“I’m starting to do more exercise so am becoming more conscious of my diet. I’ve been reading lots of information about what constitutes a balanced diet and I’m confused about macros and micros. Can you explain?”
Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer replies.
It is very important to eat a balanced diet, especially when you start a new exercise programme.
Macros are the 3 main dietary food-types that make up our daily intake – proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals within these macros that are essential for life but needed in much small quantities.
People often mistakenly think they need to radically increase their macro nutrient intake when starting an exercise programme; this is rarely necessary and can often lead to weight gain although their lifestyle has become more active.
What is important is the balance of macro intake to make sure you are eating enough protein.
Recreational exercisers often forget that the body needs plenty of protein not only to repair and build muscle after exercise, but also to build hormones and support the immune system. Generally, around 15-20% of the diet should be protein-based. Good sources include lean meat, poultry, eggs, dairy produce, beans, legumes, soya and fish.
Carbohydrates are needed for energy production, but try to avoid highly refined sugary foods that deliver no nutritional goodness. Carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, other grains, peas, beans and pulses are all great choices. Fruit and vegetables are also an excellent source of healthy carbs but remember that fruits contain a lot more sugar than vegetables.
Fats are also required for energy production, to keep the body warm and to metabolise and help build hormones. Saturated fats found in red meat, cheese and butter should be eaten in moderation but the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats are very important if you are exercising. They help to manage the body’s natural inflammatory response and are needed for a healthy heart, eyes, brain and joints.
Vitamins and minerals are needed every day but in small amounts. Nature has provided us with a wonderful balance of these essential nutrients, and if we aim to eat a ‘rainbow’ diet every day (think colourful fruits and vegetables) then we should be getting everything we need. However the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey has shown that the vast majority of UK adults are not eating their five-a-day minimum, so you can always consider a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement; this can provide an important top-up to the daily diet and ensures you will be getting all the essential nutrients that you need.