Macro-nutrients: What’s the Hype?

By Jeannie Versagli, RDN, CN

Have you ever wondered why some days you have more pep and energy than other days? These outcomes are a direct correlation to what you are eating.  It is important for each one of us to consume the appropriate amounts of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats each day.  With the right combination of these nutrients one can be assured that they are providing the body with the energy needed and nutritional support necessary for optimum health and wellness.

Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are known as macro-nutrients. They provide the energy needed to maintain bodily functions and for carrying out activities of daily living. It is important to know that the body is not capable of making these nutrients, and therefore eating too little or too much of these nutrients can work against you.

Let’s take a moment to learn how these macro-nutrients function in the body and how they influence our day to day health.


Understanding the function and role of the macro-nutrient Carbohydrate. 

Carbohydrates are a group of compounds that include sugars, starches, and cellulose and serve as the major energy sources your diet. These sugars include the following:

Fructose:  Found in fruits, honey and some vegetables.

Lactose:   The sugar that is in milk.

Galactose:  The sugar from the breakdown of the milk sugar lactose.

Sucrose: Table sugar.  This sugar is derived from cane sugar, sugar beets, and maple sugars.

Maltose:  Found in malted products such as cereals and beers.

Glucose: Derived from corn sugar, dextrose or grape sugar and is a direct result of the metabolisms of carbohydrates ingested from eating. This sugar is in a form for immediate absorption/utilization for energy by our body’s tissues.

Carbohydrates are the energy source for our bodies.  Once these carbohydrates are metabolized into glucose, the body can supply the brain, muscles, and nervous tissues with the on-demand fuel that is required.

A diet comprised of 50% carbohydrates is recommended for individuals daily, to supply the appropriate amount of fuel needed for the body to function at its optimum level. Consuming carbohydrates greater than the recommended daily allowance can result in weight gain and insulin sensitivity, which can lead to diabetes.

The carbohydrates to include in your diet daily are:

Whole grains (such as brown rice, oats, bulgur, farrow, and wild rice)

Vegetables (choose a variety of colors)

Milk, and yogurt (Skip sugar-added yogurts)

Fruits (choose a variety of colors)

Beans and legumes


Understanding the function and role of the macro-nutrient Protein.

Proteins are a class of nitrogen compounds that consist of one or more long chain amino acids that provide structural components for the body’s muscles, hair, collagen, skin, anti-bodies, and enzymes.  There are 22 different amino acids widely distributed in proteins.

Proteins are the major component of your muscles, organs and endocrine glands.  They play a significant role in the health of our bones, teeth, skin, nails, hair, and blood cells.

A diet comprised of 20 to 25 % protein is recommended.  You can determine the specific amount of protein needed daily for your body by using the following formula;

For the average adult, .4 grams of protein per pound of body weight is recommended.  If you are participating in a resistance training program, the protein intake is recommended to be .6 to .9 grams per pound. Consuming protein above the daily recommendations can result in weight gain, dehydration and an increase in calcium loss.  Research suggests evenly distributing protein consumption between breakfast, lunch and dinner for better utilization with muscle synthesis.

Consider consuming sources of protein such as poultry, lean meats, fish, nut butters, yogurt, milk, beans, lentils, tofu, and eggs.  This will ensure that you are consuming high-quality protein sources.


Understanding the function and role of the macro-nutrient Fat

Fats are compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. They are the most concentrated source of energy for our bodies. Fats provide padding around our vital organs, protect our nerves, act as an insulator for our bodies, carry fat soluble vitamins, lubricate the gastrointestinal tract, and depress gastric sections by delaying the emptying of the stomach.

Fats are broken into 2 distinct categories of fatty acids: saturated and unsaturated.

Unsaturated fats are known as the good fats. The following fats are classified as unsaturated:

Monounsaturated Fats are vegetable oils, (including olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil), avocados, olives, nut butters, nuts and seeds such as macadamia nuts, pecans, and almonds.

Polyunsaturated Fats include some vegetable oils, (such as soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, and safflower oil), fatty fish, (such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and trout), and nuts and seeds (such as walnuts/walnut oil, flax seed/oil and sunflower seeds).  These fats are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids.

Saturated fats consist of animal fats, butter, cream, cheeses and processed meats.  These fats are bad fats and should be consumed in smaller amounts daily.  Less than 10% of your total daily fat intake daily should come from saturated fats.

Dietary intake of fat should consist of 30% of your total caloric intake daily. Consuming fats greater than the recommended daily allowance results in weight gain and elevated lipid levels, which can lead to heart disease.

Macro-nutrients are a key component for your health and wellness.  Balance is key.  Providing your body with the right combination of macro-nutrients will allow you to perform at your optimum level.  You will never struggle to get through your day or your exercise routine again, because with the right combination of these nutrients your body will receive the energy it needs along with the nutritional support necessary for optimum health and wellness.


Hockessin Athletic Club opened its doors on June 10 2007. Boasting over 100,000 sq. ft., a 5-pool aquatics complex, and over 200+ weekly group and aqua fitness classes, it is Delaware's premier fitness destination. 100 Fitness Way, Hockessin, DE ·

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