Fuel your run: Everything you need to know about Macronutrients

The most common question I get asked as a rural healthcare provider is, “Why am I gaining so much weight?”. This question is then followed by their definition of their ‘healthy lifestyle’. Unsurprisingly, this definition differs greatly between each individual and is often accompanied with a high total cholesterol level. These two topics- gaining weight and high cholesterol- sought me to dive deep into research of nutrition and macronutrients; so here’s my Nurse Practitioner spiel. Let’s start at the core of nutrition, macronutrients.

What is a healthy diet?

You may have heard people “counting macros” before for weight loss, but what is a macro? Macronutrients are the three components consumed daily in our diet to provide us energy. There. That wasn’t so hard 🙂 I’ll bet you can even name a couple of these macros. Some of you may have guessed protein, as you should. Protein serves a vital role in strength and structure. Most people think of the bodybuilder image, but we all consume protein daily for vital functions. Another macronutrient is carbohydrates. “Carbs” are the most easily converted source of energy consumed in our diet. Then of course, there’s the final third macronutrient, the ‘dreaded’, Fat. By the end of this discussion I hope to provide the knowledge you deserve to no longer dread fat! But how?! Hear me out.

healthy fats including Avocado and eggs

Fat

I’m an 80’s baby, so growing up I’ve been bred on the ‘All-American-Healthy-Low-Fat-diet.’ I’ve been taught from an early age to seek out non-fat milk or low-fat cheese. It made theoretical sense, right? If you want to lose weight (fat), then consume less fat. By the 1980’s low fat diets became mainstream; recommended by doctors, supported by the federal government and heavily advertised by the media and food industries. But think of that year, 1980- in reference to how many hundred of thousands of years humans have been around, we’ve only been consuming ‘low-fat diets’ for 40 years.

Let’s look back a bit further to the 1960’s when the leading cause of mortality in the United States was Coronary artery disease- a heart attack. Many studies were performed to analyze what was putting us Americans at risk for a heart attack, and strong correlation (as in the Framingham study) related cardiovascular risk to cholesterol and saturated fats. Notice that emphasized word, Saturated. There are many “good for you” fats. In fact, Fat is ESSENTIAL to include in your diet to be broken down into fatty acids that make cell linings and hormones. Our body requires twenty amino acids, and although our bodies can make amino acids, NINE essential amino acids need to be consumed daily. So let’s explain this easily,

Your body is either ‘Fat-Storing’ or ‘Fat-Burning’ at all times.

Now let’s get back to this new 1980’s philosophy of a ‘healthy American low-fat diet’. If we are consuming a low-fat diet, (Fat being essential for amino acids improving memory storage, controlling inflammation and regulating hormones) do you think our bodies are going to use that fat for energy or store it? Ding, ding, ding! That’s right, our bodies have been storing the limited amount of fat we’ve allowed it as a mechanism of survival. unsurprisingly, the prevalence of obesity from the 1980’s being about 8% of the population to today 42.4% of Americans are obese! Geez that’s 530% fold increase in obesity!

There are four types of fat, and they all relate to the length of carbon atoms or associated hydrogen atoms attached; in other words, just a bunch of science-y stuff. I’ll make it easy to remember, GOOD FAT: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. BAD FAT: Trans fat (now illegial in the US). FAT TO ENJOY IN MODERATION: Saturated fat. Take away point: eat high ‘good fat’ often. Two essential sources of essential fatty acids are Omega 3 and Omega 6. Food examples include nuts, flax seed, whole grains, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, eggs and FATTY FISH- salmon, mackerel, tuna.

Protein

This macronutrient serves a vital role in many functions in our body, there’s only one catch: we don’t store protein for energy like we can with Fat and carbohydrates. Protein gives our tissues strength and structure with collagen, elastin, actin and myosin. Think beautiful, firm skin with strong muscles to run with… yep, I’ll take some of that! Protein also synthesizes enzymes and hormones, transport substances across cell membranes and defends against foreign pathogens. So eat your protein!

Carbohydrates

Carbs are the easiest source of energy for our bodies to convert to glucose. In fact, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of your total daily calories. This is based on the minimum amount of glucose utilized by the brain being about 130 grams. Here’s the page turner, In the absence of carbohydrates the body will use fat as a source of energy. Yup, mind=blown. Here Americans are trying to sustain a ‘low-fat diet’ for weight loss when we’ve had it backwards the past forty years. Eat high (good for you) fats, minimize your carbs and our bodies will use our own stored energy! As you may have also noticed in the diagram above, we get 9 kcals of energy for every gram of fat we consume as opposed to 4 kcal of energy per gram for protein and carbs. That’s double the amount of energy!

  • Fun Fact! Our bodies have stored fat, and for many of us in excess abundance. One pound of fat equates to about 3,600 calories of energy! When I run a half marathon my Runkeeper app says I burn about 1,000 calories, which means I theoretically could run 45 miles on just one pound of fat, and I have a few to spare! 😉

So that’s my spiel. I hope you join me in eating Clean food to fuel your run!

As always- Run strong, Travel and Eat. Real. Food. -We Run the States

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for your professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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