Fitness isn’t only about lifting, running, and doing some sweet squats.
In fact, diet plays a huge role in physical fitness. You’ve probably felt this yourself, at least on a small scale. Ever feel really tired after eating a lot of junk food? What about feeling great after you eat a home-cooked meal? That’s all because of nutrition; and since fitness relies so much on how your body feels, it’s kinda a big deal.
How much of a role depends on who you ask, but for some fitness is considered to be 70% diet and 30% exercise. There are even some who say there’s an even wider gap, and that diet is almost the only part of fitness that’s important.
Lots of us like to think we know enough about nutrition to know how to make healthy choices. But who really reads the entire nutrition label? And if you do, how many people actually understand it all?
While it would definitely take all day (and probably multiple articles) to explain the entire label, there are a few key things to look for. It’s important to understand the fundamental nutrients on the list: the macronutrients.
Macronutrients are needed by your body in larger amounts than micronutrients (who would have guessed?). For that reason, let’s go through a breakdown of what you need to know about these nutrient powerhouses.
Ok, I’m sure you’ve heard of this one — or at least seen those guys at the gym with their shaker bottles.
But protein’s not only important for lifters. Not counting water, no other substance makes up a greater portion of your body – hence why proteins are so important. Your organs, skin, brain cells, and EVERYTHING in between is made up of proteins. Your body also uses proteins to repair and build your muscles. That’s the logic behind those post-workout protein shakes. Those lifters are trying to give their bodies an extra protein boost to quickly build and repair the muscles they’re breaking down by lifting weights.
Proteins are made up of amino acids. Since some of these amino acids cannot be naturally produced by your body, it’s important to get them from your diet or maybe even from supplements. But don’t worry: if you think those protein shakes sound gross and don’t want to cook with protein some other fun way, a meal with eggs or meat or beans or any other source of protein will work just fine.
For optimal muscle growth and maintenance, experts say that consuming 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight is ideal if you’re someone who’s lifting weights. If you don’t lift weights, that number’s going to be even lower. If you’re worried about getting enough protein, these numbers can be achieved by eating lean types of meat and supplements. Some sources of protein include:
- Lean beef
- Whey protein powder
Experts say the optimal consumption of protein is every 3-4 hours for weightlifters. However, especially with college classes starting up, it may be difficult or just plain uncomfortable eating some nice chicken or ground beef every 3 hours. Luckily for you, protein is in so many other foods too (even cheese!). So chances are, you’re getting enough of it. My recommendation is to make sure you at least eat protein with your breakfast in the morning and at night or after you work out.
Carbs! My favorite type of food.
I mean who doesn’t love bread? (Especially garlic bread, let’s be real.)
Carbs have gotten a pretty bad rep over the years, and they’ve generally become associated with gaining fat. Let’s get that myth cleared up right away.
Here are some things carbs are not:
- Fat-generating evil minions hiding in delicious foods
- A tragic failure of healthy eating
- The reason you may or may not be happy with your body
This, however, is what carbs ACTUALLY are: your body’s preferred source of energy. That’s it! That energy then fuels your workouts, brain, and other daily activities. Fun fact: if your body runs out of carbs to go off of during your workout, it’s going to tap into its other energy sources (namely, fat and protein). So your body could actually start to use up your muscles — yes, the same ones you’re trying to build — as fuel for your workouts.
Here’s the misconception with carbs: if you eat an excess of carbs, yes, your body will store excess unused energy as fat. That’s also true for foods with fats. And proteins. And anything else you can think of. When you consume anything out of proportion your body stores that nutrient as fat. Yes, carbs are used as energy but your body only needs so much of it. Your body stores excess energy. THE END. Doesn’t matter if it’s a carb or not.
Now that that’s out of the way. There are two types of carbs: simple and complex.
Simple carbs are your basic sugars that your body uses up quickly, while complex carbs are used over time.
Try to eat mainly complex carbs (which also conveniently tend to have lots of fiber). Try these:
- Whole grain breads and pasta
- Brown rice
Fats are the densest macronutrient, and they fall into different categories. Some fats are more beneficial to your body than others.
Saturated fats are important because they help to keep your hormone levels normal and regulated (Who wants crazy hormonal swings? Not me.). Saturated fats are generally found in dairy and animal products — unless you’re buying the non-fat kinds. The “low-fat” trend also stems from the myth that fat as a nutrient = fat on your body. Consider keeping that in mind when you’re looking into purchasing that super processed, can’t-understand-the-ingredients, non-fat cheese instead of the full-fat, less-processed, all-natural kind.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in some oils (e.g., corn oil, sunflower oil) and help lower overall cholesterol. However, there is also a good kind of cholesterol that your body really needs, and these fats lower them as well. That’s why it’s beneficial to try to limit polyunsaturated fats. But there’s no need to cut them out completely! Like I said before, they do some good things for you. Everything in moderation, right?
Monounsaturated fats are found in other oils (e.g., olive oil, canola oil). These assist in lowering the bad kind of cholesterol.
Trans fats are fats that can contribute to a huge number of health problems, so if possible try to avoid or at least limit these.
Although this was a really brief overview, I hope that this helps you understand what these macros mean, and help you out when considering what to look for on a nutrition label!
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