What are macronutrients (macros), what do they do, and why they are important? Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the cornerstones of nutrition and they each serve important roles. Finding the right balance of all three is important for maintaining, gaining, or losing weight and muscle mass.
Simply put, carbohydrates provide energy. They fuel our brains, muscle, and organs. Some forms of carbs immediately become usable energy—they are quickly absorbed and increase the glucose levels in our blood. Others digest more slowly allowing for a gradual release of energy. Both have important roles in a healthy diet.
Quick energy carbs, usually called simple carbs, come from fruits, candy, sports drinks, and processed starches like white bread, cookies, and crackers. They should be eaten around a workout or when you will be active so your body uses the energy that they give. When you eat simple carbs and do not use the energy they provide, it strains the body and the excess energy can be stored as fat.
Slowly digested, or complex carbs, have more fiber, which prolongs their release of energy and helps to keep digestion regular. Some examples of complex carbs are whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, and farro. These carbs are ideal when activity isn’t in the immediate future.
Protein is essential for building muscle and repairing damage throughout the body. It is made up of building blocks called amino acids. Some amino acids can be produced in the body and some need to be eaten in food. Aside from their role as part of protein, each amino acid has unique non-protein functions, too, with roles in the brain, connective tissue, blood, and metabolism, to name a few.
Your protein intake should depend on your weight and activity. And while getting in enough protein is important—more is not always better. Too much protein, and not enough carbs and fats, can result in the body relying on protein for energy instead of using it for gaining and repair muscle. Knowing your protein needs is key for reaching your weight and activity goals.
Fats are required for so many processes in our bodies ranging from metabolism, hormone production, vitamin absorption, and brain function—but the list goes on! Eating fat does not result in gaining fat. The types of fats that we eat are important. Fats from plant sources like nuts, avocados, and vegetable oils are excellent sources. Fats from animals have their place in a healthy diet, too, but should be eaten in lesser amounts since they are higher in saturated fats, which can affect heart health.
When you eat fats is also important. You should try to consume fats in each meal since they will help to keep you fuller longer. Fat shouldn’t be eaten right before or during workouts since your body requires quick energy during those times. Eating fats before bed can help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.