Today we will be talking about the most important aspect of fitness, and this is nutrition. Without it done correctly, no goal can be achieved, fat loss, muscle gain, or both done simultaneously. When it comes to this topic you don’t need a degree in nutritional sciences to get a good understanding of it and apply it to your goal. That is what I hope you can learn from this article, the fundamentals of nutrition to get you going in the right direction and help you reach your goals!
Fundamental Parts of Nutrition:
There are 3 things that should lay the base of your nutrition, in order, these are calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. Water is also a very critical part of nutrition, and should always be taken seriously and be consumed in ample amounts, we will talk more about this later on. I would also like to add that the information below is fundamental information and is not written in regards to health issues such as diabetes or intolerances, etc, individual circumstances need to be talked about with your doctor.
To start, let’s explain what calories are. Calories are a unit of energy that your body uses to function, they are acquired through the 3 different macronutrients (more to come on these later). Calories are at the base of nutrition because the amount you are consuming will dictate the goal you are trying to achieve. A general outline of the calorie intake for different goals is listed below:
- Fat Loss – Eating in a caloric deficit in order to lose fat/weight
- Bodyweight Maintenance – Eating at maintenance calories to maintain body weight
- Muscle/Weight Gain – Surplus of calories
- Simultaneous Fat Loss & Muscle Gain (Body Recomposition) – Caloric deficit with a focus/emphasis on protein and a proper amount of fats and carbohydrates.
It is important to note that although the number of calories you consume is the base of the goal you are trying to achieve, you will not see results nor will you see optimal results if you are not eating with a good spread of macronutrients. These are what we will be talking about next!
There are 3 different types of macronutrients (also known as macros), these include proteins, fats and carbohydrates. As I stated above calories come from the different types of macronutrients, here is a description of the calories contained in the different macros:
- Protein – 4 calories per gram
- Carbohydrates – 4 calories per gram
- Fats – 9 calories per gram
Let’s start with protein. Although proteins have many important jobs in the body, their main one is to aid in muscle recovery which is largely important to muscle building. Protein is comprised of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), 20 to be exact. Of these 20 there are 9 that are essential (needed by the body and you must obtain them through your nutrition), 3 of these 9 are what we call BCAAs’s or branch chain amino acids. The main jobs of these amino acids are focussed on muscle building, they include leucine, isoleucine and valine. All have different jobs, however, their main ones include:
- Leucine – Controlling protein synthesis, recovery and growth hormones, blood sugar regulation
- Isoleucine – Helps recovery, increases endurance/energy
- Valine – Maintenance of muscle and the immune system, proper nervous system and cognitive function
For more information and detail on these and other amino acids, you can visit the website Amino Acid Guide which is where I got this information from.
Based on the duties of these amino acids you can see the main job of protein is to aid in muscle recovery and building. There is no mechanism in the body to store amino acids, however, they can be converted to glucose for the body to use as energy if lacking carbohydrates (rarely though). Extra proteins are excreted through the body in the form of urine. Next, we will talk about carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are the main source in which your body gets its energy from. There are two types of carbs, simple and complex. While both have a place in one’s nutrition, they have different aspects to each of them. Here are the characteristics of each:
Simple Carbs (Also Known as Sugars):
- Quick breakdown into glucose (useable form of sugar in the body)
- Fast but not long-lasting energy (natural sugars do give longer-lasting energy than refined sugars though)
- Natural sugar foods can be dense in fibre which will slow digestion and help control the insulin release, thus not causing a “sugar crash”
- Refined sugars cause an insulin spike which can lead to a sugar crash after a short burst of energy
- Natural sugars are much more nutritious than refined sugars
Complex Carbs (Also Known as Starches):
- Longer breakdown into glucose (processed starches breakdown quicker than natural ones)
- Longer lasting sustained energy (natural starches give more controlled and sustained energy than processed ones)
- Some complex carbs still induce an insulin spike (poor carb to fibre ratio, processed starches) these carbs can still be fine and are often times great, just be cautious of when you eat them (e.g. prior to a game)
- Natural and fibre dense starches will breakdown slower because of the slowed digestion rate (this gives more controlled sustained energy)
- Dense in nutrients (natural ones more so than processed ones)
Now that we have a good understanding of the differences between simple and complex carbs, let’s talk about how carbohydrates work in the body. Here is a brief description, simple and complex carbohydrates are broken down in the body (with different processes), they are then turned into glucose which your body uses for its main energy source (ATP). Extra sugars are stored as glycogen for later use in the body when blood sugars reduce. When glycogen stores are full the extra glucose is stored in the muscle and can be stored as fat.
As you can see, carbs are very important to the body functioning optimally and they shouldn’t be avoided (unless for medical or other professionally advised reasons). In general, trying to pick healthy simple carbs from fruits and dairy instead of refined sugars from pop and baked goods is best, this will provide more nutrients and give better energy than refined sugars will. Complex carbs are a great option for longer more sustained energy, as well as taking in more calories as they are typically higher in carbs. Which types you have depend on the situations you’re in throughout the day.
There are 4 different types of fats, these are polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, saturated and trans fats. These fats are comprised of fatty acids, which have many important roles in the body. The only 2 fatty acids that are essential (your body requires them but they must be obtained through your nutrition) are omega 3’s and 6’s. These are found in the polyunsaturated fats. One of the large controversies over fats is the cholesterol and how it can lead to plaque build-up, clogged arteries and heart disease. This leads us to LDL and HDL cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoproteins) are thought of as “bad” cholesterol because it is what leads to plaque buildup, while HDL (high-density lipoproteins) are thought of as good because it is what manages that plaque buildup and helps remove it. It is also worth noting that cholesterol does have positive functions in the body, such as it’s control of certain hormones. Now that we have a basic understanding of fats, let’s look at the different attributes of each:
- Saturated Fats – Increases LDL cholesterol, increases size of LDL particles (a good thing), increases HDL cholesterol
- Polyunsaturated Fats – Contains essential fatty acids that are Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s, lowers LDL cholesterol, increases HDL cholesterol
- Monounsaturated Fats – Lowers LDL cholesterol, increases HDL cholesterol
- Artificial Trans Fats – Increases LDL cholesterol, decreases HDL cholesterol, linked to heart disease
Now that we know more about the different kinds of fats, let’s talk about how our body uses them. Fats are broken down into their fatty acids, these are then used for cell membranes, stored energy or used as energy when our body doesn’t have glucose to use. As you can see from the above chart, a healthy amount of the first 3 fats is ok, however, you want to try and eliminate number 4 on the list. Saturated fats often face a lot of criticism, as you can see they are not terrible, however, there are options that are “better.” I would suggest to not avoid saturated fats, however, make sure you’re not eating too much and are having good amounts of the other 2 fats. The “best” kinds of fats are the first and second ones, the unsaturated fats. A good part of your fat intake should come from these. This because they are considered as healthy fats because of their positive relation to the different types of cholesterol, and the essential fatty acids contained in polyunsaturated fats. However, like anything you still need to be eating them in a healthy amount, this amount will depend on your needs and goals.
Now that we have talked about calories and macros it is time to talk about a sometimes neglected part of nutrition, this is micronutrients. These nutrients are essential, meaning our body can’t produce the amounts needed or any at all. Micronutrients are split into 2 broad groups, these are vitamins and minerals. There are 2 major groups of vitamins and 2 major groups of minerals. The 2 vitamin groups include fat-soluble vitamins and water-soluble vitamins, this basically means the 2 different ways within the body that we absorb and use the vitamins. It is important to note that fat-soluble vitamins can be stored, while water-soluble vitamins cannot. Extra vitamins are excreted from the body through urine. Because of this, deficiencies can occur, more so in water-soluble ones since as I stated, they cannot be stored. The 2 basic groups of minerals include major and minor minerals, these 2 groups refer to the amounts needed by the body. As you probably guessed the major ones are needed in higher quantities and the minor ones are needed in smaller quantities. The major minerals are usually measured in milligrams while the minor minerals are typically measured in micrograms. Below is a visual to help further represent the different categories of these micronutrients:
Vitamins and minerals have many different functions in the body, far too many to list. Some of them which you may already know include building strong bones, building the immune system, vision and helping with brain function. Two other important parts of micronutrients include antioxidants and phytochemical’s, in short, they help to fight free radicals or prevent their creation to begin with. Free radicals are created by metabolizing energy and although they have some roles in the body they have their negatives as well. Ultimately antioxidants and phytochemical’s help to balance the levels of these free radicals.
Now that we know the basics of micronutrients it is time to start looking at how we obtain them and in ample amounts. Ultimately I wouldn’t suggest tracking your micronutrients, as long as you are taking in around 3 or 4 servings of fruits and 3 or 4 servings of vegetables daily while trying to focus on varying colours; you should cover most of your micronutrients in proper quantities without a problem. Also, if you are eating proper amounts of macronutrients this will also help your cause. Of course, if you have reason to believe you are deficient in certain micronutrients, go talk with your doctor. A multivitamin wouldn’t be a bad idea, however, again if you are eating a wide variety of foods, it isn’t a requirement in my opinion.
A great resource to view this information in video form is from a YouTube channel called The Doctors Kitchen, you can click here to watch.
The final thing I would like to touch on in this article is water. Water is essential for human life and is extremely important. Water makes up around 2/3 of your body. It has many functions in the body such as temperature regulation, nutrient transporting as well as overall energy levels. These different functions, as well as many others, have a large carryover to fitness, this is why hydration is such a key part of your nutrition. Water needs vary greatly depending on a variety of factors such as bodyweight, climate, your job, goals and level of activity. I would say drinking when you’re thirsty and a little extra when you’re active is a good guideline. If you’re not drinking hardly any at all, then make sure you have times throughout the day when you are intentionally drinking water.
I hope this article was informative and helpful in allowing you to get an understanding of the fundamentals of nutrition! If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment and I will do my best to give you an answer!
Until Next Time,
Please refer to my liability disclaimer to ensure you know who is responsible for use of this information after reading.