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Carbs and proteins and fats, oh my!

Fruits and vegetablesThe basics of eating better are pretty straight forward: cut back on the sugars and starches (the carbohydrates), avoid saturated and trans fats, and eat some form of protein at every meal if possible.

That’s it. Moderation is key.

You don’t have to become a rabbit to eat better and see the benefits. We’ve never been fond of tracking, on a daily basis, consumption of these “macronutrients.” It just complicates things. Sure, there are all sorts of apps to help you manage what you eat, but too much focus on every individual gram and calorie can quickly become counter-productive.

Our Dr. Paradis, however, did decide to track his macros recently because he was interested in his protein intake. He thought he was eating enough in order to reach a certain body composition goal, all while maintaining/gaining muscle mass. But once he started tracking his protein consumption, he was surprised to discover than it was much lower than he had actually thought.

His training partner joined him on the adventure. He was dismayed to discover that his consumption of fats and carbohydrates was much higher than he had thought.

Which does go to show – it’s easy to lose track of what you are eating, or not eating, through a busy day, and through the week… even though you think you are eating extremely “healthy” as is Dr. Paradis and his training partner.

It’s easy to lose track without a journal

If you have specific health and fitness goals, like reducing your body fat, or increasing your lean muscle mass, or for some reason your progress has plateaued, a more in-depth analysis may sometimes be needed to ensure you are eating the way you must to achieve your goal.

Let’s say you have a cookie. Just one. How much harm can it do? But then the next day, someone brings a box of doughnuts to work – what harm can just one do? But you already had that cookie yesterday. It’s easy to forget.

And let’s not overlook the hidden vices found in all those frozen entrees and other packaged and prepared foods. They’re often loaded with added sugar, or salt, or unhealthy fats, or all three. Often, the mass-produced version of something is far unhealthier for you than the home-made version.

So you have to do your homework. Read nutrition and ingredients labels.

Most importantly, keep a food journal to track what you have eaten and when. There are lots of apps to help you tabulate how much carbohydrates, proteins, or fats you have eaten without having to do the math for yourself or keep a paper notebook. One great option is MyFitnessPal.

Back to those macros

So what should you know about macro nutrients?

Protein. Your body uses protein to build and repair muscle and other soft tissues. Protein comes from meats and fish, legumes, seeds and nuts, eggs, and supplements such as whey protein isolate and plant-derived protein powders. Your body can’t store protein like it can fats and carbohydrates. The more you work your muscles, the more protein you have to eat.

How much should you eat? Most nutrition guidelines suggest only about a third of a gram of protein per pound of body weight. But if you are trying to build lean muscle mass through moderate to intense training at the gym, you may need three or four times that, or even more. A good range is 0.8g to 1.2g per pound of body weight.

Carbohydrates. Despite their often bad reputation, carbohydrates are a vital fuel source for your body. Your digestive system turns carbohydrates into glucose, or blood sugar, which is used as fuel by every system in your body. The problems begin when you eat too many simple carbohydrates (like those found in sugary sweets and baked goods made with white flour). This spikes your blood sugar, which can have a bad impact on your mental clarity, focus, and mood.

You should always eat complex carbohydrates high in fibre, found in foods like whole grains, sweet potatoes, and brown rice. But too many carbohydrates, whether good or bad, will get stored as fat. Persistent overconsumption can also lead to obesity and diabetes. This is another reason why sometimes tracking your macronutrient intake is appropriate. A “low carbohydrate diet” is often considered anything in the range of 50g to 200g of carbohydrates per day. Depending on your goals or how you are progressing with your goals, this number might have to change based on the individual.

Fats. These often cause more confusion for people than carbohydrates. There are good fats, and there are bad fats. Good fats are essential for the healthy function of your body and can actually help with weight loss. Bad fats lead to things like heart disease and high cholesterol.

Seek professional help

Determining the best balance of these macronutrients to suit your health and fitness goals is the big challenge. It’s easy to track what you are eating, but first, you have to understand what you should be eating, and in what quantities.

The answer is trusting in the expertise of personal trainers, nutritionists, doctors, etc. with backgrounds in nutrition and fitness. There are many in the Kanata area. If you need a referral to someone, we can help.

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