Micro- and macronutrients – the essential elements of our food
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts food into energy. Your body gets its energy from food, more specifically from the macronutrients in food. You need this energy to do everything from moving to thinking. Even when you’re resting, your body needs energy for all its ongoing processes—such as maintaining your body temperature, breathing, circulating blood, and adjusting hormone levels. Your body also requires nutrients from food for constructive metabolic processes i.e. to provide the building blocks and energy for the growth and repair of new cells (e.g. your hair and nails).
So nothing in your body works without nutrients, and to ensure it can function properly, you must absorb enough of the right nutrients. Both micro– and macronutrients are vital for many important functions. So what exactly are micro- and macronutrients and what roles do they play in weight loss? Find out all this and more by reading further.
The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. These macronutrients are the main components of your diet and each have different energy densities—which means that they have different amounts of calories per gram. The correct balance of macronutrients in your diet will help with weight loss, and the incorrect balance will hinder it. The reason is quite simple: each person has a different energy requirement based on genetic factors, namely, height, gender, and level of activity. How much you exceed or fall short of this energy requirement determines whether you maintain, gain, or lose weight. This means that understanding your own energy requirement is critical for achieving sustainable weight loss. The quality of the foods you eat is another important factor for weight loss: the types of carbs, proteins and fats you eat (e.g. brown rice vs white rice; turkey vs bacon; avocado vs butter) will play a decisive role in whether or not you lose weight. Therefore, it is important to not just know how much of each macronutrient you should eat, but also which food sources you should choose to best support your weight loss goals.
Of the macronutrients, carbohydrates are the primary energy source. The smallest carbohydrate units are called monosaccharides—or simple sugars. All other carbohydrates are built from these small units. For example, the disaccharide lactose—found in milk—consists of two different monosaccharides. Some major carbohydrate sources are potatoes, grains, rice, and legumes. Fiber is another important carbohydrate: it helps nourish your intestinal bacteria and ensures that your blood sugar rises more slowly when you eat carbohydrate-rich foods. Fiber also swells in your stomach, so when you eat high fiber foods, you will feel fuller faster and stay full for longer. Some high fiber foods include seeds, nuts, oats, and wholegrain bread, as well as fruits and vegetables.
Protein is a macronutrient that is essential for building muscle mass. Most people know that proteins and muscles go hand in hand—but what are proteins exactly? Proteins are large, complex molecules that consist of amino acid chains. Of these amino acids, nine are essential to humans. This means that they have to be supplied to your body from food because your body cannot make them on its own. To meet this requirement, you must eat a balanced diet that includes various protein-rich foods. Animal products, particularly meat and fish, contain the ideal amino acid composition for your body because the composition is similar to a human’s—making them the most conveniently available source. They also provide some micronutrients, which are difficult to get from plant-based foods alone—although your protein needs can be met on a plant-based diet by combining nuts, seeds, cruciferous vegetables, and legumes. Proteins fulfill the following functions: they are used to build up body tissues—such as hair and nails—and to create enzymes, hormones, and transport proteins. Also, proteins are the building materials for your bones, tendons, and ligaments—and of course your muscles.
Fats—also known as lipids—are one of the two most important sources of energy (along with carbohydrates), and make up the largest energy stores in the body. There are many varieties of fats, including triglycerides (consisting of glycerol and three fatty acids), which serve us as an energy source to, among other things, fuel body processes and movement and create heat. Other fats include steroids, such as cholesterol and lipids, which are mainly needed as a building material for your cell walls. Some of these fats (like omega-3 fatty acids) are essential to your health and must be included in your diet. Excess energy is stored in the form of triglycerides in your fat cells (called adipocytes) for later use and when they’re needed, your body releases them. The energy stored can ultimately come from any macronutrients—whether it be fat protein or carbohydrate—since your body can separate the individual components and reassemble them. So the idea that only fat makes fat is not true. Particularly carbohydrates lead to fat storage—thanks to a sensitive signal system that goes off when your blood sugar level rises too fast and high. On the other side, if too little energy is available, your body can mobilize its fat reserves and burn them for energy.
Tip: See how to get rid of belly fat.
Micronutrients—small amounts, big effect
Micronutrients do not provide energy for your body like macronutrients, but they are important for other functions. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Vitamins are classified as either fat-soluble or water-soluble; minerals are classified as either quantity and trace elements—depending on the amounts your body requires; while phytochemicals refer to a large class of micronutrients that are produced by plants (generally as defense mechanisms) that are vital for many of your body’s chemical processes.
The tasks of individual micronutrients are specific and completely different—even within the individual micronutrient groups. For example, vitamin A is essential for normal growth, growing new skin and blood cells, and your vision; vitamin C is an essential antioxidant and reducing agent in metabolic processes, while vitamin K plays a key role in blood coagulation.
Some essential micronutrients include the minerals potassium, calcium, and magnesium; and the trace elements zinc, iron, selenium, and chromium. Each micronutrient carries out different tasks in your body. Magnesium, for example, is involved in hundreds of processes: from protecting metabolic health to nerve transmission to blood sugar regulation, it has many important tasks. With all minerals, relatively small amounts are enough to cover your daily requirements.
What are the dangers of micro- and macronutrient deficiencies?
An unbalanced diet can lead to nutrient deficiencies and disrupt your mineral balance. How do you know if you are suffering from a nutrient deficiency? It’s not always easy. Cracks on the corners of your mouth may indicate an iron deficiency, but a magnesium deficiency is more difficult to notice: symptoms may include headache, rapid heartbeat, circulatory disorders—but also irritability or dizziness. To avoid these risks, you must provide your body with enough minerals. Be sure to seek medical advice if you experience any of these symptoms often.
You are unlikely to overdose on minerals if you eat a normal diet—even if you take mineral supplements— and the rare side effects (such as diarrhea or headaches) are usually quickly reversible by taking less of the respective mineral. However, taking excessive vitamin supplements can have negative consequences. The receptors for these substances in your body are limited. In general, you should talk to your doctor before adding any vitamin or mineral supplements to your diet.
Lose weight faster with the right micro- and macronutrient distribution
Micro- and macronutrients are the fundamental building blocks in every nutritional plan, and it matters how each nutrient is distributed and what source it comes from. Each person has a unique total energy requirement. Your total energy requirement is determined by your basal metabolic rate—i.e. genetic and physical factors (e.g. height, weight)—and your active metabolic rate—i.e. additional energy burned via physical activity.
Whether you’re male or female, an athlete or a couch potato, many factors play fundamental roles in whether or not you lose weight. One of the most decisive factors is to determine the correct micro- and macronutrient distribution for you to lose weight. Now you may be asking yourself “how on earth do I figure out the right micro- and macronutrient distribution?”. Well, the entire Upfit team is happy to assist you with this, and every other aspect of achieving healthy and sustainable weight loss. We will work together with you to create a diet plan based on your preferences and optimal micronutrients and macronutrients distribution —so that you can eat carefreely and watch the pounds tumble off.
- http://www.urgesund.at/wofuer-braucht-unser-koerper-energie/, published 2 years ago by Birgit Rief, as of 02.04.17
- Uli P. Burgerstein: Nutrition Manual . 12 ed. Trias Publishing House, 2012.