You have probably seen everyone posting on social media about this approach to eating, but what are they even talking about? Macros is short for macronutrients, and these are the 3 categories the foods we eat are separated into.
The 3 categories are PROTEIN, CARBOHYDRATES, and FATS. Most of the foods we eat fall primarily into one of the 3 categories, for example, potatoes are considered carbs, avocado (my fave!) falls into the fats category and lean meat, tofu, and eggs are classified as protein. It is important to remember that this is a simple way of grouping foods based on the majority of their composition. For example, while almonds are nuts, and fall into the fat macronutrient category, they actually contain protein as well as carbohydrates, fat is simply the largest macro component within this food.
Check out this handy infographic. It gives some common examples of healthy (mostly plant-based) foods and what macronutrient category they fall into. Plus I have included a serving guide to help you build your plate of food.
When you eat each meal, you can use your hands to get a rough idea of how much of each macro you should be eating:
• 1 palm-sized serving of protein
• 1 cupped hand-sized serving of carbs
• 1 thumb-sized serving of fats
• And you should also be aiming for your serve of vegetables at each meal to be the equivalent to 2 cupped hands. Imagine you were creating a bowl with your hands, then fill this with vegetables. If you are following a balanced whole foods, plant-based diet, it is likely you will be meeting this serving guide.
Many recommendations, diets and meal plans will encourage us to eat certain amounts, or ratios, of the macronutrients each day. And for most people, the ratio would look like this: 4
However, you may have noticed that these macronutrient ratios are a hot topic, with some people recommending we avoid carbs almost completely, increase our protein portion significantly, or maybe even take whole days where we don’t eat anything at all!
While many people will swear by the results they get on these different approaches to eating, right now, the science supports the 40C, 30P, 30F ratio for most healthy people that want to maintain a balanced diet. So this is a good starting point if you are looking to optimize your nutrition.
Let’s get into a little more detail about each macro, starting with the nutrient we tend to eat in the highest amounts - carbohydrates.
Simple versus Complex Carbs Carbohydrates refer to the component of food that is made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen molecules.Based on their chemical structure, carbohydrates are divided into four groups - monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. Carbohydrates are often referred to as sugars. These groupings are simple sugars (or carbs) which refers to mono and disaccharides as they have a shorter (simpler) chemical structure, whereas oligo and polysaccharides are made up of longer chains of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen groups and are known as complex carbs.
When we eat carbohydrates, they are digested by the body, which means they are broken down into pieces that are small enough to pass through the lining of the gut and be taken up by the bloodstream. This form of carbohydrates is called glucose (also known as dextrose), which is a monosaccharide (aka a very simple sugar), and interestingly the only source of energy the brain uses. Glucose is passed from the gut into the bloodstream and is transported around the body towards the areas that need it most. Once the glucose reaches its destination it will move (with the help of the hormone insulin) from the bloodstream and into the cells to provide energy (and some other functions) to the cell.
The reason all of this is important is because of the way the body digests the different kinds of carbohydrates. In general, those carbs with shorter chains (aka simple carbs or mono and disaccharides) are able to be digested more quickly, meaning the carbohydrates are delivered into the bloodstream quickly. Complex carbs (including oligosaccharides and polysaccharides) take the body a little longer to break down into their simplest form (glucose), and hence are more slowly released into the bloodstream.
In most situations, a slower, more sustained release of energy is what our bodies and minds would prefer, this means that we should aim to eat complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbs.
Simple carbs - quickly digested and released into the bloodstream, leading to a quick spike of energy. They are often added to foods, or present in highly processed foods. E.g. baked goods, candy, cereals, raw sugar, corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice, soda, cakes
Complex carbs - provide the body with a slower, more sustained release of energy, and also tend to be higher in healthful nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. E.g. fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains, oats, quinoa, brown rice
So the carbohydrates you should be aiming to use to fill up around 40% of your food each day, or a cupped handful at each meal, should be complex. Here are some of my faves:
Quinoa, brown rice, vegetables like broccoli, carrots, sweet potato, beans, legumes, berries, spinach, wholewheat pasta, potatoes, cucumbers, apples, zucchinis.
You might be thinking that life is over because I’ve just told you not to eat those baked treats and yummy candies that fall into the simple carbs category. But the key notion here is MODERATION, which means you should eat complex carbs most of the time but that doesn’t mean simple carbs are completely off limits. There is actually a some evidence that encourages us to time the use of simple carbs to help with performance. For most of my #WBKgirls this means that before or after your workout would be the best time to put those simple carbs to good use!
So to sum up all things carbohydrates here are my key points:
• Carbohydrates provide energy to our muscles, cells and brain
• Complex carbohydrates, like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, oats, rice and quinoa give our bodies slow release of long lasting energy. Eat plenty of these!
• Simple carbs, such as baked goods, candy, processed grains (like bread) and soda are quickly digested and sent into the bloodstream giving a rapid burst of energy. These are sometimes foods, and can occasionally be used to power our workouts and quickly restore energy to our muscles. If you have enjoyed reading about carbs, keep your eyes peeled for my next blog in this series which will tell you everything you need to know about protein! Including my favorite plant-based sources and how I get enough to keep those glute gains!