“You are what you eat” - A quick guide to Macros

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Every time we eat something, we are choosing how to fuel our body, and just like cars, the better the quality of fuel we put in, the better level of performance we get out.   What we eat has a huge effect on how our bodies function day to day, so if you often feel lethargic, constantly hungry or have difficulty concentrating, then taking a look at your diet might help.

You may have heard of ‘macros’ and ‘micros’.  Macros are the nutrients we need in large amounts – carbs, fat & protein.  Micros are the nutrients we require in small quantities - vitamins and minerals.  Both are essential, but within this article we’ll focus on macros – explaining how much of each we should be eating, how often, and what are the best sources of each.  With this information, you will be able to choose how you construct your meals to get good proportions of each macro nutrient. 

Use this six weeks to experiment with the food you eat, so rather than feeling deprived of anything, mix up your menus. Be adventurous - discover new foods and flavours to find out what keeps you satisfied for longer and functioning at your best.

Protein

Protein aids growth & repair in the body.

It is essential for a good immune system, metabolism, satiety, (i.e. making you feel full for longer) weight management and performance. 

We need a small amount to survive, but eating the optimal amount ensures we function at our best. 

Due to the hormones which are released as we process it, protein can help to control body fat levels.  You might also see a difference in your hair, skin and nails.

It is recommended we consume between 0.8-2.0g protein per kg of body weight.

Protein stores need to be continually replenished, so aim to eat a source of protein with every meal. Some good sources of protein are listed below 

Carbs

Carbs have been given a bad name in recent years, but we need them in our diet for energy.  The key is being aware of the different types of carbohydrates, and mindful of which we are choosing to eat.

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.

Simple (AKA refined / processed / non-healthy) carbohydrates, such as sugar, are easier for the body to process.  Complex ( AKA unrefined / unprocessed / healthier) carbohydrates, such as porridge are digested and absorbed into the body more slowly.

Unrefined carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These are the carbs we should be consuming. They can help to control insulin response, regulate energy levels, and stabilise body composition.  They often contain high levels of fibre too, which helps increase satiety, increase metabolism, and keep blood sugar levels under control.

So, how much should we be eating?

The minimal recommended intake for carbohydrate is 130g per day for the general population, with the majority coming from vegetables and fruit.  Try to include a range of colours in your fruit and vegetable choices to maximise all of their benefits.

You’ll often hear of people reducing their starchy carbohydrate intake (potatoes, quinoa, rice) in the evening. Findings on this from recent research into nutrition timing has varied, so perhaps there is no one-size-fits-all rule on this one. If you are interested in this you could use this six weeks to see what works best for you.

Fat

A few years ago fat was the enemy of every “healthy” recipe.  We now know different.  Like carbs, fats can be broken down into good fats (unsaturated), bad fats (saturated).

“Relatively unprocessed fats from whole foods” can be considered healthy fats - so things like nuts, avocado, chia seeds, extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed animals and fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel. 

Unhealthy fats are typically those that are industrially produced and designed to be non-perishable, so these can be found in many processed foods.

We need to consume the right level of fat in order to achieve optimal functioning of our entire body. Good fats help support our metabolism and immune system, keep the tissues in our bodies healthy, support hormone production and aid the absorption of other nutrients into our body. Having enough fat will also help keep us feeling full between meals.

The overall message on Macros

In summary, our bodies need a good mix of protein, carbohydrate and fat to function at their best.

Making sensible choices and aiming to move towards more whole, fresh, minimally processed foods rather than ready made meals is a good start.

By choosing high quality, varied foods we function better, have more energy, feel fuller for longer and keep our weight under control. Enjoy!

Andy Letham