The Beginners Guide to Carbs and Proteins

Abs are made in the kitchen; weight loss is 80% nutrition and 20% exercise; you are what you eat. The list goes on and on of catch phrases that tell us that nutrition is important to exercise. However, knowing how your body uses food for fitness isn’t always easy. To get you started, here is a simple guide to understanding proteins and carbohydrates and how they impact your body pre, during and post workout.

Protein

 Photo by Caroline Attwood

Photo by Caroline Attwood

What is it?

Protein is a building block of every cell in your body, making it a key component of your bones, muscles, skin and blood. Protein is made up of building blocks called amino acids. There are 22 amino acids, 9 of which our bodies cannot produce. This means that our body depends on our diet to provide these “essential amino acids.”

How it’s used during exercise?

Protein, in comparison to other macronutrients, is actually the least efficient fuel source during workouts. Your body only heavily relies on protein as a fuel source during periods of prolonged exercise or when all other sources are depleted. So why then is there so much talk about protein in the fitness community? While protein doesn’t effectively fuel your workout, it’s a building block of muscle. It is impossible to build, repair, or even maintain muscle tissue without protein intake. So whether you are trying to build muscle mass, tone existing muscles, or recover after a long run, protein is the macronutrient that is guiding that process.

How much does my body need?

Most people know that protein is important, but the million dollar questions are how much and when? The suggested range of protein intake is 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For more details on the complete dietary guidelines visit the US Dept. of Health and Human Services. For total wellness how much protein you eat is less important that the quality of the protein you eat. Look for protein rich foods that are also low in saturated fats and processed carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates

 Photo by  Brooke Cagle

Photo by  Brooke Cagle

What is it?

Carbohydrates are the most debated macronutrients, with some swearing by them and some swearing them off. Simply put, carbohydrates are sugars, starches, and fibers found in grains, vegetables and fruits. The body turns carbohydrates into glucose which is used for energy to support bodily functions and physical activity.

How it’s used during exercise?

In the sea of messaging around low carb dieting, one fact is often left out: carbohydrates are the primary and preferred energy source for exercise. While the body doesn’t store as many carbs as other nutrient types, they provide a rapid and efficient fuel source for short term exercise.

How much does my body need?

Effective carbohydrate consumption is critical because too much can leads to weight gain and too little can lead to poor performance and muscle breakdown. When it comes to carbs, how much you consume depends entirely on your wellness goals and current activity level. For an in depth explanation, visit the Pritkin Longevity Center.  Here are three key points to consider when planning your meals for the week:

  1. Not all carbs are created equal — For overall wellness, seek out carbohydrate sources that are high in fiber, low in calories, unprocessed and low in saturated fat.

  2. Placement matters — Remember carbs are a preferred fuel source for your body so include carbs in you pre-workout meals and snacks to give you the boost you need to make it through that squat set.

  3. When in doubt seek balance — If you’re like most of us, you’re overwhelmed by the amount of information about the current in-style diets. For total wellness, strive to have a macronutrient balanced diet chock full of good food sources.

You can’t swing a kettle and not hit a new fad diet that touts quick and easy results. However, long term, sustainable, lifestyle changes start with knowing your macronutrients and using them effectively to reach your goals.

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Danie is a fitnesspreneur with a passion for bringing total wellness to the communities she serves. A D.C. native, Danie now lives in Houston TX where she owns a mobile training business. She holds a bachelor's, master's and 10+ fitness certifications.