For years, dieters have restricted countless calories in hopes of losing those pesky extra pounds. Some have even tried extreme diets that cut out or severely restrict entire food groups (or heck, even forbidding solid food!).
Lately, however, nutritionists and dieticians have encouraged people to better understand the food they’re taking in, including how your body reacts to different types of food. No longer are we taught to exclusively count calories and instead, focus on balancing the types of calories you’re taking in.
What does this mean for you? With a better understanding of what you’re eating and what happens once it’s digested, you’ll feel better, perform better and hopefully achieve your weight loss or maintenance goals.
Breaking Down Your Food
There are two components that make up calories: micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats). While nearly all foods contain both micro- and macronutrients, it’s important to understand the breakdown of macronutrients in your diet to maintain a balanced and healthy diet.
Proteins will build and repair tissue in the body, so if you’re looking to gain muscle or lifting weights on a regular basis, you’ll generally want to increase your intake of this macronutrient. Carbohydrates will be used as energy in the body, which is why long-distance runners and endurance athletes increase their carb intake in the days leading up to an important training run or race. If carbs are not burned as energy, however, they can be stored as fat and show up on your waistline.
You’ll also want to make sure that you’re focusing on complex carbs (whole grains, green and starchy vegetables, and beans) instead of simple carbs (candy, soft drinks, white bread), as the former type contains more nutrients and will digest slower to keep you fuller longer.
But what about fats, you say? No longer are fats forbidden in a dieter’s approach to losing weight; in fact, they’re even suggested for better heart health and decreasing cholesterol — just make sure to focus on healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado and almonds.
The breakdown of your macronutrient intake depends on your weight goals, activity levels, age and how your body uses these nutrients. Remember that what works for your training partner or family member might not work for you. A 40-40-20 breakdown (40 percent protein, 40 percent carbohydrates, 20 percent fats) is one of the most universally suggested ratios for healthy, active people to maintain their current weight.
For those hoping to lose weight, Carolyn Dean, MD, ND and Medical Advisory Board Member for the Nutritional Magnesium Association, recommends a ratio of 50-30-20 or 50-20-30, depending on what’s personally sustainable and how your body uses carbohydrates.
If you have a more active lifestyle or are feeling tired during the day, try 50-30-20 to begin with. If you don’t need quite as many carbs, aim for the 50-20-30 ratio.
“It's the carbs that seem to matter,” she says. “Fats are OK, if they are good fats.”
With more people wanting to understand exactly what’s going into their bodies, new approaches to macro portioning have helped IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) gain popularity for both the fitness community and dieters alike. In this diet approach, nearly any food is allowed, as long as it fits within your daily allowance of macronutrients. Dean, however, provides a warning to people with certain diseases when considering IIFYM.
“They have a lot of foods they have to avoid,” she says. “So they have to fine-tune and individualize [their diet].”
With all of this being said, picking a macronutrient ratio doesn’t mean you can forget about your calorie count. Use the Argus app to set your weight goals and determine your daily calorie count, and then break that total down into macronutrients.
For example, if you have a daily allotment of 2,000 calories and using the 40-40-20 ratio, you’ll want to aim for 200 grams of protein, 200 grams of carbohydrates and 44 grams of fat. (Check out this macronutrient calculator for an easy way to determine your personal numbers.)
Erica is a runner, gym rat and outdoor buff based in Austin, Texas. She is a lifelong athlete, having participated in a number of sports from her youth years well into her adult life. Erica has a passion for creating and sharing information, motivation and inspiration to help athletes-in-training across the world. She previously worked as the Running Editor at ACTIVE.com (find her articles here), where she connected with runners of all levels to help them reach their running and fitness goals. You can follow Erica on Twitter or Instagram.
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