Let’s geek out on nutrition today…
Food is made up of many things in order to make it food: elements that classify it as protein, fat or carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and lots of other good stuff. There is soooo much to cover but I just want to touch on some of the basics. Knowing the benefits and shortcomings of the food you eat can help you to make educated choices on how best to fuel your body, your training and your life.
Proteins are compounds that contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. They are 3D structures formed by linked chains of amino acids and are used by the body for growth, repair and recovery. Protein provides the necessary amino acids (the building blocks of protein) for muscle proteins to repair and fuel the many metabolic processes of our body. Protein is also vital to maintain the immune system, manufacture hormones and enzymes, replace the red blood cells that carry oxygen to the muscles, and provide energy for exercise when carbohydrate stores are tapped
Nine of these amino acids cannot be produced by the body so we must obtain them from food. Everyone has different protein needs based on their shape, size and lifestyle – protein is especially important for athletes. When we exercise, we cause itty bitty tears in the muscle fibres so we need protein to rebuild these muscles and make them stronger.
I believe that properly sourced animal sources of protein are ideal for our bodies:
- Free range eggs, grass-fed beef, organic chicken, organic turkey, wild fish
BUT… if plant based protein (beans, legumes, lentils, grains) work for you, then great. I would suggest to soak these sources in water to try to eliminate any anti-nutrients (phytic acid, lectins, omega-6s) and aid in digestibility.
I try to get most of my protein from real, unprocessed, properly raised animal food sources but I also use protein powder. For me, it’s beneficial and a now necessary part of my diet. After a workout, protein shakes/smoothies are often better absorbed by the body because our digestive system does not need to break down the food (it is already in its’ liquid form). I think grass-fed whey protein is the best option for protein powder but I don’t tolerate whey very well so use a blend of a few plant proteins to get a more complete amino acid profile.
Protein is a “hot” word in health, nutrition and fitness. While I don’t think guzzling protein shakes between every meal is a good idea, protein should not be overlooked as a part of a balanced diet. So how much protein should you be eating? The size of your palm is a good place to start to indicate a serving of protein for your meals.
Fats (lipids) are compounds that contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are dense sources of energy that help fuel the cells in our body, keep us feeling satiated and help to maintain hormonal balance. Fats are the primary energy source at low intensity exercise and a higher fat diet proves to be beneficial because the body becomes more efficient at burning fat for fuel while sparing glycogen (carbohydrate source). The most common and abundant type of fat in the body are fatty acids and are classified based on their chemical structure/level of saturation:
Saturated fats have single bonds between carbon atoms, meaning a high density of hydrogen atoms. Contrary to popular belief, saturated fat from real, whole food sources is not bad for you.
- Coconut, eggs, grass-fed butter, properly sourced meat
Unsaturated fats have at least one double bond between carbon atoms meaning the hydrogen can’t get as close to each other – unstable. Unsaturated fats can be further classified as “mono” or “poly” – based on the number of bonds found in the long fatty acid tails. They are liquid at room temperature and because of their chemical structure, these fats oxidize when heated and are best not to be cooked. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are groups are polyunsaturated fatty acids and it is important to maintain this ratio – most of our diets are too high in Omega-6 fatty acids, which causes inflammation in the body.
- Olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, fish, properly sourced meat
I was totally a victim to the “low-fat” and “fat-free” diet mentality. To put it simply: it is just wrong. Fats do not make you fat. Add the right kind of fats to your diet in order to fuel your body, feel satisfied and have great skin.
How much fat should you be eating? Well, it really depends: anywhere from your thumb size (oils and butters) to your palm size (nuts, seeds, coconut, olives) is a good place to start.
Carbohydrates are compounds that contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They are fast burning sources of energy and are broken down into glucose (the main source of fuel for our cells). Carbohydrates are necessary in providing energy to our body. They are super important in order to fuel add re-fuel training by providing energy for our muscles. There are a few different types of carbohydrates:
Monosaccharides are the most basic unit of carbohydrates, single sugar molecules: glucose, galactose and fructose. Glucose provides our bodies with energy (ATP), galactose is used to make cell membranes and converts to glucose and fructose is found in honey, fruits and veggies.
Disaccharides are formed from two monosaccharides and includes sucrose, lactose, maltose. Sucrose is found in sugar cane/beet, lactose is found in milk and other dairy products and maltose is formed in the beer brewing process.
Oligosaccharides contain 3-9 monosaccharides and are the components of cell membranes in the body. They are found in beans, peas, lentils, artichokes, leeks, onions, asparagus. We do not have the enzyme to breakdown this sugar so it passes undigested into the large intestine – often causing gas or bloating.
Polysaccharides contain more than 10 monosaccharides. There are three types: starch, glycogen, dietary fiber. Starch is found in rice, tapioca and starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, squash). Glycogen is our body’s stored glucose and it is found primarily in the liver and skeletal muscle. Fiber is not digested or absorbed in the small intestine because its’ chemical bond is resistant to digestive enzymes.
When I was growing up, carbs meant: pasta, challah bread, pizza, cereal, bagels. Next I transitioned to whole grain sources. Then I tried gluten-free grains. Now I focus on getting complex carbohydrates from fruit, starchy vegetables and some grains (like oats and rice). Why? Because it makes me feel best. No gas or bloating, lots of energy and satiation.
If you are active, you need carbs. But how much should you be eating? Yup, you guessed it: it depends – everyone has a different carbohydrate threshold but, again, about your palm size is a good place to start. Experimenting with the types of carbohydrates and the timing of when you eat them is really your best best.
Vitamins and minerals are found in all of the foods that we eat. They are necessary for all of the chemical reactions in our body – growth, activity, metabolism. They have properties to fight free radical damage in our bodies. Some of the best sources of these vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin A: dark leafy greens, cantaloupe, carrots, tomatoes
- Vitamin E: nuts, seeds
- Vitamin K: dark leafy greens
- Vitamin C: citrus, strawberries, peppers
- B vitamins: animal products, nutritional yeast
- Calcium: green leafy vegetables, fish with bones (salmon sardines), sesame seeds
- Iron: animal products, green leafy vegetables, dried fruit
- Magnesium: nuts, seeds, beans, legumes
- Potassium: bananas, melon
- Selenium: brazil nuts
Treats are certainly good for the soul – but some are obviously more ideal than others. I believe in enjoying high quality, unprocessed treats the majority of the time. Fruit, nuts, seeds dark chocolate, honey and maple syrup can all make delicious desserts. Our body processes sugar differently (a post for another day) and there are so many more satisfying and delicious options than Franken-Food.
But a cone of pralines and cream on a hot day or a chocolate croissant every once and awhile? I aint saying never.
Choosing the types of protein, fat and carbohydrates that work best for you, your body, your goals and your health is of the upmost importance. These choices and changes are a process: trust it and enjoy the ride :)
I’m heading out of town for a few days but I will be back next week – hopefully with a new post on Wednesday. Have a great rest of your week, weekend and speak soon!
Questions of the day…
What nutrition posts would you like to see in the future? Let me know any questions you may have!
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