Now, you don’t need to be an elite athlete to know your macros, but it helps to know what you’re putting in. This March, as the mornings are getting lighter and we’re (hopefully) waving goodbye to winter’s gloom, we got the experts at the English Institute of Sport involved to tell you all about the basics of macros.
“Understanding the impact of what you are eating on your daily energy levels and exercise routine can help you make decisions that get you feeling your best. It’s easy to be bombarded – and overwhelmed – with all the information out there, so in this article we hope to give you the basics. It’s all about making the right choices for you at the right time.”
Lucy Wainwright MSc, Senior Performance Nutritionist at The English Institute of Sport
Back to basics: macro vs micro
So where to start in the complex web of nutrition advice? Let’s go back to basics with macronutrients. Put simply, macronutrients are nutrients in your diet that give you energy: carbohydrates, protein and fat.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that are essential to allow the body to function effectively. There are 13 essential vitamins you need to get from your diet (except vitamin D which can be synthesised from sunlight, and vitamin K which is synthesised by bacteria in the intestine).
How do I get micronutrients?
Get colourful! Consuming a wide variety of different foods and five to seven portions of colourful fruit and vegetables is a great way of ensuring you are meeting all your vitamin needs. A balanced diet will also help ensure you’re getting a good mineral intake including iron, calcium and sodium, which all play key roles in the body.
Back to the macros. We’ll start with carbohydrate, which plays an important role in energy provision in the body including being a fuel source for our brain function. In basic terms, carbohydrates can be split into simple/free sugars and complex/starchy carbohydrates. Over the past century we have seen a large rise in the consumption of sugars in the diet, which can be linked to a number of diseases.
Where to get your carbs
Complex/starchy carbohydrates are a better option, and are present in various grains, cereal, potatoes, bread and pasta.
A great place to start is by including whole grain carbohydrate sources in our diet. These whole grains have a higher fibre content, are less refined and more natural. Fibre also plays a key role in the healthy functioning of the gut.
Foods such as whole grain bread, brown rice, sweet potatoes, oats, beans and root vegetables are all good sources of carbohydrate and are used in Mindful Chef recipes.
How much carbohydrate do I need?
Knowing how many carbohydrates to consume can be confusing. Our carbohydrate requirements are directly related to energy output, and overconsumption can lead to weight gain. If you have had an active day or completed more exercise you may need to increase your carbohydrate intake, whereas if you have been more sedentary, then reducing carbohydrate intake can help meet your reduced energy needs.
Portion sizes and ‘energy density’
A simple way of adjusting carbohydrate intake is to consider the energy density of the carbohydrate source you are eating and your portion size.
If you decrease the amount of bread, rice, pasta or grains – which are more energy dense – and increase the amount of vegetables which have lots of great nutrients but less calories, then you can still have a full plate but reduce the energy content and keep the micronutrient intake high.
On to the next macro nutrient, protein. Proteins are the body’s main building blocks and provide structure to all the cells in the human body.
Where to get your protein
Protein can be from animal sources (meat, fish, eggs, dairy) and plant sources (legumes, grains, soy). Animal sources are more complete proteins as they generally contain a larger number of the different amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Many plant proteins are incomplete proteins, but by combining different plant sources of protein you can still ensure you get all the required amino acids.
How much protein do I need?
You don’t need large portions of protein. Aiming for 20-30g of protein in each meal (regularly throughout the day) will meet your protein needs, and allow your body to repair and rebuild. Protein can also help with satiety and feelings of fullness so it’s a great addition to meals and snacks.
Quick protein tip
Pop higher protein snacks like Greek yoghurt in your fridge – they’re a good alternative to processed refined carbohydrate snacks like cakes and biscuits.
Fats are the third macronutrient and contain over double the energy content compared to carbohydrate and protein. Fats are an essential part of a healthy balanced diet and are needed to absorb vitamins A, D and E.
The main types of fat found in foods are saturated fats and unsaturated fats. As part of a healthy diet, a positive shift is to cut down on food high in saturated and trans fats and replace them with unsaturated fats.
Where to get your fats
Saturated fats tend to come from animal sources including fatty cuts of meat, butter, cream, biscuits, cakes and pastries but also palm oil and coconut oil.
Unsaturated fats can help to lower cholesterol and are mostly found in oils from plants and fish.
Foods that help maintain our good HDL cholesterol while reducing the bad LDL cholesterol are olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocados, almonds, Brazil nuts and peanuts.
Omega 3 and 6 are polyunsaturated fats, and while most people consume sufficient Omega 6, they are often low in Omega 3. Omega 3 can be found in oily fish such as trout, sardines, salmon and mackerel. Eating at least two portions of fish a week with at least one portion of oily fish can help this balance.
Your nutritional intake needs to be tailored to your individual energy needs. Eating a range of whole grain carbohydrates with quality protein sources of protein and primarily unsaturated fats, alongside a variety of vegetables and/or fruit is a great place to start. Make sure you don’t stick to one thing and enjoy different foods throughout the day, and week – and get experimenting with different seasonal foods throughout the year!
Yet to try healthy eating made easy? Get £10 off your first two recipe boxes by entering code BLOG20 at checkout. Mindful Chef healthy recipe boxes provide you with the tools to cook delicious nutritious meals, in under 30 minutes. Each box contains recipe instructions, pre-portioned ingredients and fresh produce sourced from award-winning British farms.