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Macronutrients: their roles and sources

Balanced nutrition means consuming enough macronutrients in the correct proportions to meet your body’s needs. However, many of us have heard of the word (which is sometimes shortened to ‘macros’), but don’t really understand what macronutrients are and what they do. More confusing is knowing how much we should aim to eat daily and what are good sources. Written by a registered nutritionist, the following guide contains all you need to know about the three most abundant nutrients on our plates.  

 

 

Protein  

From protein shakes to protein pasta, protein is having a moment in the food industry. Whilst protein is essential for maintaining muscle mass and brain health, it’s important not to go overboard; current government guidelines recommend that only 10-15% of our daily energy intake comes from protein. In other words, an average woman consuming 2000 calories per day needs around 50-75g of protein. It’s also important to space this intake over the whole day; our bodies can only use 30-35g of protein at any one time. Despite this, most of us don’t eat enough protein at breakfast and have too much at dinner. Great ways to up your intake at breakfast include having a pot of natural yoghurt with a side of berries, sprinkling some nuts and seeds onto porridge, or eating a couple of eggs on wholemeal toast.

 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are our body’s preferred source of energy For these reasons, 50-55% of our total energy should come from carbohydrates; for an average woman consuming 2000 calories daily, this equates to 250-275g of carbohydrates. However, not all carbohydrates are created equally. Foods high in refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta and rice, as well as candy, biscuits and cakes, should be limited due to their ability to spike blood sugar levels quickly after consumption, only to cause a crash later. On the other hand, carbohydrates found in wholemeal bread, pasta and rice, as well as in fruits and vegetables are important components to every meal. These cause a more gradual rise in blood sugar when eaten and are therefore known as ‘slow-release carbohydrates’. They also contain other important nutrients including B vitamins, iron, fibre and calcium. Aim for a cupped hand of carbohydrates and

 

Fats

Similar to carbohydrates, dietary fat goes through periods of being demonised. Yet, fat has a range of important functions in the body, including transport of key vitamins (vitamin A, D, E and K to be precise), cell membrane construction and energy production. Therefore, 30-35% of our total energy intake should be from fat; again, for an average woman consuming 2000 calories per day, she would ideally be eating 67-78g of fat. However, like carbs, it’s important to choose the right type of fat. Saturated fats are those linked to LDL (AKA ‘bad’) cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Foods high in saturated fat include butter, lard and coconut oil; limit their consumption as much as possible. Meanwhile, unsaturated fats (mono- and polyunsaturated) are considered ‘healthy fats’ due to their beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system and brain. Excellent sources include olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. However, be mindful of portion size even with these foods, as one gram of fat contains 9 calories (compared to 4 calories in one gram of protein and carbohydrates). Half an avocado, small handful of nuts and thumb of olive oil is a good benchmark.

 

All three macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates and fats have essential roles in our body. Consuming enough of each in the right proportions is therefore vital for maintaining our health. Use the above guide to plan your meals and snacks to contain a mixture of quality protein, slow-release carbohydrates and healthy fats. Always remember; balance is key.

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