Fueling Your Success: Exploring Macronutrients and Beyond

What's in my diet? Macronutrients Micronutrients and everything in between

Welcome to the second part of our exploration of basic nutrition, where we delve into the topic of macronutrients and beyond. In this post, we cover essential macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) as well as the importance of micronutrients, fluids, fiber, and supplements in our diets. These elements are fundamental to achieving a well-rounded and balanced approach to nutrition, providing the necessary components our bodies need to thrive.

Table of Contents

The food in our diets can be broken down into seven basic categories (there are more if we get into it, but let’s keep it simple).  It is important to get the balance of your body’s daily requirements right, especially when training.  Let us start with the big 3 macronutrients, Carbohydrates, Fats and Proteins.

Carbohydrate

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Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients, alongside proteins and fats, that provide our bodies with energy. They are found in a variety of foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy products. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which serves as the primary source of fuel for our cells and muscles. They are crucial for providing energy for physical activity, brain function, and various bodily processes. While it’s important to choose carbohydrates wisely and opt for nutrient-dense sources like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, they play a vital role in maintaining a well-balanced diet and supporting overall health and performance.

Glycaemic Load and Glycaemic Index explained

The Glycemic Index (GI) is a ranking system that measures how quickly carbohydrates in our food raise blood sugar levels compared to a reference food. Foods are given scores, indicating whether they are categorized as ‘high,’ ‘medium,’ or ‘low’ on the GI chart. Glucose or white bread is often used as a reference to compare. The GI is used as a tool in dieting and meal planning to guide food choices and manage blood sugar levels.

Eating high GI foods can provide a rapid source of energy, making them beneficial for athletes or individuals engaging in intense physical activity. They can help replenish glycogen stores quickly and aid in post-workout recovery. However, high GI foods may cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels, followed by a subsequent crash, which can leave you feeling hungry and fatigued.

In dieting, the GI can be utilized to support weight management. Low GI foods tend to provide sustained energy, promote feelings of fullness, and help control cravings, making them beneficial for weight loss or maintenance. By selecting low GI foods, individuals can avoid rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar, which can lead to increased hunger and overeating.

Consuming low GI foods is also beneficial for individuals seeking to manage blood sugar levels, such as those with diabetes or insulin resistance. 

Glycaemic Index

Whilst the Glycemic Index (GI) ranks foods based on how quickly they raise blood sugar, the Glycemic Load takes into account both the quality and quantity of carbohydrates consumed. Understanding these concepts can help individuals make informed dietary choices, especially for managing blood sugar levels, weight control, and overall health.

Figuring out the GI score of the food you eat

Macronutrients. Carbohydrates. Proteins. Fats. Energy sources. Nutrient composition. Food groups. Macronutrient balance. Energy metabolism. Dietary intake. Micronutrients. Vitamins. Minerals. Essential nutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies. Nutrient absorption. Micronutrient-rich foods. Micronutrient supplementation. Fiber-rich foods. Hydration. Balanced diet. Nutrient density. Dietary guidelines. Healthy eating.

To calculate a food not on the list use the method above:

  • Glycaemic Load = (Glycaemic Index x amount of Carbohydrates) then divided by 100.
  • This is a method used to determine how rapidly a specific Carbohydrate food releases its energy into the bloodstream.
  • The resultant score is then given a rating based on that score.
  • Low = 10 
  • Medium = 11-19
  • High =20 or more.
  • Alternatively, just ask Google! Type in GI of ‘insert food name’. It will give you the foods score and a summary.

The Pros and Cons of eating High or Low GI Foods

  • Low GI = smaller rise in blood sugar after meals.
  • Diets with low GI – benefits type I and II diabetes.  It can improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
  • Low GI – Benefits for weight control.  Can help control appetite, delay hunger.  It also does not promote fat storage, something that is caused by increased insulin response.
  • Low GI diets can prolong physical endurance.
  • High GI foods provide a quick supply of glucose and can be beneficial for fuelling during prolonged exercise (such as long-distance runs).
  • Foods with High GI scores – provide an instant supply of glucose if consumed shortly before commencement of exercise.
  • High GI foods can help refuel carbohydrate stores after exercise.
  • Foods with High GI scores present peaks and troughs in energy levels which can lead to poor concentration and lethargy.
  • High GI foods promote fat storage due to high insulin response following a high GI meal.

NB: It is important to have a balanced diet of the right GI foods specific to your needs.  In general, for non-runners and those trying to lose or maintain weight levels – Low Glycemic Index foods are best.  Having a low GI diet can ward off diseases such as CHD, diabetes, and obesity.

The Takeaway

  • The main function of Carbohydrates is to provide energy.
  • There are two types of carbohydrates. Simple and Complex.
  • (For the average Joe or Jane) 50% of your energy intake should be provided by carbohydrates.  This will differ depending on the type of training you undertake.  Runners will need a lot more carbohydrates than someone trying to lose weight. We’ll cover this more in another section.
  • The Glycaemic index and Glycaemic load of Carbohydrates relate to how their energy is released into the bloodstream.
  • For good health, we should aim to consume a diet rich in lower Glycaemic index carbs.
  • Fibers are essential in the diet to ensure the efficient functioning of the digestive system (for more on Fibre see below).
  • Overconsumption of Carbohydrates can lead to obesity.
  • Good sources of Carbohydrates. Whole Wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, brown rice, Oats, Rye, whole wheat, multigrain bread, Barley, Bran cereal, Beans (black-eyed peas, pinto), Wheatgerm. (See our section here).

Fats

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Fats are the next of the three macronutrients essential for a healthy diet. Despite their bad reputation in the past, it’s important to understand that not all fats are created equal. While excessive consumption of unhealthy fats can contribute to health issues, including heart disease, healthy fats play crucial roles in our bodies. Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish, provide energy, support cell growth, protect organs, aid in nutrient absorption, and help regulate hormone levels. Including moderate amounts of healthy fats in our diet is important for overall health and well-being.

Why Fat in your Diet is Super Necessary

  • Fat storage allows our internal organs protection from damage from falls and blows.
  • ThermoregulationFat layers basically keep us warm.
  • Insulation. Fat intake ensures good nervous system function.
  • Fat provides energy, a lot of energy – 9 kcals to be precise.
  • Fat is important in the growth and repair of the body’s tissues. For instance, hair and skin.
  • Very important in hormone production, storage and modification in both males and females.  Testosterone and Oestrogen takes place in Adipose (fat) tissue.
  • Reproductive function.  If fat intake is compromised so might sperm and egg production.
  • Intake plays important part in bone growth.  Decreased fat intake can lead to Osteoporosis (weak, brittle bones).
  • EFA’s (Essential fatty acids) have many important bodily functions. EFA’s such as omega-3 and omega-6 are considered vital nutrients that the body needs in small quantities.

Types of fats found in our diets

  • Saturated Fats (Sat fats) – Meat, eggs, meat products, butter, cream, cheddar cheese, full-fat yogurt.
  • Polyunsaturated fats – Vegetable and plant oils, corn oil, nuts and seeds, oily fish.
  • Monounsaturated Fats – Avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oils, rapeseed, flaxseed, almond oil.
  • EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acids) – Oily fish, seeds and oils, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, walnut, rapeseed, soya beans, dark green vegetables, vegetables, and plant oils.
  • Trans-Fats – Cakes, biscuits, margarine, manufactured products, fast foods.

Not all Fats are created equal - Weighing the benefits of different types of fat

Different types of dietary fats can have varying effects on our health. Here is a summary of the pros and cons of common types of fats:

Saturated fats:

  • Pros: Saturated fats are a concentrated source of energy and provide stability to cell membranes. They are important for the production of hormones and play a role in calcium absorption.
  • Cons: Consuming excessive amounts of saturated fats, especially from sources like red meat and full-fat dairy products, may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases by raising LDL cholesterol levels.

Polyunsaturated fats:

  • Pros: Polyunsaturated fats, including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are essential fats that the body needs for brain function, cell growth, and overall health. Sources include fatty fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, and vegetable oils.
  • Cons: It’s important to maintain a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. Excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids, often found in processed foods and vegetable oils, may promote inflammation if not balanced with adequate omega-3 intake.

Monounsaturated fats:

  • Pros: Monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts, have been associated with improved heart health, reduced LDL cholesterol levels, and reduced inflammation when consumed in moderation.
  • Cons: While monounsaturated fats are generally considered healthy, they are still high in calories, so portion control is important.

EFA’s (Essential Fatty Acids):

  • Pros: EFAs, specifically omega-3 fatty acids, support heart health, brain function, and help reduce inflammation.
  • Cons: Excessive intake of omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3s can promote inflammation, and some sources of omega-3s may contain environmental contaminants.

Trans fats:

  • Pros: There are no known health benefits of trans fats. Artificial trans fats, commonly found in partially hydrogenated oils, have been linked to increased LDL cholesterol levels and an elevated risk of heart disease.
  • Cons: Trans fats are considered unhealthy and should be minimized or avoided in the diet as much as possible.

In general, it is recommended to focus on consuming healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, while limiting saturated fats and avoiding trans fats altogether. A well-balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods is key to maintaining overall health and well-being.

The Takeaway

  • Often demonized, Fat is actually essential for health and should be an important part of your diet.
  • The consumption of Fat is important for a number of different reasons.
  • No more than 35% of your intake should be provided by fat sources (watch that fat intake!)
  • There are several different types of fat. Some super necessary, some very bad for your diet and health! Choose wisely.
  • In a nutshell, these are – Saturated fats (from animals – good fats); Unsaturated fats (non-animal sources – also good fats); Essential fatty acids (very good for joints and function) and Trans-fats (not good, junk).
  • Out of the above fats, unsaturated fats are the healthiest type.
  • Trans-fats are the fat sources to avoid.
  • EFA’s (aka Omega 3+6 oils) cannot be made by the human body but are essential to our survival.  These must be found from the food we consume.
  • Big problems occur when there’s too much fat in the diet.  Overconsumption of fat can lead to obesity and CHD.
  • Insufficient fat in the diet can lead to deficiencies of fat-soluble vitamins and EFA’s.  It can also affect normal hormone balance and production in both males and females.

Proteins

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Proteins are a fundamental macronutrient that plays a crucial role in maintaining and repairing body tissues. Composed of amino acids, proteins are involved in numerous functions within the body, including building and repairing muscles, supporting immune function, producing enzymes and hormones, and serving as a source of energy when needed. They are often referred to as the body’s “building blocks” as they are responsible for the growth, development, and maintenance of various tissues, such as muscles, organs, skin, and hair. Protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, legumes, dairy products, and nuts provide the necessary amino acids our bodies need to function optimally. Striking a balance and including adequate protein in our diet is essential for overall health and well-being.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and are essential for various physiological processes in the body. There are 20 different amino acids, of which nine are considered essential, meaning they cannot be produced by the body and must be obtained from our diet. These essential amino acids are found in a variety of protein-rich foods, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and certain grains like quinoa. Non-essential amino acids can be synthesized by the body, but consuming foods that contain them can still be beneficial for optimal health. By incorporating a diverse range of protein sources into our diets, we ensure a sufficient intake of all the essential amino acids needed for growth, repair, and overall well-being.

Vegans and Amino Acids

Vegans can obtain all the essential amino acids necessary for their dietary needs by combining different plant-based protein sources. While individual plant foods may not contain all the essential amino acids, consuming a variety of legumes, soy products, whole grains, nuts, and seeds ensures a complementary amino acid profile. For example, legumes provide lysine, while grains offer methionine. By incorporating these diverse protein sources throughout the day, vegans can meet their amino acid requirements and support optimal health without relying on animal-based foods. Additionally, strategic pairing of foods, such as combining legumes with grains or seeds, can further enhance amino acid intake and balance. With mindful planning and a varied plant-based diet, vegans can achieve a complete and well-rounded amino acid profile to support their overall well-being.

Daily Protein Intake and Training

Protein requirements vary based on factors like age, sex, weight, and activity level. For sedentary adults, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is approximately 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. However, individuals engaged in physical training or regular exercise may benefit from higher protein intake ranging from 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight. Meeting increased protein needs can be achieved by including protein-rich foods in meals and snacks, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and plant-based protein alternatives. Athletes may also consider protein supplementation with whey or plant-based protein powders to conveniently meet their targets. Consulting with a registered dietitian or sports nutrition professional can help determine specific protein needs based on training goals, body composition, and overall health, ensuring optimal muscle repair, growth, and athletic performance.

The Takeaway

  • Main function of proteins is the growth and repair of the body’s tissue.
  • The building blocks of protein are known as ‘Amino acids‘.
  • There are 20 Amino acids.
  • All animal protein provides a full complement of Essential Amino Acids.
  • For vegans, a well-planned and varied plant-based diet can still provide all 20 essential amino acids. By including a variety of plant-based protein sources like legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, whole soy products, and seitan, it is possible to obtain all the essential amino acids without the need for supplementation.  Consulting with a registered dietitian or nutrition expert can provide personalized guidance to meet nutritional needs on a plant-based diet. 
  • 10/15% of daily energy should come from proteins.
  • Protein requirement for relatively inactive healthy individual – 0.8g per kg of bodyweight. For people undertaking endurance training, they may need 1.2-1.4 per Kg of bodyweight. For Strength training approx 1.4 – 2.0 per kg of body weight.
  • Protein provides 4 kcal per gram of energy.
  • Having too high a protein diet can come with risks. Accumulation of ammonia; kidney and liver damage, increased body fat and ketosis (this is when high protein intake is linked to a low carb diet).
  • Good sources of Proteins, Chia seeds, meat, fish, Greek yoghurt, protein powder, soya beans.

Now that macronutrients are covered we will move onto.. everything else.

Vitamins and Minerals

Macronutrients. Carbohydrates. Proteins. Fats. Energy sources. Nutrient composition. Food groups. Macronutrient balance. Energy metabolism. Dietary intake. Micronutrients. Vitamins. Minerals. Essential nutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies. Nutrient absorption. Micronutrient-rich foods. Micronutrient supplementation. Fiber-rich foods. Hydration. Balanced diet. Nutrient density. Dietary guidelines. Healthy eating.

Vitamins and minerals are essential micronutrients that our bodies require in small amounts to function properly. Vitamins are organic compounds that play crucial roles in various bodily processes, such as metabolism, immune function, and cell growth. They are classified into two types: fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), which are stored in the body’s fat tissues, and water-soluble vitamins (B-complex vitamins and vitamin C), which are not stored and need to be replenished regularly through our diet.

Minerals, on the other hand, are inorganic substances that are necessary for the proper functioning of our cells, muscles, nerves, and overall bodily systems. They are involved in processes like bone formation, nerve transmission, fluid balance, and enzyme activity. Some essential minerals include calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

Both vitamins and minerals are obtained through a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products. While they are required in smaller quantities compared to macronutrients, vitamins and minerals play vital roles in maintaining good health and supporting our overall well-being.

The Takeaway

  • Vitamins are chemicals naturally found in food.
  • Fat-soluble vitamins are A. D, E, and K.
  • Water-soluble vitamins are B and C.
  • All vitamins have specific functions but work in synergy (they work as a unit).
  • Antioxidants vitamins = A,C and E.
  • The function of Antioxidant vitamins is to combat the effects of oxygen free radicals.
  • To ensure a good supply of A, C and E vitamins, you should consume a variety of brightly coloured fruits, vegetables and green leafy vegetables.
  • Iron is essential for formation of haemoglobin (responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood).
  • Calcium is essential for strong and healthy bones and teeth.
  • Sodium is important in regulating fluid balances.
  • Too much sodium (salt) can lead to increased BP in some people.
  • To ensure nutrient content of fruits and veg is retained the most efficient cooking method is steaming.

For more on Vitamins and Minerals click here.

Fibre

Macronutrients. Carbohydrates. Proteins. Fats. Energy sources. Nutrient composition. Food groups. Macronutrient balance. Energy metabolism. Dietary intake. Micronutrients. Vitamins. Minerals. Essential nutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies. Nutrient absorption. Micronutrient-rich foods. Micronutrient supplementation. Fiber-rich foods. Hydration. Balanced diet. Nutrient density. Dietary guidelines. Healthy eating.

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based foods that cannot be fully digested by the human body. Despite being indigestible, fiber plays a crucial role in maintaining good health. There are two main types of dietary fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract, helping to regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool, aiding in regular bowel movements and preventing constipation.

Fiber-rich foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. By incorporating these foods into your diet, you can increase your fiber intake and enjoy a range of benefits. Fiber helps promote a healthy digestive system, prevents spikes in blood sugar levels, contributes to weight management by providing a feeling of fullness, and supports heart health by reducing cholesterol levels. Moreover, fiber acts as a prebiotic, serving as nourishment for the beneficial bacteria in the gut and promoting a healthy gut microbiome. To reap the rewards of fiber, it is recommended to gradually increase your intake and ensure adequate hydration to facilitate its proper functioning.

The Takeaway

  • Fibre has no calories but adds bulk to our food which aids digestion and absorption. It also helps to prevent bowel cancer.
  • Sources of fibre include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Fluids and Hydration

Macronutrients. Carbohydrates. Proteins. Fats. Energy sources. Nutrient composition. Food groups. Macronutrient balance. Energy metabolism. Dietary intake. Micronutrients. Vitamins. Minerals. Essential nutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies. Nutrient absorption. Micronutrient-rich foods. Micronutrient supplementation. Fiber-rich foods. Hydration. Balanced diet. Nutrient density. Dietary guidelines. Healthy eating.

Fluids and hydration are vital for maintaining optimal health and well-being. Our bodies rely on water for a multitude of functions, including regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, delivering nutrients, removing waste products, and supporting organ function. Adequate hydration is essential for maintaining overall bodily function and preventing dehydration. It is recommended to drink water regularly throughout the day, as well as consume fluids from other sources such as herbal teas, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Staying properly hydrated helps ensure proper digestion, nutrient absorption, and efficient circulation. Additionally, it supports cognitive function, physical performance, and helps maintain healthy skin. Monitoring your fluid intake and staying hydrated is a simple yet crucial step towards supporting your body’s daily needs and promoting optimal health.

The Takeaway

  • Water is essential to health (and indeed survival).
  • 60-70% of the body is made up of water.
  • Water provides a transportation system of nutrients around the body.
  • Hydration is very important in temperature regulation.
  • Water is also necessary for all chemical reactions that take place in the body.
  • Signs of dehydration include fatigue, headache, impaired performance and in worst cases…death!
  • To ensure adequate hydration, sip water at regular intervals throughout the course of the day.
  • Fluid requirements are related to activity levels The more you do, the more fluids you will need.
  • High sugar concentration fluids (a higher concentration of sugar than in blood that is) are termed ‘hypertonic’.
  • Fluids with sugar content that is the same as blood are termed ‘Isotonic’.
  • Fluids with sugar content lower than blood are termed Hypotonic.
  • Diuretics – caffeine etc sugar and alcohol can cause dehydration.

Supplementation

optimum nutrition. Supplements.

Supplementation complements a healthy diet, providing targeted support for specific dietary needs. While a varied and balanced diet should be the foundation, supplements can help bridge nutrient gaps in certain situations, such as restrictive diets or unique health conditions. However, it’s crucial to seek guidance from a healthcare professional to ensure appropriate and strategic supplementation. Supplements are not meant to replace whole foods but can enhance nutritional intake when used wisely. By combining a nutrient-rich diet with targeted supplementation, you can support your overall well-being and optimize your health.

A post on Supplementation and diet coming soon.

Summary

Achieving a balanced diet involves considering various elements essential for overall health. Macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, provide energy and necessary nutrients for bodily functions. It’s important to balance their intake by choosing nutrient-dense sources and tailoring the composition based on individual needs. Micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are crucial for physiological processes, and incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich foods ensures their adequate intake. Additionally, maintaining proper hydration through adequate water intake supports various bodily functions. Including fiber from plant-based foods promotes digestive health and satiety. While a well-rounded diet can generally meet nutrient needs, targeted supplementation may be necessary in specific cases, with professional guidance.

Balance

Balancing all aspects of a diet requires individualized approaches. Strive for variety, moderation, and mindful eating to achieve a well-balanced diet that supports optimal nutrition. Consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian is important to personalize guidance, ensure all aspects are appropriately balanced, and meet individual needs. By considering macronutrients, micronutrients, water, fiber, and potential supplementation, a balanced diet can be achieved to support overall health and well-being.

Disclaimer

It should be noted that nutrition in a complex subject, and whilst there are general guidelines such as below for healthier eating plans, there are many factors not considered here (allergies, deficiencies etc). So please accept the guidelines below as just that, ‘guidelines’. If you know you require professional advice for your dietary needs then do that, visit your dietician to help come up with a plan to cater to your needs. Diet is important but individual so do what best works for you.

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