The Real Big 3: Macronutrients
We’ve already covered calories in general, and nutrition/performance synergy, but what about the big three? No, not squat, bench and deadlift, the real big three: macronutrients (macros)—Protein, fat, carbohydrates. The celebration and consequent demonization of macros is foundational to the diet industry, and even those attitudes seem to change with the wind. But what are macros, what do they do, why do we need them, and what is it, exactly, they’re supposed to fit in? Here, we’ll answer these questions and more to give you an informed perspective when considering what to do about macros (hint: it’s not elimination diets).
First let’s discuss the building blocks of muscle: protein. Proteins are the building block of muscle growth and repair, so after a hard workout protein breaks down into amino acids and begin the repair process so you can make it back the next day and kill your next workout. Protein also has the highest thermogenic effect on the body, meaning it burns the most calories of all the macros when you consume it, and it’s great at keeping you satiated/full longer (and at a relatively low caloric impact: one gram of protein has 4 calories). So as you can see, protein is crucial for successful dieting. It not only helps you keep on your muscle, but it also plays a huge role in burning calories and keeping you full. These are all things that will help any dieter stay sane.
The next two macros have a bad rap to them from one extreme to the next. On one side, you have the idea that carbs will make you fat and should be avoided at all costs. On the other side, you hear fats are bad for you and should be avoided at all costs. Both, however, play a huge role in the human body and neither will be neglected in a successful diet.
The first one we shall talk about is fat. Fats are great at regulating hormones including testosterone and thyroid. They also help suppress hunger as you diet, which is crucial to staying on track. Fats are also good at keeping you fuller longer, reduces cortisol levels, providing energy and assisting in proper body functioning. This macro also helps with insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular health. Clearly, fats are extremely important while dieting. As you go into a calorie deficit your testosterone and other hormones naturally down regulate, so fats will keep your endocrine system healthier. They also help with joint pain, which will come as you get leaner. Fats have a slightly higher caloric impact, at 9 calories per gram, so it’s important to not accidentally overconsume if you’re looking to be in a deficit or maintenance diet.
Now onto the carbs. Though I shouldn’t have to, I’ll lead this section pointing out that carbs will of course not make you fat. Carbs give you energy and replenish your used glycogen stores, which help transport protein and other micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals to keep your body functioning at a high level. These glycogen stores are commonly depleted due to intense workouts, and carbs help restore them. Carbs are also the most metabolic nutrient we eat. They are a key macronutrient in any diet as they are protein sparing, meaning they will help preserve size and give you energy around your workouts. For every gram of carbohydrates you consume it equates to four calories.
Obviously, when you’re trying to lose weight you will have to manipulate macros to get calories down, but you don’t want to completely cut out an entire macronutrient for any extended period of time. An easy way to approach this is to increase carbs and decrease fats on days you train, and switch that ration on off days (on non-training days you won’t need as many carbs with no workouts to fuel, so cut some out and raise fats a bit). Just keep in mind you still need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight.
I hope this shows you why all the macronutrients are important to body composition and performance. Try to manipulate your macros to fit your activity level, and time most of your carbs around your workout and fats further away from them. Drop carbs on days off but never drop a macro out completely for an extended period of time.