Last week we explored the methods of finding your ideal daily calorie intake with “How Much Is Too Much?” Today we’re going to continue looking at how much you should be eating based on macronutrient allocation.
Macronutrients consist of carbohydrates, protein and fat; there are also micronutrients which are vitamins such as vitamin A, C, and D, and minerals such as zinc, magnesium and copper, but for now we’ll focus on macros. All food has to contain at least one of the three macronutrients. They all have their uses for your nutrition need; carbs tend to give you energy, protein helps to build muscle, and fat helps your body absorb vitamins and minerals and also slow down digestion to help keep you fuller longer. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Contrary to popular belief in recent years, carbs are not the devil; the right kinds of carbs are perfectly healthy for you to include in your diet. There are two types of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbs are very fast digesting and unless you time your consumption of these right and use them up through exercise, your body will store them as fat. A few examples of simple carbs are white bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, and sugar. You can include these in your diet, but the timing here is crucial. Remember in my previous post how I mentioned that you should start looking at food as fuel? Well in this case simple carbs consumed as part of a pre-workout meal can be great fuel for a session of heavy weight lifting or intense cardio lasting longer than 30 minutes. It’s also ideal for your post-workout recovery meal, when your body has depleted most of its glycogen stores and needs nutrients fast in order to start your recovery. The other type of carbohydrates is complex, for example whole grains, vegetables and fruits. These tend to be digested slower and have more fiber than their simple counterparts, and they are also great to include as part of your pre-workout meal and other meals throughout the day. Complex carbohydrates give you lots of good energy and tons of nutrients, so be sure to include these in your regiment. An interesting point to take note of is that “technically” carbohydrates are not essential for you to live, meaning if you eliminate all carbs from your diet you can still function. The reason for this is that protein and fat (which are both essential for you to live) can be converted by the body into carbs as needed. But beware eliminating all carbs or even doing a low carb diet can be very difficult as it can effect your mood and energy levels, so proceed with caution.
Now let’s have a look at protein. Protein is all the rage these days; we hear it everywhere: If you want to lose weight then increase your protein intake, If you want to build muscle then increase your protein intake. There is some truth to this, as protein will help to keep you fuller longer than most carbs and it’s great for building muscle, so including the right amount of protein for your needs is essential to being healthy. The daily recommended intake to meet your minimum nutritional needs for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of bodyweight. So for example, my intake minimum would be 42.12 grams of protein per day (117lbs x 0.36g). I typically will consume more protein than this each day as I am active and am trying to build more muscle. If you are active, then it may be a good idea to increase your protein intake to 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight, and if you are looking to build muscle aim for about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight; I usually consume between 0.8 to 1 grams per pound each day. Keep in mind that the body can only absorb so much protein at a time, usually around 30 grams per meal will be absorbed, the rest will be converted to carbohydrates. Try to aim for around 25 to 30 grams for your breakfast, lunch and dinner, and be sure to include some protein in your snacks as well. Also, I have been seeing a lot of research showing that people who eat a plant-based diet as I do may need to consume more protein as the body may not absorb all the protein that we actually eat (keep in mind that this research is ongoing and findings are not quite yet concrete).
Now let’s talk fat. Remember in the 90s when low fat was the shiznit? Fat makes you fat was everyone’s mantra. Well, now we know that that’s not really the case. Saturated fat and trans fat are no good for you, and yes these will make you fat and up your cholesterol, but unsaturated is awesome. Unsaturated fat is what will give you that nice feeling of satiety, letting your body know that you ate just the right amount of nutrients and is very satisfied. Include nuts, avocado, nut butters, canola, olive, grapeseed and coconut oil into your diet each day and you are good as gold. Try to include a little bit of fat in each meal and snack throughout your day. In the past it’s been said that you shouldn’t consume more than 50 grams of fat per day, but again it really depends on the type of fat that you’re consuming and how active you are as well. As I mentioned in “Nutrition: Where do we start?” fat is more caloric than carbs and protein; fat has 9 grams per calorie, whereas protein and carbs have 4 grams per calorie. So just be mindful of this when adding olive oil to your salad or when snacking on almonds, a little goes a long way.
So what’s the right allocation for you? Well, as always this really depends on your lifestyle; your level of activity and current goals. If you are really active and have a physically demanding job, then it’s a good idea to get most of your calories from carbs; in this case consider an allocation of 55% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 15% fat. If you are active throughout the day and you exercise regularly then consider an allocation of 40% carbohydrates, 35% protein and 25% fat (this is what I go with for my allocation each day). If your goal is fat loss and you exercise regularly then consider an allocation of 35-40% carbohydrates, 40% protein, and 20-25% fat.
Before making any changes to your diet maybe consider starting a food journal for a week to get a good idea of where you’re at now and what changes you may need to make to diet. This is what I started doing about a month ago and it has had a huge impact on me. Initially I was way off with my macros, but now I’ve made the right changes and I feel much better when I eat and I definitely have more energy during the day. Another great option is to consider an App that acts as a food journal, there are plenty available that will give you all of the nutritional information for everything you eat. As always, be sure to consult your healthcare provider before starting any new dietary regiments or to discuss any restrictions you may have.
Give yourself some time to adjust to any changes that you make to your diet and remember that we are all so different that what works well for one person may not work well for you. Some people can handle the low carb thing, but others (myself included) really can’t. Eat well, fuel yourself for the day ahead and above all else nourish yourself with healthy and delicious food. Bon appétit!
Start It, Finish It
*In my next post we’ll explore how often you should eat and how many meals to consume in each day.