Learning how much we need to eat, what to eat and when can benefit us greatly in almost every segment of our lives. Eating too much than what our body needs and we start gaining weight and feeling sluggish. In contrast, if we do not eat enough, we start losing muscle mass, and our physical and mental performance starts to suffer. Having a clear understanding of the types of nutrients that exist and the role they play in our health and well-being can help us make educated and intelligent food choices.
All foods that we eat consists of varying amounts of macronutrients, micronutrients, and water. They are all essential for optimal health and play a role in our metabolism. Today I will be focusing on macronutrients and calories.
Macronutrients (macro = large) are those nutrients that our body needs in larger quantities and provide us with energy (calories). There are three types of macronutrients:
1. How many calories are you consuming daily? The amount of calories you need per day, will depend on many factors: gender, weight, height, activity level, goals, etc. You can get a rough estimate of your daily caloric needs by multiplying your weight in pounds by 11 or using one of the online calculators here.
2. How many grams of each macronutrient are you consuming daily? Similar to the number of calories you need daily, the amount of each macronutrient you need to consume will depend on many factors. I will give guidelines for each macronutrient below.
ProTein supports growth, immune function and recovery. Proteins are made out of amino acids and are the building blocks of our cell membranes, hormones, DNA and many other molecules in our body. Higher concentration of protein can be found in foods like fish, meat, seafood, eggs, soy, beans/lentils and protein powders.
Each gram of protein provides us with 4 calories. If you are sedentary, you should be consuming around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (BW) or 0.36 grams of protein per pound of BW to meet your daily protein requirements. If you are performing hard physical work (e.g. weight training, endurance training) and trying to lose body fat and gain muscle mass, try to aim for 1.5-2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of BW or 0.68 grams of protein per pound of BW. So if you weigh 170 ibs (77kg), you should be consuming between 115 and 190 grams of protein per day.
Carbohydrates consist of small units of sugar and represent the primary energy source for our body. In our digestive tract, carbohydrates get broken down into these smaller units and get absorbed mainly as glucose. Glucose is essential for the body and is the preferred source of fuel for the brain and when performing any high-intensity physical activity (e.g. sprinting, jumping, etc.).
Carbohydrates can be divided into complex and simple carbohydrates (i.e. simple sugars). Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest, but they provide a steady source of energy. Conversely, simple carbohydrates reach our bloodstream very quickly and cause blood-sugar to rise rapidly.
Carbohydrates are most abundant in foods that taste sweet (e.g. candy, honey, etc.), but are also present in high concentrations in legumes, fruits, some vegetables, and grains. Each gram of carbs provides us with 4 calories. To perform at an optimal level, try consuming around 0.5-2 grams of carbs per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 170 ibs (77kg), aim for 85 – 340 grams of carbohydrates per day. If you are an endurance athlete or very physically active, you should try to aim for the higher end of this recommendation.
Fat performs many essential functions in the body: brain development and function, hormone production, cell regeneration and shock absorption to our vital organs. Without fat, many essential micronutrients would not get absorbed by the body – vitamin A, D, E and K. Good source of healthy fat includes nuts and seeds, avocado, coconut, vegetable oils and fish oil. Try to avoid artificially made trans fat which can be present in baked goods and fried foods.
One gram of fat provides 9 calories, which is more than double the amount of calories protein and carbs provide us with. Knowing this, it is no wonder that we can gain so much weight when eating high-fat sources considering their density. To meet your fat intake, try consuming around 0.3 – 0.4 grams of fat per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 170 ibs (70kg), try consuming between 50 to 70 grams of fat per day.
It is important to note that these are just estimates. Depending on your lifestyle and goals, you can adjust your protein, carbohydrate and fat intake to a certain extent (e.g. not going below the minimum recommended protein intake). Try to stay within the recommended amounts, track your intake for each of these nutrients and based on your results (e.g. body weight,muscle mass, body fat percentage), adjust the portions for each.