That’s right – Macro’s. Macronutrients are the big players in your diet. Not the little things like vitamins and minerals that you’re supposed to get from fruit, Macro’s are your big picture nutrients. They’re the John Wayne of the nutrient world and this article will tell you what you need to know about them.
Firstly, there are four major macronutrients in your diet: Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat and Alcohol. Each plays a different role in your body. Not all of this list is essential to your survival either.
Let’s take a closer look:
This is a website about Lean Mass Gain, so obviously we’re going to take a look at protein. It plays a huge role in your body, not just in your muscles but also in structural components like hair, teeth, nails and bones. We use protein in every single cell of the body – as signalling molecules, transport molecules and interpretation molecules. It is even involved in interpreting your DNA into signals that your body can understand. Did I mention that it was pretty important? Good.
From a fat loss perspective, protein has often been overlooked. The diets “in vogue” across the 80’s all looked at fat. Dietary fat was evil and had to be eliminated. Then in the 90’s we all turned on carbohydrates. Once the innocent bystander, they were suddenly thrust into the limelight by the Atkins diet (amongst others). But these fads were all about eliminating something from the diet, and I’d like to turn that on its head.
Increase the amount of protein in your diet. That’s right – I’m telling you to lose weight by increasing consumption of something. Why? Because protein is extremely filling as a macronutrient (go try and eat a 16oz steak without getting full). It is also relatively light on calories – with an official tag of 4 calories per gram (actually this should be 3 – we waste about 25% of the calories it contains just trying to digest it). By increasing your protein intake you will help support muscular growth from exercise, you’ll prevent muscle loss whilst fasting AND you’ll displace other nutrients from your diet (because you’ll be too full to eat them).
This is actually not an essential nutrient for the body. Only the brain needs glucose (a simple carbohydrate) to function, and even it can get used to using ketone bodies (derived from fat) if given enough time. If it’s not essential, why are we eating so damn much of it?
Well, it turns out that carbs can help us reach our goals. We shouldn’t shun carbs completely – they have an important role in cellular fuel supplies (definitely don’t avoid them if you like running marathons) as well as raising the insulin response post workout. Use them to your advantage. Just don’t abuse carbohydrates – which we’ve become guilty of in the modern world.
Man spent thousands of years scratching around in bushes, trying to eke out an existence by foraging. Then we suddenly discovered agriculture, and refined sugar, and now we’re addicted to the stuff. It’s not really surprising given how scarce this was in our historical diet – any chance to scoff down some sweet honey and we’d grab it with both hands.
So, how do we balance our natural craving for all things sweet, whilst avoiding the fat gain symptomatic of the developed world? With carbohydrate cycling, of course!
Using an Intermittent Fasting regime you can backload your carbs until the end part of the day – this is naturally when your body would prefer them, and there are calorie partitioning benefits of pushing carbohydrate consumption to the afternoon and evening. You should also look to cycle carbohydrates – avoiding them on rest days (when they aren’t needed for recovery or energy), but consuming them post workout on your training days to maximise the impact of the anabolic response.
Why is carbohydrate cycling so powerful? Because we’re all addicted to carbohydrates! By timing carbohydrate consumption with your workouts you still get your carbohydrate “fix”, at a time when your body really needs the fuel. You then avoid them the following day, knowing full well that you only have to do it for a day at a time. Try the approach as laid out in the free course on this site – see whether it works for you!
Fat is also much maligned. We absolutely need certain types of fat in our diet – our body is completely incapable of creating these from scratch. These are the poly unsaturated fatty acids, but the real wonders in your diet come from Fish Oils.
Fat has the highest number of calories per gram, which means it’s a dangerous nutrient in the diet. It adds flavour to our food too – another one we crave (probably for evolutionary reasons). The combination of these two factors means you should be cautious about over-eating fat. It’s a very dense nutrient (one teaspoon of olive oil contains 40 calories, and is barely enough to fry an egg in).
But fat also has some beneficial properties in our diet. It’s a very filling nutrient, meaning we need to eat less of it to feel satisfied after a meal. And it has one very special property – it causes the stomach to retain food for a longer period of time. This means a meal containing fat will stay in your stomach for longer than a similarly sized fat free meal. Why is this important? Because we feel hungry both from sensing the level of nutrients in our bloodstream AND from sensing how full our stomach is. By keeping food in your stomach longer, you feel hungry less often and eat less often.
Obviously this isn’t an essential nutrient – your body desperately tries to get rid of it from the system as soon as you consume the stuff. But in moderation, alcohol has been shown to improve the body composition of men and women alike.
It has positive effects on blood pressure and cardiovascular health. But it has 7 calories per gram, none of which your body needs for fuel. These calories will be used preferentially when in the bloodstream (remember, your body is trying to rid itself of the alcohol) meaning dietary fat consumed whilst drunk will go straight into your fat cells.
Bringing it all together
You should aim to keep protein intake from lean sources high on every day.
You should aim to cycle carbohydrate intake; eating lots post workout and none on recovery days.
You should have a moderate fat intake on recovery days (to fill the gap vacated by the carbs) and a low fat consumption on workout days (because it will just go to your body fat stores if carbohydrates are available).
Put these three recommendations into your diet, coupled with regular intermittent fasting and you’ll see positive changes in your body composition without having to worry about calorie counting.
This brings us onto our next topic: the real secret of staying lean. Click the link to check it out.