As a society, we know shockingly little about how the food we are putting into our mouths really effects us. This article is not trying to sell you on the latest faddy diet but will allow you to understand the role of food and the contributions of each macronutrient (fats, carbohydrates and protein) that you can use towards your fitness goals.
Let's start this off by talking about genes. No, not Levi’s but our genetic makeup. Can genetics affect your consumption of food? Yes, genes govern the processing of every molecule in your body. The field of nutrigenomics is dedicated to the study of the unique interaction between genes and food. The harsh reality is that some people are better at processing food and some better at storage. It’s cruel but that’s life.
“Carbs” - modern society's enemy. If you've watched Mean Girls you'll know that people seem to associate carbs with being 'naughty'. Yes, they're found in things you tend to feel bad about eating (chocolate, sweets, cake). However, in reality, they are misunderstood.
Carbohydrates are the most utilisable energy source in the body, easier to burn than fats and proteins.
You may be asking how much you should be eating? Unfortunately, due to human processing diversity (biological and environmental difference), a quantifiable figure is pretty much impossible, so ballpark figures may be more appropriate. It is suggested that carbs should amount to 45-60% of daily consumption depending on activity levels. Yay a sneaky 'Pain au Chocolat'! Unfortunately no. The bulk of carbohydrate consumption should be nutritionally dense in the form of green vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts (eww), asparagus, sweet potato, kale etc. In addition to carbs with a high glycemic index, slow burners for prolonged energy distribution are required, such as brown rice, pasta, oats etc. Stay away from refined sugars.
Fats or lipids (if you want to get fancy) are misunderstood. Yes, they keep us from obtaining the perfect six pack but they also do a lot of good. There are thousands of forms of fat, many of which are essential to the body, however, there are those few 'bad boys' that have ruined it for the rest leaving a negative mark behind.
Let's wipe the slate clear by drawing your attention to the usefulness of fats in human functioning. Fats act as carriers for vitamins transporting them around the body. Deficiencies can amount to excessive bleeding (vitamin K), night blindness (A), muscle weakness (D) and a whole list of symptoms. Fats protect our internal organs (they act as a cushion), and they're a very useful energy source producing almost double the energy of carbs and protein. Another feature is their usefulness in satiation (making you full) so to some extent fats can be very beneficial in dieting. Oh, the irony - healthy fats can help you to lose weight!
However, excessive fat consumption will lead to a network of disorders including joint issues (from excessive weight gain), increased blood pressure thus increasing the potential for strokes and heart disease etc. On the other end of the spectrum, bodybuilders and physique athletes often experience symptoms like lack of concentration and insomnia when fat levels get too low.
A 2002 study conducted by the US Food and Nutrition Board suggested a fat consumption of 25-35% of daily calorific intake. For elite level athletes, consumption of fat can be up to 70%, thus showing the molecules used as an energy source. However, it should come in the form of foods such as meat, fatty fish, nuts etc. The more natural the fat source the better, Stay away from the heavily processed stuff like chips, crisps, pizza...
Protein acts as the building blocks for all structures within the body and the role of protein is irreplaceable with 10-15% of our total body mass being comprised of it. In times of stress as a last resort, proteins can actually be converted and broken down for energy, thus promoting fat loss to a certain degree.
When protein is consumed and all processes involving it are 'checked off', the molecule is stored and the protein is converted into carbohydrate (gluconeogenesis) then to fat. Which is why excessive amounts of protein will make you fat. In our current society, the thirst for protein is seemingly unquenchable. A protein Mars Bar is still a Mars Bar, let's not ignore that fact. The body will only use what it needs.
The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that the average person should be consuming 0.36g per lb, those who engage in endurance based training should consume 0.45-0.73g per lb, those who train intermittently (sportsmen) should consume 0.64-0.77g per lb and those who engage in strength training the values are set at 0.64-0.91g per lb. However, don't forget, everyone will process protein differently.
What have we learnt? Protein consumption should come from natural sources that are nutritionally rich, such as white-meat (poultry), seafood, eggs and lean red meats. Dairy products such as milk and cheese are protein-rich however, due to many people's intolerance of dairy you may want to manage quantities of these.
In conclusion, food consumption should be as varied as possible. Fresh and natural sources of food should be consumed, avoiding heavily processed foods. No major food group should be demonised as they all have their role to play in keeping your body healthy and fit. Finally, when restricting calories, be sensible, do not drastically reduce intake. It is NOT sustainable. It's counterproductive and can place you in a worse physical and mental state than when you started the deficit. Remember the story of the tortoise and hare... slow and steady wins the race!
Arby Keheli @a_k.fitness