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Macros Made Simple Part 1: Carbohydrates

So I notice there is a lot of misinformation and confusion about nutrition and what to eat and how to eat it, where to eat it, who to eat it with, and what to wear when you're eating it... Unfortunately, I can't help with ALL of that - personal trainers usually don't win awards for fashion sense - but I CAN break down your diet breakdown :)

This is the beginning of a three-part series explaining the macronutrients. Now, you might have heard one of your gym friends talking about these ("Gotta hit my macros, brooooo!"), but if you're uncertain about what those are or the best ways to manage them, this series is for you.

Macronutrients are the three major categories the foods you eat fall into: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. All three are important for your body to function and understanding what they do will give you a HUGE edge as you're working toward your fitness goals. And don't worry, I'll skip over most of the technical sciencey stuff and get right into the meat of things. Or in today's case, the bread of things.

Now let's talk about them carbies. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, and when broken down into glucose, provide energy for all parts of your body. Even your brain needs glucose for optimal function, so when you find yourself talking to a person you think is dumb, maybe all they need is a piece of toast. You can find carbs in different forms, such as starches, sugars, or fiber, and are predominant in foods such as breads, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Carbohydrates are absolutely good for you to have, but I find that most people who are having weight problems usually have a hard time sticking to an optimal carb intake. Now, some of you have probably heard of the glycemic index (GI), which is a measure of how much a food raises your blood sugar. You might have also heard that slow-digesting/high GI carbs are better for you than fast-digesting/high GI carbs.

In general, this is true, and so most of your carbs should come from foods like whole grains or wheats, fruits, or vegetables rather than processed grains, most cereals, white breads, white pastas, or candy. Because high GI foods can raise your blood sugar so rapidly, they can have negative effects on your insulin levels, so be mindful of that. However, eating high GI foods before or after a workout can be beneficial in replenishing your carbohydrate stores after they're used up during exercise. So if you MUST eat Lucky Charms, at least wait until after you hit the gym.

In addition to generally having more micronutrients (think vitamins and minerals), slow-digesting carbs also tend to be higher in dietary fiber. You probably know that fiber helps improve your relationship with your bathroom, but in addition to easing the passage of food through your intestines, fiber helps lower cholesterol, makes you feel full longer, reduces your risk of colon cancer, and improves overall gut health. And the best part? Dietary fiber is indigestible, which means if you're looking at a nutrition label for total carbohydrates and calories, you can subtract the fiber from total carbs, as your body does not absorb fiber calories (20g carb - 5g fiber = 15g carbs). Ok, maybe that's not the best part, but it's still pretty cool.

So now that we know all about carbohydrates, how should we eat them? Well, that depends on your body size, daily activity, and fitness goals. A serious weightlifter trying to gain more weight might get 50% of his daily calories from carbs whereas a person looking to lose weight would eat 25% of their calories from carbs, and someone who wants to maintain their body composition and exercises regularly would fall around 40%.

For more ideas on structuring your diet, see my post about cutting calories. Another popular strategy I'm often asked about is called carb cycling.

I hope that cleared things up for you (I know the fiber will if this article didn't). Keep an eye out for the next part of the series, and as always, let me know if you have more questions!


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