sculpt the perfect six-pack, but if your diet is poorly thought-out and leaves you with excess fat around your midsection, then your hard-earned abs will unfortunately never see the light of day.

 

 

For those with more specific fitness goals, or who are interested in delving a little deeper into nutrition to take their training to the next level, it can be helpful to consider the role that macronutrients and micronutrients have to play.

 

So, what are macronutrients and micronutrients?

 

Macronutrients

 

Macronutrients are the building blocks of our diet. They provide energy in the form of calories and are used by the body to create energy, grow and repair tissue and keep all of our body’s systems running smoothly. They are required by the body in large amounts (hence the Greek prefix Macro, meaning large), and can be broken down into three categories:

 

  • Carbohydrates. Providing 4 calories per gram, carbohydrates are the body’s preferred energy source, and are turned into glucose to fuel our activity. Brain cells rely completely on glucose, meaning carbs are absolutely essential for brain function. However, not all carbs are created equal. Simple carbs, like white bread and sweets, should be avoided, as they provide a quick burst of energy, but do not satiate hunger in the long term and can lead to a “sugar crash”. Complex carbs, on the other hand, fill you up for longer and are more nutritionally dense, as they are jam-packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre. Good sources include wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruits
  • Protein. Like carbohydrates, protein provides the body with 4 calories per gram, however it plays a different role to carbs and will only be used by the body for energy production in extreme circumstances. When working out regularly, consuming adequate amounts of protein is essential, in order to promote the recovery and growth of muscle tissue. Although meat is often the first thing to spring to mind when protein is mentioned, it is found in a much wider variety of foods than you may realise. Black beans, lentils, chickpeas, almonds, tofu, broccoli and grains like quinoa and buckwheat are all great sources of protein that come without the health, ethical and environmental concerns that surround meat consumption. Include different protein sources in your diet, like pulses and cereals, to make sure you get the full range of 9 essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein needed by the body)
  • Fat. The popularity of “fat-free” and “low-fat” options in supermarkets may have you believing that fat should be avoided – but the truth is, your body needs fat! It uses it for energy, insulation and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Moderate your consumption of saturated fats, and instead opt for healthier sources like nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. Fats are much more calorically dense than carbs and protein, providing 9 calories per gram, so we need less of them in our diet

 

 

Macro ratios

 

Maintaining a consistent calorie surplus or deficit will lead to weight gain or loss, respectively. However, considering how much of each macronutrient you include in your daily diet can help you to meet more specific goals, for example by making sure that you are getting adequate protein to recover from your workouts and actually build muscle. So, roughly how much of each should you aim to be eating?

 

The idea that “carbs are bad” has been popularised by diets like Atkins and Dukan, however, it’s incredibly misleading to demonise one food source and claim that it will “make you fat” –any food can be fattening if you eat too much of it! In reality, carbs they are your body’s primary source of energy and as such should make up the most of your calories. Current NHS guidelines suggest that carbs should make up at least 50% of your calories. Fat shouldn’t exceed 30% of your intake, however shouldn’t drop below 15%, as this can lead to a myriad of health problems, including hormonal imbalances and digestive problems.

 

If you’re looking to build muscle, then checking your protein intake is a good idea. At least 15% of your daily calorie intake should come from protein, however people seeking to take their training to the next level will quickly realise that there are a lot of different opinions on the optimum amount of protein. It will largely depend on what your goals are and requires a process of trial and error to see how your body responds to different amounts of protein. It’s worth mentioning that protein satiates hunger, so if you’re embarking on a weight loss plan, it can be helpful to up your intake of protein to stay fuller for longer.

 

It’s not uncommon for athletes and fitness enthusiasts to dedicate a lot of time tweaking their macronutrient ratios, to achieve optimum results. This may be according to their personal experience of what works for them, or recommendations based on their body type or training goals. Some people subscribe to the “If It Fits Your Macros” approach, which essentially states that you can eat whatever you like, as long as it fits in to the ratios you have calculated to help you achieve your goals – so nothing is off limits, you can eat as much junk food as you like as long as it fits within your macros. While it’s definitely great to have a flexible attitude to dieting and not restrict yourself too much, common sense dictates that our body will not benefit from consuming our macros from processed junk food – this is where micronutrients come in.

Micronutrients

 

Having a complete macronutrient profile is essential to support your body, however it’s important not to overlook the importance of micronutrients. Making sure that you hit your macro targets by consuming healthy, unprocessed foods means that you are also providing your body with essential vitamins and minerals, thereby fuelling your body in the best possible way to ensure optimal performance.

 

Micronutrients are essential substances that ensure the smooth running of our organs, nervous system, joints and ligaments. Critically, they also help to ensure efficient metabolism of macronutrients, which can help to maximise your results in the gym. They are only needed in tiny amounts (which is why they’re known as Micronutrients, from the Greek for small) and include the following vitamins, minerals and trace elements:

  • Vitamin A – yellow, red and green (leafy) vegetables, for example spinach, carrots, peppers, and yellow fruit like mango and apricots
  • B-complex vitamins and folic acid
    • Thiamin (B1) – peas, fruit, wholegrain bread and cereals
    • Riboflavin (B2) – rice, fortified cereals
    • Niacin (B3) – mushrooms, peanuts, legumes, wholegrains
    • Vitamin B6 – wholegrain cereals, vegetables, soya beans, peanuts, potatoes
    • Biotin (B7) – found in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains
    • Vitamin B12 – fortified breakfast cereals and soy products
    • Folic acid – leafy green vegetables like spinach, beans, wholegrains
  • Vitamin C – broccoli, citrus fruits, parsley
  • Vitamin D – sunlight, some mushrooms, fortified soy products
  • Vitamin E – olive oil, avocado, wholegrains
  • Vitamin K – green leafy vegetables, wholegrain cereals
  • Iron – legumes and green leafy vegetables like
  • Calcium – almonds, tahini, green leafy vegetables
  • Magnesium – nuts, seeds, wholegrains, legumes, green leafy vegetables
  • Potassium – sweet potatoes, beans, spinach, bananas
  • Zinc – sunflower and pumpkin seeds
  • Selenium – Brazil nuts, oats, sunflower seeds, oats

 

From the above list, it’s clear that by eating a wide variety of whole, colourful foods, you should be able to hit your micronutrient needs with ease, while also ensuring you get a complete macronutrient profile.

Should you track your food intake?

 

Temporarily tracking your calorie intake and macronutrient ratios can be a really helpful exercise. You may be unwittingly consuming more calories than you thought, for example, or not getting enough protein to help your body recover from workouts. Just a few days of tracking can drive your understanding of what you should be eating, so that eventually you can intuitively reach for the right foods. This isn’t something that you should feel that you have to do for ever, unless you want to. It’s great to just use it as a short-term strategy to help you understand what you are putting into your body and think about what adjustments you might be able to make to bring you closer to your goals.

 

Keep it simple

 

Try not to get sucked in by diet fads and buzzwords – and although there’s a lot of information above, hopefully you can see that healthy eating is really not as complicated as the media sometimes makes it out to be! Just try to be mindful of how much you’re eating, and focus on filling your plate with a variety of wholesome, unprocessed and colourful foods that fuel and nourish your body.

 

If you have any questions about nutrition, have a chat with one of our PTs – they’ll be more than happy to spend some time outside of class to discuss your goals and how optimising your nutrition can help!

 

Sources

 

https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/macronutcal.htm

https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/micronutrients-matter-mike-dolce-5-keys-to-a-great-diet.html

http://www.innerbody.com/nutrition/macronutrients

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/161547.php

https://www.livestrong.com/article/454739-low-carb-diet-its-effect-on-brain-function/

http://www.innerbody.com/nutrition/micronutrients

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/

https://www.livescience.com/9109-fats-body.html

https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/the-truth-about-carbs.aspx

https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/reference-intakes-RI-guideline-daily-amounts-GDA.aspx

http://blog.myfitnesspal.com/ask-the-dietitian-whats-the-best-carb-protein-and-fat-breakdown-for-weight-loss/

https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/drwilley3.htm

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