What I want to do here is give you a basic guide to macronutrients. I’m not going to encompass it purely within the realms of discussing macronutrients for bodybuilding benefits, but rather as an overall guide you can start with to understand them.
I will touch on how macronutrients are important for bodybuilders (and how you can obsess with them too much), but generally I want to keep this simple for beginners.
So what I’m going to do is give you an understanding of how important macronutrients are, as well as how important balancing them is.
Plus, I’ll talk you through three main macronutrient groups, what the best foods within them are, and how much focus you need to put on balancing macronutrients as a bodybuilder, especially as a beginner.
Why Is Understanding Macronutrients Important?
If you want to eat healthy, then having the information at the top level is crucial to begin with. Macronutrients break all the food we eat is down to groups. That makes it easy to understand which foods we need to eat, and in what balance.
There are also micronutrients. But you don’t need to worry about those, because they are the nutrients you get in all foods, mostly vitamins and minerals. As long as you are eating whole foods, and eating roughly the right proportions of the macronutrients, then your micronutrient intake and balance should be absolutely fine.
You also have to think most foods aren’t purely within one macronutrient group. I’ll cover that more in a little while, but you can’t just split foods up to balance your diet in that way. So if you want to go into this in more depth, you’ll have to understand how foods can sit in several of the macronutrient groups simultaneously.
The Three Macronutrients (Although Some Nutritionists Argue There Are Four)
There are three macronutrient groups. However, some nutritionists argue there are actually four:
- Fats & oils
Now everyone is familiar with the first three, but I bet you open your eyes a little wide when you read alcohol as a macronutrient.
The thing is with alcohol is it doesn’t have any nutritional value in the body beyond producing calories to use, therefore you can’t fit it into any of the three accepted macronutrient groups. As most people know as well, calorie content in alcohol is quite high, which is why heavy drinking can lead to obesity.
Now I’m not suggesting you use alcohol as a macronutrient as a bodybuilder or casual gym visitor, but it’s important to understand that alcohol delivers a high calorie intake that you can burn, but it doesn’t sit within the macronutrient descriptions of protein, fat, carbohydrates.
How Macronutrient Balance Is Crucial To Energy And Growth
You need to know at the start that a perfect diet doesn’t exist, and a healthy diet never has a perfect ratio of macronutrients in it at all, no matter how hard you try. So you can ignore all those bodybuilding advice sites telling you how you need to perfectly balance your diet and focus on protein.
But broadly, you can get the balance right as long as you have knowledge of where the food sit individually within the macronutrient groups, and what sort of proportions of each macronutrient they contain.
Broadly, you should be consuming roughly this balance of macronutrients in your diet:
- 20% fats
- 50% carbohydrates
- 30% proteins
Now I’m giving you rough ratios based on a bodybuilding diet. However, for most people you aren’t working out then your protein intake doesn’t need to be more than 25% of your diet.
The thing is with proteins is that the body can’t store them. They are used for metabolism, dietary nitrogen, tissue growth, hormones, antibodies, and many other key body functions.
So although you need plenty of protein, any excess is eradicated. If the excess is significant, it can place strain on the liver in the long term.
Despite what you are told, proteins are not the thing you should be obsessing about when it comes to bodybuilding.
The bottom line is that just like counting calories, counting macronutrient balance is not crucial either. Sure, you have to be aware of it, and you have to plan your diet for bodybuilding to take macronutrient balance into account, especially the balance between carbs and proteins, but just like with calorie counting, you should not obsess over it because overall, it’s only going to affect your performance positively or negatively by a few percent.
How Much Focus Do You Need To Put On Macronutrient Balance?
The only real focus you need to put on the balance of macronutrients that you consume daily is as follows:
- Minimise fat intake
- Balance carbs and protein intake
- Ensure time of day matches macronutrient required
When it comes to fat, it gets a bad reputation. Low-fat diets became popular a couple of decades ago, and fat became the devil.
However, that isn’t healthy, and more modern thinking and research shows that fat is crucial to our well-being and health.
Amino acids mostly come from protein, while fatty acids obviously come from fat. Together, they give you an incredible amount of what your body needs to function properly.
Fats are also essential for enhancing the absorption of key vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Although most vitamins are water-soluble, these four key fats are only fat-soluble, so unless you include a decent amount of fat in your diet, you will suffer from vitamin deficiencies.
So although you’ll want to minimise your fat intake, 20% at maximum, and you’ll want to make sure the fats and oils you consume are good quality, you shouldn’t agonise over fat intake beyond that.
In terms of protein and carbs, you should preserve the balance I’ve just told you, with around half of your diet being carbohydrate-based. Good quality carbohydrates, not refined carbohydrates.
I’ll also just mention that the time of day matters. Your body primarily uses carbohydrates for fuel. They are broken down into glucose for energy. If you don’t have enough of them, they start to eat away at your fat and muscle.
You should be eating a carb heavy meal before you work out, preferably in the morning before working out a few hours later. That will also help with your positivity and brainpower.
Then, after you have worked out, you should be eating a protein rich meal. But not exclusively proteins, like a shake, but something like lean chicken breasts and a range of lightly steamed fresh vegetables.
Which Is The Most Important Macronutrient For Bodybuilders?
So please don’t fall into the traps of thinking you need a fat-free diet, because that will set you back in terms of energy availability, and general health.
Don’t focus completely on protein consumption. Excess is discarded from the body, it can put strain on your liver and it needs to be consumed as part of a healthy diet.
Don’t therefore focus on things like protein shakes, especially if you are already eating a high amount of protein. Most of that protein is simply eradicated from the body, and if you are mixing it with milk, it could be that you are just increasing calories that are being stored as fat.
Carbohydrates are definitely the current diet industries villain, replacing fat. You’ll see tons of low-carb diets, because of the idea that they are unhealthy.
Carbohydrates are only unhealthy if eaten in a significant excess, and if the carbohydrate eaten are refined. Stuff like white flour, white pasta, all of the modern foods that are everywhere and lack nutritional value. They spike your glucose and give you a rush of energy, and then you feel exhausted.
When it comes to carbohydrates you don’t want simple ones that are converted into quick sugar/glucose in the body. That’s why things like pizza, white pasta, white bread, and large amounts of potato-based foods need to be off the menu.
What you need is starch based carbohydrates, whole carbohydrates. The longer the polysaccharide chain within the carbohydrate, the more time it takes you to digest and absorb the starch. That leads to slow energy release, which aids exercise and maintaining healthy weight. Generally, these are known as “complex carbohydrates”.
There’s nothing complex about them in terms of understanding what they are though, they are simply the basics we should be eating. Whole grains, things like brown rice, quinoa, wheat and oats. You can add that this things like beetroot, bananas, and sweet potatoes.
Also, some fruits are very high in good quality carbohydrates. Blueberries, for example, contain up to 15% carbohydrates, along with things like bananas, oranges, and even great. So don’t think of fruit as natural sugar to be avoided, just don’t overdo it because it’s possible to consume a lot of calories of fruit without realising it.
In Summary: Be Aware Of Macronutrients But Don’t Obsess Over Them
I deliberately kept this simple for you guys, because I don’t want you to obsess over macronutrients, in the same I don’t want you to obsess over calories.
When you are bulking you should be eating about 15% more calories than you normally would to maintain. When you’re cutting, 15% less. How you do that can be through myriad of food combos, and you shouldn’t obsess over it.
That’s the same with macronutrients. Get the balance roughly right, be aware of which foods split across two or three of the macronutrient groups, and make sure fats, carbohydrates, and proteins that you eat are whole, natural, unrefined, both simple and complex as needed, and timed to benefit your bodybuilding as closely as possible in terms of consumption times.