By: Benjamin Cole
The human body is an extraordinary energy converting machine. Most things you eat are rapidly broken down by the stomach and intestines and transformed into usable energy to think, move, breathe, and live. How does it do this? By breaking down the macro and micronutrient content in your foods and chemically converting it into glycogen, a type of primary biological fuel the body uses to perform, or into other ready-made nutrients. Whatever else is stored in the fat cells of the body or bone marrow.
This week's Evolve Blog is a continuation from last week's part one of three on bodily energy dynamics and the metabolism. This week's article is intended to highlight the importance of macros and micros, what they are and where they're found, and to give you a framework for eating healthy.
To be clear, this isn't a diet plan for body types but general information for eating well. Let's dive in.
But First, BMR
Your body is burning energy right now and you don't even know it. Just reading this and interpreting what I'm writing to you takes energy, albeit subtle. On top of that, you're body is partitioning the food you ate this morning to execute on what it deems important; muscle repair, cell recycling, hair or nail growth. Every minute of the day the human body is functioning, formulating, and fortifying.
This is what's known as the basal metabolic rate, or BMR. Your BMR is dependent on multiple factors, chiefly your metabolism, which is determined by your age, sex, daily activity, substance use, and more.
BMR is your daily base energy requirement. It's the caloric requirement for your body to just live. If you were to not move a single muscle all day and lay in bed catatonically your body would still burn energy. It stores it in various places (as you know, not always aesthetically pleasing places) to be used when necessary. Your heart has to beat, blood has to pump, and brain needs to function every single day.
You Become What You Eat Regularly
Of course you've heard the phrase "you are what you eat." That's true, you are. But saying "you become what you eat regularly" might put it in a just different enough frame for you to really understand how important our food is. On a hot midsummer day an ice cream cone isn't going to make me fat; an ice cream cone everyday after dinner will. We become what our diet makes us over time.
Simply put, our body is composed/constituted of things. These things are innumerable, but consist of trillions of micro-organisms, enzymes, proteins, bacterial flora, and even fungus. The quality of these 'things' is dependent on the quality and diversity of the food you eat. Eat well and they'll live well, eat bad and they'll live poorly. Our body becomes what we eat regularly because that's how it creates itself.
The body will take the base ingredients of what it is provided through your diet and work magic to make it work for you, but that's not to say that working is the same as working well. There's a reason elite athletes are picky about their diets and where their food comes from. If you read Part 1: Metabolism, you'll recall the idea of race cars taking race fuel. Athletes are aware the higher quality the fuel they put into their body the higher the output they will get for their abilities. Poor fuel = poor performance.
This is an integral point: your body constitutes itself upon the building blocks its given; you can build the temple of your body and brain with quality, nutritient-dense foods (like with sturdy steel rafters) or with empty, nutrient-absent foods (like a straw mud hut). It's not a matter of shopping at Whole Foods versus your neighborhood grocery store, it's a matter of choosing living vegetables, fruit, and ethically sourced proteins instead of dry, dead, shelf-stable grains, wheat or corn products with little nutrients.
Macros & Micros: Definitively
If you've been in the field of fitness for any length of time you've heard someone say, "I'm watching/counting my macros" or "that doesn't fit my macros." Macronutrients make up all foods and include carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. All macros have calories, and calories are the body's fuel.
Macros are pretty easy to identify when you get the general idea. Rice is a carbohydrate, chicken is a protein. Eggs are a mix of fat and protein, milk is a mixture of carbs, fats, and protein. This isn't to say all macros are created equally, because they're not. You know the calories from the carbs, fats, and protein in an ice cream birthday cake is not the same as that chicken and rice meal. One is clean, one is 'dirty.'
The cake is mostly composed of simple carbohydrates, like sugar, that the body can use immediately and store somewhere in excess. If your chicken and rice meal is with brown rice, a complex carb, the body will generally slowly digest that and use it gradually. Simple carbs are quickly utilized, complex over time.
Micronutrients, on the other hand, don't provide much energy at all. Rather, they provide the lubrication and facilitation for the pathways the body uses to generate energy and perform its needed functions. You can get them through your diet or via supplementation.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Vitamin C and B vitamins, for example, play a critical role in countless bodily functions including nerve synapse health, immune regulation, and much more. Micros don't typically have calories, although you get micros from foods that are macros and have calories. A chicken breast is a protein-dominant 'macronutrient meal' that contains micronutrients vitamins B6 and B12, zinc, selenium, and magnesium to name a few. The cake, by comparison, will have the micronutrients of what it was made with, primarily from wheat, eggs and dairy.
Worth noting here is that if we are what we eat regularly then what we eat regularly is what it consumed regularly. Referring back to idea above that it's not so much where you shop, it's what you shop for. i.e., a pasture-raised chicken breast versus a generic, flash-frozen chicken breast is going to be 'made' out of different quality protein because the chickens were given different diets/lifestyles.
The density and quality of the micronutrients of the chicken breast is dependent on what it ate and how it lived; the quality of your body and life is dependent on how you live and what you eat (and what you eat ate! Plants eat too, so where your food is grown and what it consumed matters in the long run.)
Nutrient Density > Calorie Density
Just because something is calorically dense does not mean it is nutrient dense. Taking the cake example again, the cake is calorically and therefore energy dense; the combination of dairy and sugars make it energy dense. This is not to be confused with nutrient dense, which isn't always calorie dense.
A fillet of salmon is a great example of something that is both calorically and nutrient dense. A gram of fat is 9 calories, so an 8 oz salmon fillet would be roughly 400 calories. By comparison, an 8-ounce can of coke is approximately 140 calories, all from sugar. The salmon has omega fatty acids critical for brain and joint health on top of the protein; the can of coke is essentially empty, it's immediately used or stored.
If you're dieting, bulking, or maintaining, it's of critical importance you consider what you're eating and what you're eating ate. A person's 'dirty bulk' from a caloric overload of In n' Out to gain weight isn't going to be the same as the person eating just above maintenance calories with nutrient dense foods.
To recap, the body burns energy to live no matter what you do (BMR), you become what you eat on a regular basis, and all macros have micros and all macros have calories and micros are needed to properly use macros. You need to eat in a way that works for you.
Another way to think of 'right nutrition' is if you have to 'work off' what you ate is it really working for you? Conversely, when what you eat works for you you're working with your diet and not against it.
Holistic nutrition is taking into consideration all the factors outlined in Part 1: Metabolism and those outlined here to make good decisions about your diet. You consider what your needs are, which may look like less or more calories, and then decide on what foods to eat and where they come from.
Choose properly sourced nutrient-dense foods, those that have a lot of micronutrients like zinc, B vitamins and more, drink a lot of clean, mineralized water (with magnesium, potassium, and salts), and enjoy the meals that aren't necessarily the 'healthy option.'
(just don't make it your regular meal!)
This piece was intended to provide you a deeper look into the world of nutrition. Nutrition is certainly a science and this brief article is merely a glimpse. You must keep in mind that every single person on the planet is going to respond differently to foods and has a highly unique set of genetic and biological idiosyncrasies that make them, them. Hopefully this offered a general guideline and framework for you to navigate your nutritional needs and gave you that macro-micro x-ray vision to eat healthier.
Catch you on next week's blog on pre and probiotics!
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