Recently I’ve been talking all about balance; finding balance with your time and priorities, finding balance with your daily habits and yin and yang, and now I’m talking about nutrition. In particular, balancing your macros. I am not a big tracker of calories or macros, but I have a good basic knowledge of food and this helps me to ensure I am getting a varied, balanced diet.
What are macros?
The basic building blocks of all food are macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. All food is made up of these components, in different ratios. And we need all three to survive. However, we don’t all need exactly the same ratio of macros. Some people thrive on carbohydrates, making up around 50-60% of their diet. Other people feel heavy and lethargic on such a high carb proportion, and up their protein and fat intake to balance it out. Balancing your macros is highly individual. So how do we go about finding balance? It’s best to know exactly what each macro is, why we need them, and take it from there.
Fat – the heavy weight of the macros
Fat, coming in at 9 calories per gram, packs the biggest energy punch when it comes to what you’re eating. Individual fatty acids are linked together in unique ways to form different types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. We break each type of fat down differently.
Mono and polyunsaturated fats contain essential fatty acids. And yes, you got it, these are ESSENTIAL in our diets, as we cannot process them ourselves within the body. These are omega 3 and 6, and can be found (in varied ratios) in the ‘good’ fats we know and love.
- Examples are avocado, nuts, oily fish and flaxseeds.
Dietary fat is essential for energy and cell growth. Also, some vitamins are fat soluble, meaning if you don’t have fat the body cannot absorb the nutrients, and will become deficient. Omega 3 fatty acids are pivotal in reducing inflammation, and keeping your skin healthy and glowing.
If you want to learn a little bit more about fat, then have a read of my article on eating for fat loss, and how eating fat can help you burn fat!
Carbohydrates – the dieter’s frenemy
If ever a macro was getting a bad rep, it’d be carbs. Low carb/no carb diets are all the rage (still) and barely a week goes by when a client isn’t telling me they’ve ‘given up carbs’ in order to try and lose weight. *News flash* Vegetables are carbohydrates (insert scream face!), and if you’re not eating them, then you’re not going to be eating a healthy, balanced diet, and any weight loss will be difficult to maintain.
Carbohydrates come in at 4 calories per gram. As with fats, there are different types of carbohydrates. Carbohydrate is a mixture of sugar, starch and fibre.
Simple and Complex carbs
The two ways to classify carbohydrates are simple and complex. This refers to the chemical structure, and effects how the carbohydrate is digested. Simple carbs have just one or two sugars, and are quickly broken down by the digestive system, allowing the sugar to enter the blood stream quickly. This quick, high spike in blood sugar is what we try and avoid when wanting to maintain a healthy weight.
- Examples include table sugar, honey, fruit juice and maple syrup.
Complex carbohydrates are made up of three or more sugars, and take longer to be digested, providing a slower steady stream of glucose into the blood stream.
- Examples include whole grains, vegetables, oatmeal and legumes.
Not only do we need the sugar from carbohydrates for energy, but we need to consume the fibre in carbohydrates to assist with digestion. Fibre slows down the rate of absorption of nutrients, meaning the digestive system has more time to fully uptake all of the nutrients available. The fibre then helps to maintain healthy and regular bowel movements. Fun!
Protein – the building block of us
Protein is made up of amino acids, joined together in chains. Some of these amino acids we can produce in our body, and others are essential, as we cannot synthesise them, but we need them! We use amino acids for the very structure of cells, and they are the basis of our genetic code.
When we are eating protein, we want to make sure we are getting complete proteins – that is, we are getting all the 9 essential amino acids. Some complete proteins include red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy. You may see this could prove problematic to the vegetarians and vegans amongst us who are not aware of the amino acids they need and where to find them.
- Red meat, poultry, dairy and eggs are all complete proteins.
There are a few non-animal source of complete proteins, including soybeans, chia seeds, buckwheat and quinoa. However this isn’t the only way you can ensure you’re getting everything you need. You are probably aware of the veggie’s main sources of protein: legumes, whole grains and nuts & seeds. By combining these sources you can ensure you are getting all the amino acids you need!
- Combine legumes and whole grains (rice & beans!), legumes and nuts and seeds (chickpea and walnut salad), or nuts/seeds and wholegrain (almond butter on wholegrain toast) to be fuelled with complete proteins.
Finding your balance
As easy as it is to find a macronutrient calculator out there in the world of the web, each one of us is individual, and we know our body the best. Balancing your macros is impossible if you are aiming to keep a rigid ratio such as 30:30:40 split for example! In order to find what works for you, you basically need to do a bit of trial and error. What happens if you lower your carbs for breakfast? How about upping your protein intake for dinner? And have you attempted to vary what you eat depending on how active your day has been? People have eaten for thousands of years without tracking their macros, and have managed to find a balance that works for them. You can do the same too! Just being aware of quality sources of fats, carbohydrates and proteins will help you create a balance that works best for your body.
I would love to hear if you want to know about macronutrients in more detail, and I will do a spotlight article on each of them to help you get a better understanding of what they are, why we need them, and how to incorporate them into a healthy diet.
If you are still a bit puzzled with your nutrition, or struggling to lose weight and feel like you’ve done the whole macro/calorie/exercise thing to death and it’s just not working for you, perhaps you need to look at your stress levels? Join me in my FREE Stress Less Week to learn more about how stress effects everything from weight gain, to sleep patterns and hormone levels.