Macronutrients: The Basics of Proteins, Fats, and Carbs
Everyone knows that eating right is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but it can be difficult to understand what exactly that means. Macronutrients play a key role in the way your body functions, and understanding them can help you make better decisions when it comes to your diet and fitness.
Let's explore the benefits of macronutrients, how they affect your body, where you can find them, and how you can use them to optimize your nutrition and fitness goals.
The first of our three macronutrients is proteins. Proteins are vital for muscle growth, energy production, and recovery. They provide the body with amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle, which help to build and maintain lean muscle mass. Protein can help to improve metabolism and reduce body fat.
In terms of nutrition and fitness, it is important to consume enough protein each day to support muscle growth and development. Eating a balanced diet that includes lean proteins like fish, chicken, beans, and legumes is a great way to ensure you are getting the necessary nutrients for optimal health.
WHAT FOODS CAN YOU FIND PROTEIN IN?
You may hear plenty of how egg whites are the best thing for you, but a whole egg is filled with vitamins (like vitamin B12), minerals, healthy fats, and even antioxidants. Egg whites are where all the protein lies, but the egg yolk holds the rest of the high-value nutrients.
MEAT & POULTRY
Chicken, fish, and lean beef are great sources of protein and are likely the most common food sources you associate protein with. Each of these three options also has other health benefits to consider. For example, fatty fish options (i.e. salmon or herring) are also high in omega-3 fats, which help support a healthy heart.
Milk, cheese, greek yogurt, and cottage cheese are filled with protein! This can be tough for many people who are lactose intolerant, but thankfully there are many alternative options on the market today! While lactose-free options won't be as rich in protein, they will still offer another source to your diet.
NUTS & SEEDS
Peanuts (and peanut butter), walnuts, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, and almonds are all stellar sources of protein. These can be great snack options throughout the day, especially if you're looking to up your protein intake!
BEANS, PEAS, & LENTILS
One of the most common arguments against a vegan or vegetarian diet is the lack of protein. However, beans and lentils are both rich in protein. Plus these are also high in other nutrients, like fiber, magnesium, and iron (among others).
Other protein-rich foods: quinoa, protein powders, Ezekiel bread, turkey, shellfish.
Fat-rich foods provide essential fatty acids that are necessary for many bodily functions and also contribute to energy production, satiety, and hormone production. In terms of fitness, fats are important for providing energy during exercise and for helping to maintain healthy body weight. They can also aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals.
It's important to choose healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados, as opposed to unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats. Nutrition labels will list the grams of each type of fat, so be sure to read your labels when at the grocery store.
One of the most well-known Fats that our body does not naturally produce is Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can help reduce inflammation, improve heart and brain health, and even help regulate blood pressure. These can be found in many fish or plant-based oils.
WHAT FOODS CAN YOU FIND HEALTHY FATS IN?
Avocados are fruits. Yup, you read that right. However, unlike most fruits, which typically contain carbohydrates, avocados are loaded with healthy fats and vitamins, including potassium, fiber, and antioxidants. An avocado a day could help keep the doctors away!
Remember how we said a whole egg was good for more than just the protein? The yolk of an egg is high in fat, as well as vitamins and minerals like choline, which helps to produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in learning and memory.
As mentioned before, fish are high in essential fats, like Omega-3's, and are also high in protein. Fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring are great sources of these fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and of course, protein.
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
Olive oil is high in oleic acid, a fatty acid that aids the body as an anti-inflammatory. Cooking with extra virgin olive oil is the easiest way to get it, but you can also use it on veggies or even as a homemade salad dressing.
Other fat sources: full-fat yogurt, chia seeds, nuts, dark chocolate (yup, you read that right), and cheese.
Carbohydrates provide energy to our bodies, and they play a role in many bodily functions and are considered the primary source of fuel for exercise and physical activity. The type and amount of carbohydrates you consume can have a major impact on your overall health and fitness level.
Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables contain important vitamins, minerals, and fiber and should make up the majority of your carbohydrate intake. Simple carbohydrates like sugar and processed foods should be limited. Eating the right types and amounts of carbohydrates can help you reach your nutrition and fitness goals.
WHAT FOODS CAN YOU FIND CARBOHYDRATES IN?
Bread, pasta, crackers, and rice are high in grains. Be sure to look for non-enriched styles or whole-grain options!
Bananas, oranges, apples, and blueberries are among the fruits high in healthy carbohydrates. Many fruits are also high in antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals (like vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin K), making them a great snack or breakfast option!
Quinoa is nearly 70% carbohydrate-based but is also a great source of fiber AND protein. This combination makes it a staple for many healthy diets. As a bonus, quinoa is also gluten-free, making it a popular alternative to wheat!
Other Sources: oats, kidney beans, chickpeas, grapefruit, beets, and sweet potatoes.
Macronutrients are an essential part of a balanced and healthy diet. Eating the right combination of macronutrients can provide you with the energy and nutrition you need for your workouts and daily activities. Understanding what roles each macronutrient plays in your diet can help you make informed decisions about what types of foods to include in your meals and snacks. With a little bit of effort and research, you can make sure you are getting the most out of your macronutrients and ensure that your nutrition is helping you reach your fitness goals.
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FoodData Central. (n.d.). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html
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Gunnars, K. B. (2021, September 28). 9 High-Fat Foods That Offer Great Health Benefits. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-super-healthy-high-fat-foods