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Notion of a Nutrient

What Is A Macronutrient & Why Are They Important?

Posted by damienneadle - May 15th, 2013

Everyone is constantly talking about “macros”, but do you actually know what they are? Yeah okay, I hear you all going what is this guy saying they are proteins, fats and carbs right? Well yes but what actually are they? This article will help you understand what they are and their roles in nutrition.

Lets start with the one closest to the hearts of the fitness community, protein. Protein is a molecule made up of amino acids, these amino acids code for what the protein will be used for. This is why you often hear people say that proteins need to be “complete” in other words containing all the necessary amino acids to support growth.

Protein’s function is to repair muscles and effectively build muscles; this is why people with this goal often consume HUGE quantities of it, however this is not always optimum. This is not to say that the body cannot digest these proteins because it can and it will, however this is saying that there is a limit to the anabolic response of protein (Norton 2006). There is evidence to support the theory that having an evenly distributed protein intake over the day will lead to increased muscle mass.

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Fats are often referred to as lipids these are large complex non water-soluble molecules. Fats can be found within oily fish, many types of nuts and along side many types of meat. There are two main groups of fat, saturated and unsaturated. This refers to the molecular structure of the fat.

A common misconception about fats is that they are the nutrient responsible for causing weight gain, while this could be seen as true in some respects as they are a calorically dense nutrient. However there is no causal relationship between consumption of fat and weight gain, if the subject is in a calorific deficit. There is actually evidence to support that fats maintain and to a certain degree increase the level of testosterone in males (Meikle, Stringham, Woodward & McMurry 1990).

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Finally Carbohydrates, these are molecules known as saccharides and are the bodies preferred source of energy. Speaking from a reductionist standpoint there are two main forms of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates tend to end in the suffix ‘ose’ e.g. glucose, fructose & dextrose. More complex carbohydrates include starchy and fibrous forms, for example that which is found in potatoes, pasta or in many vegetables.

With carbohydrates being the main source of energy for the body they are an essential part of anyone’s diet, however when one is trying to loose body fat then they must force the body to rely on its stored energy (fats), a simple way of doing this is to reduce the external energy sources that they consume. This is the main premise for many of the better known diets today e.g. Atkins & Paleo. While these diets work short term they are difficult to maintain and can have negative effects on the individuals mood and energy levels. A far more effective approach is to reduce the carbohydrate levels until within a 250 - 500 calorie deficit and then loose body fat in a more controlled manner.

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It is advised that those with an interest in fitness consume 1 gram of protein per pound of lean bodyweight to allow for adequate muscle recovery. Fat intake should be between 0.4 and 0.8 grams per pound of lean bodyweight. The remainder of calories required, whether in a surplus or deficit should be filled in with carbohydrates.

Take home message:

  • Proteins are the building blocks of muscle growth and repair
  • Fats can help to maintain testosterone levels and are essential within a healthy diet
  •  Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and should be manipulated based on goals

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  1. Norton, L. E. & Layman, D. K (2006). Leucine Regulates Translation Initiation of Protein Synthesis in Skeletal Muscle after Exercise. Journal of nutrition, 136(2), 533s-537s.
  2. Meikle, A. W., Stringham, J. D., Woodward, M. G. & McMurry, M. P. (1990) Effects of a fat-containing meal on sex hormones in men. Metabolism, 49(9), 943-946.
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