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“Macros” Part 1: What are Macros?

“MACROS” PART 1: WHAT ARE MACROS?

Let’s chat about the newly invigorated topic of “Macros”.  I’m finding it hilarious, actually..when old becomes “en vogue”.  The tracking of macronutrients has been around forever.  It’s new to the CrossFit scene, but has morphed out of  the Zone Diet (which has been around since 1994) which elite CrossFitters “modified” to add fat due to low calorie calculations when one starts the Zone.  But this is completely not the point here.  In addition to explaining the basics of the 3 macronutrients here, we will also touch on  micronutrient tracking – it’s better for health, and at the end of these posts, I’ll show you why you can track your macros, tweak them for ideal body composition, and still be one of the more unhealthy American’s around!

“Macros” is short for macronutrients. A quick Google search brings up this very basic definition…and this is something that we all should have gotten in high school health class…if they even still require “health” class.

mac·ro·nu·tri·ent
makrōˈn(y)o͞otrēənt/

noun

BIOLOGY
plural noun: macronutrients
  1. a substance required in relatively large amounts by living organisms, in particular.
    • a type of food (e.g., fat, protein, carbohydrate) required in large amounts in the human diet.
    • a chemical element (e.g., potassium, magnesium, calcium) required in large amounts for plant growth and development.

The three macronutrients are PROTEIN, FAT & CARBOHYDRATE.

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PROTEIN
Protein typically comes from animal sources: meat, foul, pork, seafood, dairy.  Protein is often associated with  building muscle, but it is also the core component of organs, bones, hair, enzymes, and pretty much all other types of tissue in your body. One of the many sources for a definition of protein is as follows:

  • any of numerous, highly varied organic molecules constituting a large portion of the mass
    of every life form
  •  necessary in the diet of all animals and other non photosynthesizing organisms
  • composed of 20 or more amino acids linked in a genetically controlled linear sequence
    into one or more long polypeptide chains, the final shape and other properties of each
    protein being determined by the side chains of the amino acids and  their chemical
    attachments proteins include such specialized forms as collagen for supportive tissue,
    hemoglobin for transport, antibodiesfor immune defense, and enzymes for metabolism.

Protein is essential. You cannot survive without protein.

The origin of the word protein means primary or first …think of it as of utmost importance in your diet.

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Proteins are made of amino acids, many of which the body can make itself. However, there are nine amino acids that are strictly required for normal body function that your body can’t biosynthesize. These 9 amino acids are termed essential amino acids, and the full nine can be found from all meat sources. Unfortunately it’s rare to find the full nine in plants, including legumes and grains, so which makes them a less desirable source of protein.

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CARBOHYDRATE

Carbohydrate is derived from plants. They are a source of energy for your body. Your digestive system changes carbohydrate into glucose (blood sugar). Your body uses this sugar for energy for your cells, tissues and organs.

In biochemistry, carbohydrate is often referred to as a saccharide, a group that includes sugars, starch, and cellulose.

Carbohydrates are the only macronutrient your body can actually survive without!  Protein and fat are essential for life, but not carbohydrate. However, many of our micronutrients (vitamin, minerals, etc.) for a healthy life come from carbohydrate.  Carbohydrate is your body’s most easily accessible source of energy as it is quickly digested and metabolized into glycogen and glucose.

Glucose can be rapidly metabolized to produce energy. It can be carried in your bloodstream and serves as a primary energy source.

Glycogen is a large storage molecule for extra glucose, just as starch is the storage form in plants. Your liver and muscles synthesize glycogen and act as your main storehouses. Your stores can be broken down again to glucose for energy if necessary, and they can also provide structural support in various tissues in your body.

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FAT

fat
fat/ noun
1.  a natural oily or greasy substance occurring in animal bodies, especially when deposited as a layer under the skin or around certain organs.

All plants contain oils (ex. olive oil) or fats (ex. cocoa butter) and mainly in their seeds. So some plants are good sources of fat:

  • Olives (olive oil)
  • Coconut
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Fat is essential for life and is very important in normal body functions, acting as the backbone to important hormones, insulation for nerves, skin and hair health.

There are various types of fats  from saturated to monounsaturated to polyunsaturated fats.  Omega 3 fatty acids are known to be health promoting and Omega 6’s (in high concentration) and Trans-fats are known to be detrimental to health. But don’t bug out yet, stick to natural & Paleo sources and you’ll be fine!

Here is what 20 gram of fat looks like, just for kicks.

MICRONUTRIENTS

While micronutrients (“micros”) are the topic of discussion here, they are VERY important.  Micros are vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, etc. that come from our macronutrients…plus sunshine (Vitamin D).  Fresh air and water should be in there somewhere too.

Some macronutrients have more micronutrients than others.  For example, white rice is a carbohydrate and has a very low nutrient profile.  1 cup is about 50 grams of pretty much empty starch….low nutrient content. However, continuing with the starch line of thinking, 1 cup of mashed sweet potatoes is also around 50 grams of carbohydrate, but from a micronutrient standpoint, it completely trumps the rice! Take a look at both below.

1 cup white rice

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1 cup mashed sweet potatoes

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I know, we’re talking macros, not micros…but there’s a lesson here. You need a balance. You can’t survive…well maybe, for a while you’d survive (disease free), but you cannot thrive on boxed food, Krispy Kreme, Ice Cream, Crackers and Grains.  Nope, not gonna happen. This is about health first, and then everything else (performance, body composition, etc.).  I don’t think any of you want to have a 6 pack and diabetes, or pecs like Arnold and heart disease.  Point made, moving on!

You also don’t want to live on supplements.  I’d be interested to learn how much Americans used to spend on food (say 20-50 years ago), and today, how much they spend separately on food + supplements.  I know people who claim they’re healthy, but can’t live without their probiotic pearls every day.  If you’re healthy, you gut is healthy, your heart is healthy, your metabolism is healthy…goal: get back to healthy through food!

So those are Macronutrients: Protein, Fat and Carbohydrate. Next post we’ll talk about why we would want to track them – by percentage, or gram, and what our goals for tracking are.  In the final post we’ll review the formulas for determining  the numbers you need in order to track your macros.  Not everyone needs to. It’s a “dialing in of your nutrition”.  Get the basics down first, then when you feel the need to “tweak things”, try tracking.

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