Diet can be a difficult topic to understand, especially when you get conflicting advice from all directions. We are going to discuss some of the most common diet related questions with you: How many carbs per day should I be consuming? How many grams of fat should I eat a day? What is the daily recommended intake protein that I need? There are so many questions and misconceptions about macronutrients that people it's hard to tell what's reliable.
The term macronutrients is the collective term used to describe proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. You have probably heard these terms before and I know that once you read those words, you might already had preconceptions of what each one entailed.
“I don’t need protein, only bodybuilders need protein.”
“I can’t have carbs or fats, they’ll make me gain weight.”
Any of these ring a bell? Many of the thoughts you might have about these macronutrients came from each one being given a bad name. Let’s get to know them a little better before we jump to any more conclusions.
PROTEIN ISN’T JUST FOR BODYBUILDERS: YOU NEED THE DAILY RECOMMENDED INTAKE PROTEIN
Many people, especially women, are afraid to eat more protein because either they don’t want to “bulk up” or they just don’t think they need that much. In reality, you should be eating a lean, complete source of protein with every meal. The main objective of the body is to find sources of energy to keep it running. The body will immediately look to attack whatever needs the most energy (in terms of calories) to survive, so because muscle is so calorically dependent and takes a lot to maintain, the body will break it down first to use the glycogen in the muscles for energy. The body will preserve the calories that would be used by the muscle for other purposes important to it's survival. Protein helps in the prevention of muscles going into that catabolic state (breakdown of muscles) by providing them with the amino acids they need to be sustained.
Not only do proteins help with skeletal muscle, but they are responsible for the integrity for other parts your of your body, like your skeletal system and even connective tissues. Proteins are involved in almost all the processes that occur in your body. They play important parts in getting your metabolism up and running, digestion, and creating antibodies for your immune system to use. It helps with the absorption of the other two macronutrients, allowing them to be used up for their main functions instead of being stored as body fat. Protein can even be used for energy if completely necessary, but this process is extremely inefficient and the body will only do this as a last resort.
One belief that many people have about protein is that it will make them fat, but it depends on the quality of the protein that you are eating or what you are eating them with. While most whole sources of protein (ie. animal products) do contain fat, it depends on the cut and which animal; some cuts are much leaner than others. The easiest example is chicken. The "white meat" (breast and wing) portion of the chicken is leaner than the "dark meat" (thigh and drumstick) with the chicken breast being the leanest, most abundant source of protein. That's not to say that the other parts of the chicken aren't good sources of protein (they are still complete sources of protein) but when consuming them, you have to take into account your fat intake from them as well. There is also a debate about the quality of eggs and that you shouldn't eat eggs because it can raise your cholesterol. Even with eggs, you've got to think about it as a WHOLE EGG, there are still two parts it. A single egg generally has about 6g of protein in it, and while there are 2.4g of protein in the yolk, all the fat and the cholesterol is also contained within the egg's yolk. It contains anywhere from 201-211 mg, which is an entire days worth of cholesterol. While cholesterol is important for certain processes, but overindulging in cholesterol filled products, it will in turn hurt us (ie. vascular health). The egg white on the other hand contains 3.6g of protein per egg with none of the cholesterol content that the yolk has.
Another big misconception about protein is that too much of it can lead to kidney problems. Only a small portion of people need to have any worries about excess protein intake, namely the population who has to keep an eye on their protein consumption are individuals who already have a pre-existing kidney dysfunction. It is very important to intake protein rich foods.
One thing people don't know is that proteins actually have the same amount of calories as carbs. The difference is that carbohydrates cause a spike and drop in insulin and they do not require as much energy to digest. Protein digests much slower, meaning that it has a higher thermic effect than carbs so it keeps your insulin levels steady all day instead of giving you a high and then crash later on. The problem is, most people aren’t getting the proper amount of protein they need to maintain the muscle they have. So in other words EAT MORE PROTEIN, but make sure you stick with the leaner meats (ie. chicken/turkey breast) and try keeping fattier meats (ie. certain parts of beef and pork) to a minimum.
USE CARBS PROPERLY: HOW MANY CARBS PER DAY YOU SHOULD BE HAVING
One of the biggest myths that people have is that carbohydrates are bad in your diet. The question isn't SHOULD you be consuming carbs, but how many carbs per day should I be having? While it’s true that the process of converting carbs into body fat is fairly easy, the key to preventing that process from happening is by using up those carbs. The major use for carbohydrates in the body is a quick source of energy, they begin breaking down even as you are chewing carbs to be converted into glucose for the body to use. Once broken down for use, carbohydrates are used to keep blood sugar levels up, giving you more energy. They help with the prevention of the breakdown of muscle by providing the body with the fuel it needs instead of looking for the glycogen stored in muscles as its source of fuel.
You should also know that all carbs are not the same. They are separated by simple carbs and complex carbs. Simple carbs are carbohydrate sources that only contain 1 or 2 sugars, complex carbs are sources that contain 3 or more sugars in their structural make up. Some sources of simple carbs are fruits, milk products, and simple table sugar. Complex carb sources include starchy vegetables like carrots, legumes, and flour products. Something to note is that most people perceive carbohydrate sources to be the flour products like bread, cereal and sources like rice and potatoes, but fruits and vegetables are also sources of carbohydrates.
The biggest problem is that people eat more carbohydrates than they actually need. There’s no doubt that carbs are delicious and are a lot cheaper to eat than protein, but there is only so much you can eat before your body starts storing much of it as body fat because it doesn’t need as much as you’re giving it. Most people also eat carbs without protein, which, as stated before helps with the absorption of carbs and allows you to keep your lean muscle mass intact.
One thing people don’t realize though is that carbohydrates are actually helpful in trying to build muscle. You always hear after a workout that you should eat protein, but with that protein you should eat a source of carbs. I don’t mean go crazy and eat more carbs than protein but getting in the carbs will cause the absorption of protein to be more efficient. Insulin has an anabolic effect in that when insulin levels increase, the body’s ability to shuttle nutrients into the muscles becomes easier allowing more nutrients in. So when you consume that serving of carbohydrates with your protein right after a workout, the subsequent insulin spike causes more protein to be shuttled into the muscle giving it more opportunity to build and repair the muscles.
Carbs can be a very useful ally when trying to replace fat mass with lean body mass. But knowing how much your body can take in and eating properly is the key to making sure that you get the most from your carbs. When eating carbs, the amount and quality is key to making sure that happens.
FATS ARE GOOD FOR YOU
One of the first questions my clients ask me when I talk about fat is "how many gram of fat should I have a day?" Like carbohydrates, fats are given a bad name because of the ease in which they are converted into body fat and people are afraid of it. When people thinking about losing or cutting weight, they immediately look to decrease their fat intake or get rid of it completely. But let me bring you back to 8th grade biology. Do you remember how we learned about the cell? All their different layers and processes they go through? Do you remember what the outer layer of EVERY cell contains? That’s right! A LIPID BILAYER (just play along even if you didn’t remember). So every cell in your body consists of not one but TWO layers of fat around them to separate them from other cells and to act as a barrier for protection.
Fats play a role a number of bodily processes and responses, so whether you like it or not, fat is essential for your body to function. Fats help with a lot of the processes of the body also, like growth, vitamin absorption, and the regulation of other bodily functions. In addition to those, fats help satisfy your appetite and keep you satisfied longer. This happens because they take a longer time to digest and are also a source of energy, so while carbs are the quick source, fats are used for later use.
Again with fats, you need to look at the amount that you intake and quality of the fat you are eating. Stick with the healthy sources of fat like avocadoes, olive oil, and nuts. And while olive oil IS a healthy source of fat, that doesn't mean to use the olive oil to fry something.
CARBS VS. FATS
For each meal, the protein intake can stay relatively consistent, but you have to make sure that you watch your carb and fat ratio per meal. When consuming fats in one meal, the amount of carbs should be lowered, and vice versa. Since they are both used as sources of energy, if you provide your body with too much of each, your body won’t be able to use it all up for energy, so the remainder gets stored as body fat. Your body can only use up so much of each macronutrient before it stores it away.
TRIAL AND ERROR
See what works for you and what doesn’t. You can figure out numbers for exactly how much your body might need but your body may process things differently. So increase your intake of protein, and test out how different fats and carbs work with your body. A general measurement you can use is consuming 0.5 g of carbs and at least 1 g of protein per pound of lean body mass. Start off measuring these first and seeing how your body reacts to it. With fats remember that they are more calorically dense so look at the serving size (how many grams are in one serving and how many calories they are) and proportioning them inversely with your carb intake per meal. Remember energy levels after you eat them, if you’re feeling nauseous, basically any sort of physiological changes, but keep testing things out because the number of carbs or fats someone takes in may work for them, but it may not always work for you. Do the best you can for your body.