Carbohydrates are a fancy word for “sugar”—our body uses sugar very efficiently (most of the time) because it’s incredibly easy to digest. It’s the “fast-energy” nutrient that our body loves to ingest—it goes everywhere and is utilized for any kind of activity of high or low intensity, or high or low duration.
In our Nutrition Labels, we’re given a Total Carbohydrate count, with subcategories of Dietary Fiber or Sugars. Dietary Fiber is pretty amazing, as it can help stave off some of the negative effects of potential cholesterol buildup. Fiber does not give us calories to use as energy. Without going into too much detail, it’s the metaphorical scrub-brush that goes everywhere in our body to help sweep things off and move it along.
The Sugar subcategory is related to the number of grams of actual sugar in our Total Carbohydrate measurement. So while we get carbohydrates from, let’s say, Oats, if we buy the pre-flavored oat packets, the sugar they use as flavoring is added to our Carbohydrate count.
We can functionally and safely intake the majority of our daily calories from Carbohydrates, and we should limit our excess sugar intake for preventative reasons.
PROTEIN! The building blocks of a whole lot of good things our body is made up of; muscle, connective tissue, enzymes that have other jobs besides getting us more jacked, etc. Protein, outside of what we’ve been told it’s for (building muscle), is extraordinarily important.
Protein is comprised of amino acids, some of which our body already produces for us (Non-Essential), and others that our body needs to get from outside sources (Essential). 99% of plant-based protein does not have a full amino-acid profile, and 100% of all animal products and animal protein have complete amino acid profiles. So when we see the Protein label on a box, carton, meat-package, there are actually different levels of “completeness” to these proteins.
Outside of those semantics, our protein intake should be lower than our carbohydrate intake, and again, scales up as activity increases.
Our Vitamins and Minerals are important for everything from nervous system function, to hair growth and appearance, to the strength of our finger nails, to the complexion of our skin. These micronutrients do not provide “energy” to us, but can be ingested in too few or too many milligrams, leading to their own deficiency or toxicity issues.
An example could be Vitamin-C; it’s necessary for gum and tooth health, helps the blood absorb Iron (which keeps our red-blood cell count adequate), and is necessary for our bones, blood, skin, and connective tissue to develop and function. Having too little of Vitamin-C can give us Scurvy, and having too much of it can give you awful diarrhea.
Generally speaking, if you’re eating enough food variety and reaching an adequate daily calorie amount, we can be somewhere in the safe-spectrum of Vitamin and Mineral ingestion. Stressing over this too much can lead us to miss the forest for the trees.
When I think of my food, I ask myself these questions:
Where did it come from? What is/are the ingredient(s)?
a) Meat? This is my protein source. Let’s consider how many ounces I’ll eat, and the quality of meat so I can avoid unnecessary fat.
b) Fruit? Vegetable? Grain? Starch? Is it made out of any or all of these? This is my Carbohydrate source. I’ll consider carbohydrate density and portion accordingly. Vegetables generally have less carbohydrate content than their fruity compatriots.
c) Nut? Bean? Oil? Animal/Dairy Product? These are my Fats. If it’s not an animal product, I’ll make sure to keep the fat content to a small amount (handful of nuts, smaller serving of beans, a drizzle of oil) and avoid trans or saturated fats.
Lastly, Between the ADA (American Dietetics Association) and the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), a range or guideline every day can follow this trajectory:
What’s my body weight (in pounds and kilograms)?
Calories: Multiply it by 12-14+ (12 being baseline or sedentary, and scale up as activity and goals increase)
Fats (in grams): 30% of daily calorie intake
Protein (in grams): .8-1g per kg bodyweight
Carbohydrates (in grams): Whatever is left over
And if you’re an athlete, keep all the above constant, except increase carbohydrates per performance goal, weight gain goal, or activity level variance.