Macro-nutrients are nutrients that provide calories or energy.  Nutrients are substances needed for growth, metabolism, mental acuity as well as many other functions of the human body.  The word “macro” means large, therefore, we require macro-nutrients (macro’s) in large amounts.  There are 3 macro-nutrients; Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats.  The amount of calories or energy each macro provides varies, carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram, proteins also provides 4 calories per gram, fats however provide 9 calories per gram.
Carbohydrates are required in the largest amounts, and as an athlete our requirement is greater than that of the average individual.  In order to really understand the importance of carbs, we must first know the purpose of carbs. 1) Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source.  2) Carbohydrates are easily used by the body for energy.  3) All the tissues and cells in our bodies can use glucose for energy.  4)  Carbohydrates are required for the central nervous system, kidneys, brain, and the muscles (including the heart) to function properly.  5)  Carbohydrates can be stored in the muscles and in the liver and later used for energy.  6) Carbohydrates are important for intestinal health and waste elimination.  Carbohydrates can be found in starchy foods like grains, potatoes, and fruit.  Other foods such as (fibrous carbs) vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and milk (lactose) products contain carbs but in lesser amounts.
Fiber refers to certain types of carbs that our bodies can’t digest.  These carbs pass through the intestinal tract and help to move waste out of the body.  There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble.  The benefit/purpose of soluble fiber is that it binds to fatty acids allowing for removal from the body also soluble fiber prolongs gastric emptying to allow the sugars to breakdown at a slower rate.  Insoluble fibers job is to move bulk through the intestines helping to control and balance pH (acidity) in the intestines.
When an insufficient amount of carbohydrates are consumed, or not consumed for that matter, the body must utilize proteins for energy even to the point of cannibalizing muscle tissue as a source of energy.  This is never an ideal situation for anyone let alone an athlete trying to reach peak performance.
Proteins provide the basic structure of all living cells.  Proteins are used for making essential hormones and enzymes, tissue repair and growth, optimal immune function, and preserving lean muscle.  The basic building blocks of proteins are called amino acids.  There are two types of proteins, complete and incomplete.  Amino acids are categorized as essential and non-essential.  Of the 20 amino acids that have been identified 9 are considered to be essential amino acids, those that cannot be manufactured by the body therefore must come from dietary intake (or supplementation).  The body being the survival device that it is can manufacture the non-essential amino acids from the by-product of carbohydrate metabolism.  Meat, fish, milk, cheese, whey and eggs are examples for food sources that contain complete proteins, I believe as an athlete these foods should comprise the majority of your daily protein intake.
Fat is a major source of energy and aids your body in the absorption of several vitamins.  Types of fats vary considerably both from an athletic standpoint and a health standpoint.  While fats are the most energy pack of the macronutrients, saturated (with a few exceptions coconut oil being one of them) and trans fats should be very limited in one’s diet.  Foods such as butter, shortening, lard, and meats particularly high in fat are examples of saturated fats.  Trans fats can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, snack food such as cookies and crackers, and especially in fried foods.  These types of fats should be replaced with healthy fats such as  omegas 3, 6, and 9, which are mono and polyunsaturated fats respectively.  As an athlete we need quality fats to keep our hormones at optimal levels, they also aid the body in the production of high density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good cholesterol”.  Essential fatty acids are essential in keeping the body healthy from a cellular level.  Excellent sources of essential fats can be found in nuts, and nut oils, avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, swordfish, and mackerel.  I do however find it worth mentioning that the research coming out on arterial plaque build up in connection to sub par ratios of Omega’s 3 and 6 verses all the blame going to saturated and trans fats is quite interesting.  The FDA previously recommended a ratio upwards of 20:1 for Omega’s 6:3; that ratio has recently (as of writing this) been adjusted to a 3:1 ratio recommendation for Omega’s 6:3.  I plan to elaborate on this as more research is published regarding the topic!
Even though water does not provide a caloric value it is widely considered a macronutrient, and for good reason, think of the amount we require just for survival.  Water is essential for ALL energy production in the body!  Water also plays a role in temperature regulation, waste elimination, and is integral to the cellular processes.  Upwards of 70% of body weight is water.  Insufficient water levels in the body results in a decrease of blood volume thereby reducing overall oxygen transportability of the blood to properly supply the muscles during exercise.  Since water is used to regulate body temperature, inadequate cooling of the body occurs.  The heart rate increases as the cardiovascular system is stressed and overheating occurs, leading to possible heat stroke or heat exhaustion.  An athlete should start consuming several 8 oz glasses of water starting 2 hours prior to activity, and as a rule of thumb should consume 4 oz every 15 minutes during exercise to replace the fluid lost through sweat and to maintain blood volume.  Keep in mind every BODY is slightly different and has slightly different needs!  Also, remember there is a big difference between “performance nutrition” and “cosmetic nutrition,” the piece above is geared specifically towards performance based nutrition.  When an athlete or individual needs to be at peak performance they must consume their macros accordingly!

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