As macronutrients and micronutrients rank quite highly in the nutrition hierarchy of importance, understanding the difference between the two and the roles that they play can help you to establish good nutritional habits.
What are Macronutrients?
As you may have guessed, macronutrients are nutritional compounds that we need in quite large quantities. Unlike micronutrients, macros are energy-yielding nutrients. The three macronutrients are;
Let’s take a look at the roles of each of these play in maintaining health, and how we can use them to help us reach optimal performance.
Carbohydrate provides 4 kcal/g. Carbs come in the form of sugars and starches which the body breaks down easily, to supply your body with glucose, its primary fuel source. Once glucose enters a cell, a series of metabolic reactions convert it into ATP, our bodies energy transfer molecule. Any unused glucose is transformed into a starch called glycogen, which is stored for later use. These stores are limited though, so carbs are vital for anybody seeking to reach peak performance.
Not all carbohydrates are equal, however. Fiber is a term that applies to any type of carbohydrate that your body can’t digest. The fact your body doesn’t use fiber for fuel doesn’t make it less valuable to your overall health, as it aids digestion and good gut health. Aim to get 30g daily.
Most types of carbohydrates are divided into two primary categories: simple and complex. This refers to the length of the overall molecule. Shorter molecules are easier for your body to break down, so they are classified as simple. Some examples include jellies, sports drinks, honey and jam. They primarily consist of sugars, so can provide a quick source of energy in the right circumstances, such as game day.
Complex carbs, in contrast, are larger molecules that your body takes longer to break down. Some examples include whole wheat breads, pastas, rice, quinoa sweet potatoes, corn and legumes, such as black beans, chickpeas and lentils.
While both have their place, complex carbohydrate should make up the majority of our overall carbohydrate intake.
Top Tip: Consume carbohydrates based on your training intensity. More on heavy training days, less on lighter or rest days. Fuel for the work required.
Protein also contains 4 kcal/g and is the building block of the body and is found in a wide variety of both animal and plant foods. By consuming dietary protein we obtain the building blocks to make a range of body proteins with structural (muscles) and functional (immune factors and hormones) roles. All proteins are composed of combinations of twenty different amino acids, which your body consequently breaks apart and combines to form different physical structures. Your system uses amino acids in three main ways: to build new proteins for cellular functioning, as an energy source, and as a building material. Your body requires protein to support muscle development, organ functioning, power enzyme reactions, and form your hair, nails, and other tissues.
Of the twenty amino acids, nine are classified as essential, meaning that your body can’t create them so you need to take them in through food. The other eleven can be consumed in your diet or synthesized by the liver. Protein demands will be met by including high quality sources like meat, fish, dairy and eggs. Those who follow a plant based diet will get the majority from of their protein from sources such as nuts and legumes.
Muscle growth is stimulated in the presence of protein so it is a good idea to spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day by including protein in both meals and snacks.
Athletes should aim to consume 1.6-2.2 g/kg of body weight of high quality protein per day.
Top Tip: Along with quantity and quality, protein timing can also play a factor. Eating high-quality protein (ideally with carbohydrate) soon after exercise has been shown to enhance training adaptations, muscle repair and growth.
Despite the common misconception that fat makes you fat, it is an essential part of our diet and remaining healthy. Fat’s bad reputation is most likely because of its high-calorie levels (9 kcal/g). Consuming adequate amounts of fat supports your hormone functioning, insulates the nerves, and promotes healthier skin, and hair.
Fats also act as an energy reserve, as it is your body’s preferred method for storing unused calories. As mentioned, our system will only store small amounts of glucose in your tissues, but body fat lets you secure unlimited quantities of energy instead, which you use while sleeping, during exercise, and between meals.
Dietary fat also helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K which play important roles in many functions of the body including boosting immunity and the growth and the maintenance of strong bones. There are three primary types of dietary fat and they each have different impacts on your health.
- Saturated fat: found in meat, butter, cream, and other animal sources
- Unsaturated fat: found in olive oil, nuts, avocados, canola oil, and other plant sources
- Trans fat: found in commercial products like snack foods, fast food, and margarine
When it comes to consuming fats, you need to ensure that you supply your system with fatty acids it needs but can’t make itself, like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Good sources of omega-3s are oily fish, walnuts and eggs, and omega-6s from most vegetable oils.
Unsaturated fats should form the majority of your fat intake. You should minimize your intake of saturated and trans fats, as overconsumption can increase your risk of coronary heart disease and obesity.
Top Tip: While fats have a number of important roles they remain energy dense. Attention should not just be paid to the type of fat consumed, but the amount as well.
The term micronutrients is used to describe vitamins and minerals in general, and are required in smaller amounts than macros. That is not to say they are not important. Vitamins and minerals are vital for growth, immune function, brain development, amongst other important functions.
As humans cannot produce vitamins and minerals, they must be obtained from food— for the most part. That’s why they’re also referred to as essential nutrients.
An adequate intake of all micronutrients is necessary for optimal health, as each vitamin and mineral has a specific role in your body.
Top Tip: No one food can provide you with all the micronutrients you need. The micronutrient content of each food is different, so it’s best to eat a variety of foods to get enough vitamins and minerals. Eat the rainbow.
See the table below for a complete classification of all micronutrients & where to get them from.
|Vitamin A||Growth, maintenance of skin, bone development, maintenance of myelin, maintenance of vision||Dairy products, liver, fish, fortified cereals, carrots, broccoli|
|Vitamin B1||Growth, appetite, digestion, nerve activity, energy production||Peas, bananas, oranges, nuts, wholegrain breads, liver|
|Vitamin B2||Growth and development of foetus, redox systems, and respiratory enzymes; maintenance of mucosal, epithelial, and
|Milk, breads, fortified cereals, almonds, asparagus, chicken, beef|
|Vitamin B3||Maintenance of NAD and NADP, coenzyme in lipid catabolism, oxidative deamination||Liver, chicken, tuna, turkey, salmon, pork, beef|
|Vitamin B5||Lipid metabolism, protein metabolism, part of coenzyme A in carbohydrate metabolism||Broccoli, mushrooms, nuts, beans, peas, lentils, meats, poultry. dairy products|
|Vitamin B6||Growth; protein, CHO, and lipid metabolism; coenzyme in amino acid metabolism||Pork, poultry, some fish, peanuts, soya beans, wheatgerm, oats, bananas.|
|Vitamin B7||Growth; maintenance of skin, hair, bone marrow, and sex glands; biosynthesis of aspartate and unsaturated fatty acids||Walnuts, peanuts, cereals, milk, egg yolks, whole meal bread, salmon, pork, sardines, mushroom|
|Vitamin B9||Synthesis of nucleic acid, differentiation of embryonic nervous system||Leafy green vegetables, beans, peanuts, sunflower seeds, fresh fruits, fruit juices, whole grains, liver, seafood|
|Vitamin B12||Coenzyme in nucleic acid, protein, and lipid synthesis; maintenance of epithelial cells and nervous system||Meat, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, some fortified breakfast cereals|
|Vitamin C||Absorption of iron, antioxidant, growth, wound healing, formation of cartilage, dentine, bone and teeth, maintenance of capillaries||Citrus fruit, peppers, strawberries, blackcurrants, broccoli, Brussel, sprouts, potatoes|
|Vitamin D||Normal growth, Ca and P absorption, maintains and activates alkaline phosphatase in bone, maintains serum calcium and phosphorus levels||Sunlight, oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolks, fortified foods|
|Vitamin E||Antioxidant, growth maintenance, aids absorption of unsaturated fatty acids, maintains muscular metabolism and integrity of vascular system and central nervous system||Vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals,|
|Vitamin K||Blood-clotting mechanisms, electron transport mechanisms, growth, prothrombin synthesis in liver||Gren leafy vegetables, fish, meat liver, eggs, cereals|
As you can see, there is many nutrients we need. Effective nutrition planning is about establishing the best way for you to get all the nutrients you need.