In addition to energy balance, the consumption of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat) is also of great importance from a nutritional standpoint. Macronutrient refers to protein, carbohydrates, fats and alcohol, those nutrients that, when they are consumed are generally consumed in gram or larger amounts. Micronutrients refer to vitamins and minerals which are usually consumed in very small amounts. I’m not going to talk about micronutrients in this article and will only focus on the macronutrients, specifically protein, carbohydrate, fat and alcohol.
Many diet books rely on the rather simple prescription of ‘reduce or remove food X’ to lose weight. With X being something that contributes a lot of calories to the body, such as fat, sugars or highly refined carbohydrates. But while such diet books typically use all kinds of pseudo-physiology to explain the effect, it’s really quite simple: if food X contributes a lot of calories to your diet and you remove food X, you’ll eat less total calories and lose weight. No magic, simple caloric restriction.
During your journey of trying to gain muscle or lose fat you will come across many myths, - especially online. You might happen to come across people that claim that calories do not matter. (They do). You might come across another species that claim being gluten-free is a necessity if your goal is to feel great and get shredded. Not true, unless you are in the <5% of the population who are gluten intolerant.
Alan Aragon puts it very well; “When you dig in a little deeper, you see that the people telling you not to count calories are all-in on low-carb dieting. No bread, no cereals, no potatoes, no fruit. You’re jolted back to your middle-school health class. On the one day you managed to stay awake, the teacher listed all those things as part of a healthy diet. But here’s another way to avoid counting. The paleo diet is all about eating like our ancient ancestors, before that evil thing called agriculture was invented. This diet makes a bit more sense to you. You can eat all the meat you want, along with fruits, vegetables, and nuts. But some of the rules still strike you as arbitrary. No beans? No grains of any kind? No dairy? You understand why cavemen wouldn’t have eaten those things, and with 30 seconds of research you learn that the ability to digest milk into adulthood didn’t exist until a few thousand years ago. But since it exists now, along with enzymes to help you digest grains. Yet another branch of the low-carb tribe seems obsessed with wheat in general, and gluten in particular. You aren’t sure what gluten is, but you don’t like the sound of it. They all sound like they know what they’re talking about. They all have rosters of authors and scientists and bloggers who agree with them. They cite published research that, to them, is persuasive evidence that they’re right and everyone else is living in a fantasy world. “
Below I will show you how to split up your carbohydrate consumption. First, I must
mention alcohol and its relevance to macronutrient allocation. Alcohol definitely has calories. To be precise, it actually contains 7 calories per gram, and most of the time it’s combined with carbohydrates. Wine is made from fruit and beer has hops, wheat and barley. All of which are carbohydrates, which also have calories. Now that said, we don’t have a fourth macro that we follow. So when you decide to drink it should be tracked. From an educational standpoint, tracking will make you question whether that pint of beer was worth it. The realization from tracking is the reason why I changed from beer to drinking spirits and diet mixers.
In the diet, protein is found to some degree in almost all foods with the exception of pure fats like vegetable oils and such and some totally refined carbohydrates such as candy (e.g. jelly beans). Fruits and vegetables contain fairly small amounts of protein (perhaps a gram or two per serving) while beans and nuts can contain significant amounts of protein. But most people in modern society get their protein from animal based products: meat (red meat, chicken, fish), milk, cheeses, etc.
In terms of caloric content, protein has traditionally been assigned a value of 4 calories gram.
The term carbohydrate refers to a number of different organic compounds ranging from simple sugars (e.g. glucose and fructose) to disaccharides (e.g. sucrose, lactose) all the way up to starches (long chains of individual carbohydrate molecules bound together). Because of it’s chemical structure, you will often see carbohydrate abbreviated as CHO (for carbon, hydrogen, oxygen).
Carbohydrates of the fibrous type are found in in vegetables and fruit (fibrous), whereas starchy carbohydrates are found in pasta, bread rice or any kind of grains.
Carbohydrates are generally assigned an average value of 4 calories per gram
Of course, a primary role of dietary fats in the body is to be used for energy and it was assumed for many years that this was the only real role of fat, to provide energy storage. This was especially true of stored body fat which was thought for decades to provide only a passive storage depot of energy; rather it turns out that fat cells do much more in the body, producing hormones and such that affect myriad processes elsewhere in the body.
There are 4 distinct categories of fats. Trans-fats, saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Of the four types of fats, trans-fatty acids have the least amount of debate around them; their intake at even low levels tends to have exceedingly detrimental impacts on things like blood lipid levels and diabetes risk. Due to the high reliance on processed foods in the modern diet, trans-fatty acid intake is thought to be at least one part of the problems being seen in the modern world (note: there are certainly other contributors). That said, saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are generally fine to be included in the diet.
From an energetic standpoint, fats are typically assigned a caloric value of 9 kilocalories/gram
*An additional note on fiber. Fiber can be subdivided into a variety of different categories but, practically speaking, the main ones of importance are soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fibers mix in water and take up a lot of space in the stomach, it also holds food in the stomach longer: this tends to increase feelings of fullness. In contrast insoluble fibers don’t mix with water but help with bowel regularity and keep the colon healthy.
Both types of fiber appear to be important to human health and both are found in varying degrees in foods such as fruits and vegetables (grains have varying amounts of fiber depending on how processed they are).
Allocation of macronutrients
Getting adequate protein’ is by far and away the single most important factor in setting up a proper diet. There’s just really no argument about this.
for the most part, studies where protein is adequate (or at least close to it), varying carbs and fats within the context of an identical caloric intake tends to have a minimal overall effect. What effect is occasionally seen tends to be small and highly variable (some subjects do better with one diet than another but there’s no consistent advantage). With the possible exception of extreme conditions (folks looking for super-leanness or folks who are super-obese), caloric intake is the greater determinant of results than the macronutrient composition.
Protein. For gaining muscle, protein requirements are 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight or 2.2g per kg of bodyweight.
Fat requirement is generally 0.4 grams per pound or 1g per kg of bodyweight.
Carbohydrate requirement will be the amount of calories remaining.
Example. My caloric maintenance is 2800 and I weight 92kg
Protein= 92 x 2.2g = 202 202g x 4 =808 calories
Fats = 92kg = 92g 92 g x 9 = 826 calories
Carbs = 2800 – 808 -826 = 1166
*The above figures could and likely will be argued because some do not agree on the exact allocation of macronutrient requirements. However, these figures were arrived at from peer reviewed studies, expert opinions and personal experience. It is hard to argue that it is a bad starting point.
*The amount of caloric surplus one should be in is determined by how much fat they are willing to gain. That will be explained in another article