Whether you want to run a faster marathon or simply shed a few pounds, a healthy diet is essential. But with so much conflicting wellness information out there, it can be hard to know how to fuel your body. Should you fast every morning and eat keto, or skip animal protein and eat vegan?
The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all program that works for everybody. Instead of following dogmatic diet rules, active adults should focus on meeting their macronutrient needs.
Macronutrients, or “macros,” are the essential nutrients your body must have to stay healthy. These include protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Eating the correct amount of each can help you improve your health and meet your fitness goals. This article will take a closer look at each macronutrient and provide helpful tips to make managing your macros easier.
Types of Macronutrients
Protein helps you build muscle, maintain strong bones, create hormones, and regulate your metabolism. This essential macronutrient is found in animal products like meat and eggs and in some plants like seeds and legumes. Vegans and vegetarians may struggle to hit their daily protein goals since vegetable protein sources are lower in protein than animal-based sources. For this reason, it’s recommended that meat avoiders incorporate plant-based protein powder into their diet to ensure they consume enough protein.
While there is some debate about how much protein is enough, most experts agree that the average person should aim for .8 grams per kilogram of body weight daily. However, extremely active individuals should increase their protein intake to 1.2 to 2 grams per kilogram each day. That’s because muscles and connective tissues are strained and broken down during exercise. Adequate protein intake helps muscles repair themselves, coming back stronger.
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary energy source. In the body, carbs are broken down into glucose, which is then used to fuel tissues, cells, and organs. While low-carbohydrate diets may be trendy, failing to eat enough carbs can cause fatigue and trouble concentrating. You can find healthy carbohydrates in fruit, beans, legumes, whole grains, and vegetables.
While the keto diet reduces followers’ carb intake to fewer than 50 grams daily, that’s far too low for most individuals. The average person should try to get 45%-65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. Endurance athletes like runners and bikers may want to increase their carb intake the week leading up to an event. This helps to increase the amount of energy stored in muscles, improving stamina and athletic performance.
Like carbohydrates, fat sometimes gets a bad rap. However, dietary fat is essential for your body to function properly. Adequate fat consumption helps support cell function, provides energy, and improves satiety.
There are two main kinds of fats, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats, which solidify at room temperature, can be found in animal protein, tropical nuts, and seeds. Unsaturated fats exist in liquid form at room temperature and can be found in many plants and fish.
Most people, including athletes, should try to get 20%-30% of their calories from fat each day. When consuming fat, opt for unsaturated over saturated. Diets rich in unsaturated fats have been shown to boost good cholesterol and decrease bad cholesterol, reducing your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Tips for Managing Macros to Hit Fitness Goals
You now understand what macronutrients are and how much of each you need daily. But how do you incorporate this eating style into your life? Here are a couple of tips to get you started.
Let Go of Perfectionism
Many macro counters meticulously track everything they eat, weighing their food and counting their calories. Not only is this unsustainable, but it can also harm your relationship with food. Research shows that calorie counting can trigger disordered eating symptoms. These may include low-self esteem, increased risk of anxiety and depression, and rapid weight loss or weight gain.
Instead of tracking everything you eat, let go of perfectionism and practice gentle nutrition. Gentle nutrition focuses on making food choices that fill you with joy and honor your physical health. Knowing how many macronutrients you should eat each day can help guide your eating habits; it shouldn’t be a cause of stress.
Do Meal Prep Ahead of Time
When life gets busy, it can be hard to make healthy choices. If you don’t have nourishing meals readily available, you may be tempted to choose unhealthy ones instead. Taking time on Sunday to prepare meals for the week will make it easier to reach for healthy options on hectic days.
When meal prepping, use your hand as a guide to measure your macros. This measurement doesn’t need to be perfect; it simply helps guide your portion sizes. One serving of protein should be about the size of your palm. One serving of carbohydrates should be about the size of a cupped hand, and one serving of fat should be thumb-sized. Top that off with unlimited veggies, and you’ve got a nourishing meal!
To make the most of your fitness efforts, it’s important to pair exercise with proper nutrition. However, this doesn’t mean you need to follow a restrictive diet. Understanding your macronutrient needs can help guide your nutrition decisions, ensuring you’re eating the proper food to fuel your training.
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