So we know that energy balance is the king but the queen is macronutrient balance. This is the breakdown of the calories you eat into protein, carbohydrate and dietary fat. This balance is critical when it comes to improving your body composition because you don’t want to just lose weight, you want to lose body fat and gain muscle. Now a calorie isn’t just a calorie because a calorie of protein is going to do very different things than a calorie of a carb or fat. This is the mysterious “macros” and if you want an in depth view check out the webinar here I did on them. For today’s purposes I will give you a brief overview of each macro and how it affects the body so you can see why they are the queen.
There is no debating that our body needs protein. It's the king of the macronutrients and without it our bodies couldn’t repair and maintain themselves. Countless studies have shown that a high protein diet will help you:
Lose fat faster
Gain more muscle
Burn more calories
Experience less hunger
Have stronger bones
Retain more lean mass as you age
The main benefit of protein comes when you are in a caloric deficit and actively trying to lose weight. Getting enough protein in your diet will play a major role in preserving lean mass (muscle and it’s supporting tissue) and lean mass is directly correlated with healthy aging and a healthy metabolism. The less lean mass you have as you age, the more likely you are to die from all causes!
Despite what you hear in the media and from Sally at the gym, carbs are not your enemy. BUT the type of carbs you eat and when you eat them plays a big role in your body composition. To really understand them let's look at the four primary forms of carbohydrate:
Monosaccharides are often called simple sugars because they have a very simple structure. Mono means “one” and saccharide means “sugar”. These are the simple sugars found in fruit = fructose, milk = galactose, and glucose = everything else that is a simple sugar.
Disaccharides (you guessed it “two sugars”) and is a more complex form of sugar found in plants like sucrose, in milk called lactose (this is where the term lactose intolerance comes from), and Maltose which is two glucose molecules linked together and used in alcohol production.
Oligosaccharides contain several monosaccharides and are getting more and more complex in nature. This means they are harder to break down so they take longer and make us use more energy.
Polysaccharides are the most complex and make up starches and cellulose (plant fiber).
To summarize all carbs, they get digested into glucose (except fiber that can’t be digested) and shipped off in the blood for use as energy or stored because we don’t need them immediately. The key difference between the forms of carbs is the RATE at which this conversion happens and this is where their value comes from, fast or slow. This has to do with several things and the main one is how complex are the carbs (more saccharides and fiber) as well as how many other nutrients do they contain. By other nutrients I mean vitamins, minerals, and other things that whole foods contain that we might not even be aware of. This is a big reason why research shows there is an association between high added sugar intake, sugars like sucrose and fructose that are added to foods and easily digested, and several metabolic abnormalities and health conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, lipid and cholesterol problems, etc.
I am not saying you need to reduce or limit consumption of all forms of carbohydrates, in fact, if you are healthy and physically active, particularly if you lift weights regularly and need energy for the activities you participate in, you will do better with more carbs in your diet and not less.
Dietary fat does not deserve all the criticism and attention it's been getting these days. We are going to over simplify the argument of dietary fat. There are triglycerides and there are cholesterol. Triglycerides make up the bulk of our daily fat intake and are found in a wide variety of foods ranging from dairy to nuts, seeds, meat, and more.
They can be liquid (unsaturated) or solid (saturated), they both help support health in multiple ways including vitamin absorption, creating most hormones, keeping the skin and hair healthy, and much more.
Saturated fat has been criticized for increasing the risk of heart disease and there is some validity to this claim, however it seems to be in conjunction with a sedentary lifestyle, eating high amounts of simple and processed carbohydrates, and genetics.
Unlike saturated fat, there is no controversy over monounsaturated fat. Research shows that it can reduce the risk of heart disease, and it is also believed to be responsible for some of the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet, which advocates eating a lot of olive oil.
You may have heard that fish oil is healthy for you. This is a form of omega-3 fatty acids called Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and it can be broken down into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These have been researched extensively and it appears they may have all of the promising health benefits listed below.
Faster muscle growth
Increased cognitive performance
Faster fat loss
Scientists suspect that the absolute amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is more important than the ratio between omega-3’s and omega 6 fatty acids. Therefore, for most people more omega-3 fatty acids is better for our overall health.
The key takeaway here is an easy way to fix a diet that’s not adequate in enough omega-3s is to supplement with a high-quality omega-3 fish oil supplement.
Cholesterol is the other type of fat found in food. It is a waxy substance present in all cells in the body and it is used to make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest your food.
To end the debate, cholesterol is not bad for you. It depends on your genetics and if you have any other metabolic diseases. Bottom line is to know your lipid numbers and monitor them over time. If you are having trouble staying inside the guidelines then you need to look more closely at your lipids and your diet.
Now that you have had the basics explained, you can start to focus on getting quality macronutrients at a ratio that works best for your genetics and your lifestyle. I am not saying it is easy to know how much to get in these different categories so you have a couple options. You can do testing on yourself by sticking to a certain macronutrient profile within a certain calorie range and seeing how your body reacts both with your composition and your overall health and performance. The other option is to work with a coach so that you can save yourself the trial and error of trying to figure it out on your own. A coach will expedite improvement in your body composition and overall performance with a lot less stress. Of course, I am biased because this is what I do and have helped 100s of people achieve this so if you are curious but questioning whether coaching is right for you, sign up for a free discovery call so I can try to answer all your questions and you can feel comfortable with your decisions.
In the next article, and the last one of this series, we will talk about the third and final principle you need to apply in order to achieve rapid fat loss. This last principle will be your guiding light when it comes to long term success and in all honesty, it’s where most people stumble. Having said that, If you can monitor and master all three of these principles then you are well on your way to losing fat and keeping it off.
Eat Smart, Be Smart