Complete Guide to Nutrition Basics
Macronutrients and Micronutrients
Nutrients provide nourishment essential for growth and maintenance of daily functions. Essential Nutrients are compounds the body cannot make or cannot make in sufficient quantity. In simple terms, nutrients can be broken down into two main groups: Macronutrients and Micronutrients.
Macronutrients are the primary building blocks of your diet and are eaten in large amounts. These macronutrients provide the body with energy and are broken down into three main groups of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Micronutrients are ingested in smaller quantities as vitamins and minerals. According to the World Health Organization these nutrients must come from food and are vital for disease prevention, groth and good health.
Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats; also known as energy-providing nutrients. Energy is measured in calories and is essential for the body to grow, repair and develop new tissues, conduct nerve impulses and regulate life process. The body needs these in larger quantities (in grams).
Provide the body’s main source of energy and is required. They form the major part of stored food in the body for later use of energy and exist in three forms as sugar, starch and fiber.
In fitness terms carbohydrates can be broken down between fiber, complex carbohydrate and simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrate are slow digesting sources of energy that keep you fuller longer such as oats and sweet potatoes. Simple carbs are quick sources of fuel that digest quickly giving you a boost of energy and are great to consume after workouts when the body is depleted of energy. Examples of simple carbohydrates would be white potatoes, white rice and sugar. All carbohydrates turn into sugar, and on a cellular level is recognized as sugar, so the body can process it for fuel.
The brain works entirely on glucose (sugar) alone. When in excess, it is stored in the liver as Glycogen and further still stored in adipose tissue for later use (body fat). Carbohydrates are also important for fat oxidation and can also be converted into protein.
*1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 Calories
Role in the Body
- Fuel during high intensity exercise
- Spares protein (to preserve muscle mass during exercisee)
- Fuel for the Central Nervous System (your brain!)
- Sedentary Individuals: 40-50% of your total daily calories should be carbohydrates
- Exercises Regularly: 60% of your total daily calories should be carbohydrates
- Athletes or persons involved in heavy training: 70% of your total daily calories should be carbohydrates (3.5-4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight)
- Grains (choose mostly whole grains for added benefits)
- Dairy (choose low-fat or non-fat most often)
- Fruit (choose whole fruits more often than fruit juices)
Provide the body with amino acids and make up most of the cell structure including the cell membrane. Protein is a major building block in the body but it is mostly known for muscle growth and repair. It is primary function is growth, health and body maintenance of every cell from bones to skin, hair and muscles. All your hormones, antibodies and other importance substances are composed of protein.
There are two types of protein sources, complete and incomplete sources of protein. All proteins are made up of different amino acids, some amino acids are made in the body while others need to be consumed from food sources. There are nine essential amino acids that the body cannot make by itself and needs to consume from external sources for healthy bodily functions.
Complete proteins can be found in animal meats, soybeans and some nuts/seeds. An example of incomplete proteins that need to be eaten together to create a complete protein would be beans and rice. This is especially important for vegetarians, vegans and others on plant based diets who need to eat from a variety of sources to get complete proteins.
Of all the macronutrients they are the last to be used as an energy source. Muscle wasting occurs during extreme starvation where the muscles, made up of protiens, in the body are turned into energy. Protein isn’t an energy source the body wants to use unless it absolutely has to.
*1 gram of protein = 4 Calories
Role in the Body
- Tissue structure (part of organ tissues, muscle, hair, skin, nails, bones, tendons, ligaments and blood plasma)
- Part of cell plasma membranes
- Involved in metabolic, transport, and hormone systems
- Make up enzymes that regulate metabolism
- Invovled in acid/base balance to maintain a neutral environment in our bodies
Recommended Daily Allowance
- Sedentary Individuals: 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Recreationally Active: 0.45-0.68 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Competitive Athlete: 0.54-0.82 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Teenage Athlete: 0.82-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Body Builder: 0.64-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- When restricting Calories: 0364-0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Maximum amount of protein the body can utilize: 0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight
- Legumes (beans)
- Soy products, such as tofu
- Peanuts and nuts
- Whole grains (quinoa, oats, brown rice)
- Meat alternative products
- Some vegetables
- Animal sources
Fats often get a bad rap, but recent research has shown that healthy fats are an important part of a healthy diet. It serves as solvents for hormones and fat soluble vitamins. They are also used in hormone and steroid creation in the body. Fats are twice as energy rich than protein and carbohydrates. They have the highest caloric content and provide the largest amount of energy when burnt. Extra fat is stored in adipose tissue and is burnt when the body has run out of carbohydrates.
Fat is essential for general health and wellbeing. Its scary reputation is not deserved: you need to eat fat to keep your body functioning. Including healthy fats in your diet can help you to balance your blood sugar, decrease your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and improve your brain function. They’re also powerful anti-inflammatories, and they may lower your risk of arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Heart Foundation, swapping bad fats for good fats will reduce risk of heart disease and early death, and help to keep your weight in check.
The most famous unsaturated (good) fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Unsaturated fats are important for your body as they provide essential fatty acids your body can’t make. You can find these healthy fats in nuts, seeds, fish, and vegetable oils such as olive, avocado, and flaxseed. Coconut oil provides plant-based fats in the form of medium-chain triglycerides which impart health benefits like faster utilization by organs as fuel and appetite control.
Avoid trans fats and limit your intake of saturated animal-based fats like butter, cheese, red meat, and ice cream (aka bad fats).
*1 gram of fat = 9 Calories
Role in the Body
- Energy reserve
- Protects vital organs
- Transport fat soluble vitamins
- 20-35% of your total daily calories should come from fat
Less than 10% of total daily calories should come from Saturated Fat (coconut and plam kernal oil, shortening, butter, cream cheese, full fat dairy products)
- Meat, fish, dairy
Although water doesn’t provide the body with energy, it makes up a large part of our body weight. Water is the main component of our body fluids, the body needs more water every day than any other nutrient. It is replenished through the foods and liquids we eat and drink. You can go for weeks without food, but you can’t last more than a few days without water. Water is absolutely crucial for every system in your body. It’s also the main thing you are made of. About 62 percent of your body weight is water.
- Serves as a carrier, distributing nutrients to cells and removing wastes through urine
- A compulsory agent in the regulation of body temperature and ionic balance of the blood
- Completely essential for the body’s metabolism
- Required for lubricant and shock absorbe
Read more about hydration and electrolytes.
Are broken down into two categories of Vitamins and Minerals the body needs. Unlike macronutrients, these are required in very minute amounts. Their main function is to enable the many chemical reactions to occur in the body. Micronutrients do not function for the provision of energy.
Vitamins are vital for warding off disease and staying healthy. The body needs these micronutrients to support its functions. There are 13 essential vitamins that the body needs to function properly, including vitamins A, C, B6, and D. Each vitamin plays an important role in the body, and not getting enough of them can cause health problems and disease. Many Americans do not get enough of many essential vitamins. Vitamins are essential for healthy vision, skin, and bones; some boost the immune system and help the body heal.
Vitamins are essential for normal metabolism, growth and development, and regulation of cell function. They work together with enzymes and other substances that are necessary for a healthy life. Vitamins are either fat-
soluble or water-soluble.
Water Soluble Vitamins
Water soluble vitamins are excreted in urine when in excess and so need to be taken daily. Green leafy vegetables are rich in Vitamin B, whereas Vitamin C is found abundantly in citrus fruits. Water soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin B1
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Folic Acid
Fat Soluble Vitamins
Fat soluble Vitamins can be stored in the fatty tissues in the body when in excess. They can be found in green leafy vegetables, milk and dairy products and plant oils provide these vitamins. Fat soluble vitamins are:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
Are essential for many body functions including building strong bones and teeth, regulating your metabolism, and staying properly hydrated. In addition to strengthening bones, calcium helps with nerve signal transmission, maintaining healthy blood pressure, and muscle contraction and relaxation. Iron supports your red blood cells and hormone creation, while zinc boosts your immune system and wound healing.
Minerals are found in an ionized form in the body. They are further classified into macrominerals and microminerals (or trace minerals).
Macrominerals present in the body include Calcium, Potassium, Iron, Sodium and Magnesium to name a few. Iron is a constituent of Hemoglobin which is present in blood. Macrominerals are needed in more amounts, as compared to microminerals.
Are mostly co-factors, and are necessary for the function of enzymes in the body, but are needed only in minor quantities. Approximately 4% of the body’s mass consists of minerals.
Eating a varied diet full of fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins and fats, and whole grains is the best way to get enough of these six essential nutrients plus the important category of phytonutrients — the beneficial chemicals in colorful plants that prevent disease.
These micronutrients and macronutrients are vital for your body to function normally and stay healthy. If you eat a varied, well-balanced diet full of vegetables and fruits, and have a normal and healthy functioning digestive tract, you likely don’t need to take vitamin supplements.
You don’t have to chug water to stay hydrated. Fruits and vegetables can also be a great source. Munch on some spinach or watermelon to stay hydrated. The best way to know if you’re properly hydrated is the color and volume of your urine. If your urine isn’t frequent and pale yellow or nearly clear, you need more water.
This blog post is a recap of key points from multiple sources listed below & personal experience: