Understanding Macronutrients is the Key to Unlocking Your Fitness Potential Understanding macros can help you get stronger and leaner. Tracking macronutrients is the most basic way to manage and monitor your nutrition: It simply means counting the number of calories you eat each day from different sources of food. The reason so many gym junkies track their macros? Put simply, it works: Tracking macros can be the key to unlocking fitness potential you didn’t even know you had. What are macronutrients? Macronutrients are essential nutrients your body needs in large quantities (micronutrients, in contrast, are those that you need in small amounts). There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. All three are equally important and, yes, you can eat all three and be healthy and fit. Carbs 101 Carbs from foods like rice, bread, and starchy vegetables provide you with mental and physical energy. While some people can thrive on a low-carb diet, going keto isn’t the right route for most people, because let’s face it: Carb-heavy foods are delicious, and your body is designed to process carbs for energy. Aside from physical and mental energy, carbs help with post-workout recovery and muscle preservation. Just remember that not all carbs are created equal. Sure, you can fit an ounce of jellybeans into your diet, but an ounce of sweet potato sure will make you feel a lot better (and you won’t come crashing down in an hour). Protein 101 Protein is critical for muscle recovery and growth. Most people get the majority of their protein from animal sources, such as chicken, pork, and beef, although many plant-based foods contain ample protein (but not complete proteins). Protein is important for muscle repair, growth and maintenance, as well as satiety, which can help you reach your body composition goals. Fats 101 Avocados are good for more than just pretty toast: Healthy fats set you up for fitness success. Fat supports several body functions, and keeping your focus on fats can improve your overall health, which contributes, in turn, to your fitness. Dietary fat is important for nutrient absorption and sustained energy, both of which can help you power through workouts. Try to get most of your dietary fat from healthy sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It’s best to keep saturated fats to a minimum (not because saturated fat alone is bad, but because most foods with saturated fat are highly processed). Stick to whole-food fats like avocados, olives, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fish. Calories in macronutrients Each macronutrient has its own calorie value per gram. Carbohydrates and protein both contain four calories per gram, while fat contains nine calories per gram. While alcohol isn’t technically considered a macronutrient (because it’s not essential for survival), you should know that every gram of alcohol contains seven calories. Tracking macronutrients for fitness People generally track macros to either build muscle or lose fat. With the right macronutrient ratio, you can better manage your lean mass, strength, energy, performance, and even your sleep. Every athlete is different but here are some general guidelines for using macros to lose fat and gain muscle. Do you really need to track macros? The hard truth is that there’s no “best” macronutrient ratio. For people who exercise regularly (especially people who lift weights), it’s beneficial to shift the ratio to something more protein-heavy: Your muscles can’t recover from your workouts without adequate protein. In reality, the principles of a healthy diet are pretty simple: Eat mostly whole foods and balance your calorie intake (or eat in a surplus or deficit depending on your goals). Macro-tracking is just one tool of many that you can use to improve your fitness. For help with your own personalized training and nutrition program, contact a personal trainer at your local World Gym.
Bread is not evil. Rebecca Matthews on Unsplash. Every January, many people will resolve to lose weight, get fitter, or improve themselves in some other way. With those resolutions often come dietary restrictions or fad diets (which people often implement blindly because they saw someone else following the same plan). Low-carb and keto diets become especially popular around the New Year because like fats, carbs have a bad rap. However, you shouldn’t give up carbs as part of your 2021 resolutions — here’s why. Carbs provide quick fuel While fats technically provide more energy per gram (nine calories per gram versus the four calories per gram from carbs), carbohydrates provide the quickest energy. Your body can break down carbs faster than it can break down fat or protein, which is how carbs get their reputation of being a great pre-workout food. Carbs replenish fuel reserves It’s time to end the fear of carbs. Wilfred Wong on Unsplash. Your muscles contain a substance called glycogen, a stored form of carbohydrates. Your muscles release glycogen when your body requires more fuel than what’s available in your bloodstream as glucose, and eating carbohydrates replenishes glycogen stores lost through exercise. If you don’t eat carbs, your glycogen stores will deplete, but your body will eventually learn how to burn fat instead (the interim is often called the “keto flu”). Keeping your glycogen stores full is the most efficient way to fuel your body for exercise, especially high-volume or endurance-based exercise. Carbs provide essential nutrients If you completely cut out carbs, you can put yourself at risk for nutrient deficiencies if you don’t get certain nutrients from other foods. For example, carbohydrate-rich foods including sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, and starchy vegetables contain a range of nutrients, such as vitamins A and B and minerals like magnesium. Complex carbs keep you full Carbs like these provide energy and nutrients, and they keep you full. Markus Spiske on Unsplash. Complex carbohydrates are those that contain fiber and starch, versus simple carbohydrates which just contain sugar. Generally, the more complex the carb, the longer it will keep you full. If you’re trying to lose weight, eating a diet rich in complex carbs can help with appetite control. Complex carbs include foods like whole-grain bread and rice, ancient grains like amaranth, most vegetables, fiber-rich fruits such as apples and berries, and beans. Nuts and seeds also contain complex carbs, although they’re more of a fat source than a carb source. Carbs support healthy digestion A low-fat diet might leave you looking like the fittest person on earth, but is it worth it if you’re dealing with chronic digestion issues? Many people fare just fine on a low-carb diet, but others find themselves with constipation, cramping, and other unpleasant symptoms. Complex carbohydrates support your digestive tract and your microbiome by providing fiber and prebiotics. Choosing the right carbs for your goals All carbs can fit into a healthy diet. Christopher Ott on Unsplash. Nix the idea that there are “good” and “bad” carbs. All types of carbohydrates serve a purpose. Some types are more nutrient-dense than other types — that’s all. All types of carbs can fit into a healthy diet when eaten for the right purposes. Your body breaks down sugar from candy and sugar from a banana just the same. Your body turns pasta and brown rice into the same thing. It all ends up as sugar. What matters is how, when, and in what quantities you eat these foods. For instance, your body can utilize the carbs in candy if you eat the candy shortly before you work out. Your body can’t utilize that energy as efficiently if you eat the candy and then plop on the couch for three hours. On the flip side, your body can’t break down complex carbs like those found in whole grains as easily as it can break down simple carbs. So, if you need a very quick source of fuel (such as in the middle of a workout), candy can benefit you more than fibrous carbs. If you feel overwhelmed about nutrition for fitness, ask your local World Gym what nutrition and training services they offer.
You lose out on fitness gains if you don’t prioritize recovery. Photo by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash Foam roller, massage gun, compression boots, cryo membership — you have it all. You’re royalty when it comes to workout recovery. Have you ever wondered how well those things actually work, though? Even the fanciest tools may not have the profound effect you think they do. Here’s a look at what does and doesn’t help you recover from workouts. What might work Massage and percussive therapy Massage therapy is backed by a rather impressive body of evidence, but studies on massage as it relates specifically to workout recovery is limited. Percussive therapy is a newcomer to the muscle recovery arena, but the available science shows promising results. Both massage and percussive therapy work by manipulating your fascia and, if deep enough, your muscle tissue, which can work out kinks that cause soreness. Percussive therapy devices, such as the HyperVolt, may help with sore, knotty muscles. Cryotherapy Cryotherapy is nothing new (hello, ice baths after practice), but whole-body cryotherapy — the trendy kind where you sit in a below-freezing chamber of nitrogen — is relatively novel. The concept behind cryotherapy makes sense: Muscles become inflamed after exercise, and cold reduces inflammation. However, some research shows that the age-old ice bath is at least as effective as that cryotherapy chamber session… Compression therapy Health professionals have long used compression to treat pain and speed up healing of inflammatory injuries. When it comes to muscle recovery, compression therapy (a la NormaTec) might help because it can increase blood flow to specific parts of your body, thereby increasing the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to taxed muscle fibers. Compression boots like the popular NormaTec ones may facilitate better recovery. Far-infrared therapy Surprisingly, this one actually has some solid science to back it up. Far-infrared therapy, which works by transferring energy as heat into deep layers of body tissue, may stimulate your body’s healing processes and help speed up muscle recovery. Who’d’ve thought? (Besides scientists). Stretching Surprise! While most people are aware that stretching can have immediate effects on the way you feel, science doesn’t necessarily support stretching as a bona fide workout recovery tactic. Evidence is conflicting at best, but that doesn’t mean you should swear off stretching. Your own anecdotal evidence is worth following in this case — if stretching makes you feel better and improves your recovery, then stretch. Stretching may not support muscle recovery specifically, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help in other ways, like mobility. Foam rolling Surprise again. Foam rolling may not be the fitness cure-all you thought it was. Like stretching studies, foam rolling studies present conflicting evidence: Some studies say rolling relieves soreness, while others say it doesn’t. Some research even suggests foam rolling is better for warming up than for cooling down. But, again, don’t discount your own experience. If you think foam rolling helps you recover, definitely keep it in your routine. What we know works Post-workout nutrition Protein: Ya need it. Carbs will help, too. Your body is equipped with everything it needs to do its job -- repair your muscles. Studies show that post-workout nutrition is a significant controllable variable in the muscle recovery process, so don’t neglect your post-lift protein shake. Balanced meals go a long way. Photo by Logan Jeffrey on Unsplash Sleep Those six hours you get each night won’t cut it if you want to maximize muscle recovery. Research points to a clear link between sleep and whole-body regeneration, from hormone and metabolism regulation to — yep, you guessed it — muscle recovery. So, don’t feel bad about hitting snooze tomorrow. Water As always, water comes in clutch. Your body must maintain fluid balance to function optimally, and dehydration can impair the recovery process. The bottom line Workout recovery is about the fundamentals: mobility, hydration, nutrition, and sleep! If you’d like to learn more about post-workout recovery, talk to a personal trainer at your nearest World Gym.
Protein: The hypothetical king of all macronutrients. No one gets angry at protein like they do at carbs and fats. There’s no debate about whether low-protein or high-protein is the way to go, and there’s certainly no arguing that you should cut protein out of your diet completely. That’s because thousands of research studies on protein prove this macronutrient’s critical role in weight maintenance, metabolism, muscle growth, strength, and general health and fitness. Because protein sits atop the macronutrient throne, people tend to assume more protein is better. More protein, more muscle, they think — in reality, consumption of this glorified provision is more nuanced than that. U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Protein The official protein intake guidelines are so-so. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) work together to create a new set of dietary guidelines every five years. The most recent set of guidelines, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, stipulates that people should aim to get 10 to 35 percent of their total calorie intake in protein. For example, a person on a 2,000-calorie diet should aim to eat 200 to 700 calories in protein each day. (10 percent of 2,000 is 200 and 35 percent of 2,000 is 700). Protein has four calories per gram, so this means a person eating 2,000 calories per day should eat 50 to 175 grams of protein each day. (200 divided by four is 50 and 700 divided by four is 175). The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI, a unit of measurement set forth by the Institute of Medicine) for protein is 0.36 grams of protein per pound — or 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram — of bodyweight. For a 150-pound woman, that comes out to 54 grams of protein per day. For a 200-pound man, that comes out to 72 grams of protein per day. As any fitness enthusiast can see, those numbers are low. That’s because these figures are based on the amount of dietary protein needed to avoid protein deficiency and related problems, not how much protein you need to support muscle growth and strength. How Much Protein Should You Eat Every Day? Adding protein powder to smoothies is an easy way to increase your protein consumption. Despite the cut-and-dry guidelines from the USDA and IOM, this simple question doesn’t have a simple answer. Saying 10 to 35 percent of your calories should come from protein still doesn’t tell you how many grams of protein you specifically should eat to best reach your goals. And the IOM guidelines are rather useless for people who exercise often and intensely, especially in the form of weightlifting. These guidelines, though helpful for the average sedentary person, don’t account for body composition, fitness goals, activity level and other factors that influence your protein needs. So how much protein do you really need? Well, the verdict is still out. Recent research suggests that a protein intake of 0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight best supports muscle preservation, growth, and strength. Other estimates go as high as 1.1 grams per pound of bodyweight. Most experts agree that eating more than one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight doesn’t have any additional benefit, and it can lead to gastrointestinal distress and, depending on the source of the protein, health issues like gout. Based on the estimates in research studies and minimum intake guidelines, a happy medium of 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is likely to help you build muscle and improve your fitness. For specific nutrition and fitness advice, ask a personal trainer at a World Gym near you. References / Links for More Information Protein in diet: Medline Plus Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes Recent Perspectives Regarding the Role of Dietary Protein for the Promotion of Muscle Hypertrophy with Resistance Exercise Training Effects of 4 weight-loss diets differing in fat, protein, and carbohydrate on fat mass, lean mass, visceral adipose tissue, and hepatic fat: results from the POUNDS LOST trial Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes How much protein do you need every day? - Harvard Health Blog Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet Postprandial thermogenesis is increased 100% on a high-protein, low-fat diet versus a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet in healthy, young women