When you start looking at what you eat, you need to be really at home with the basics before we start getting complicated with how we eat. First thing then is to get you up to speed about protein, carbs and fats, what they are, and why you need them!
Why do macronutrients matter?
First up, what are macronutrients? The three macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Every single food you eat is made up of a combination of these.
Chicken (protein, a little fat)
Salmon (protein and fats)
Oats (carbohydrate, a little fat, a little protein)
Rice (carbohydrate, a little protein, a tiny bit of fat)
Nut butter (fat, but protein and some carbohydrate too)
Green veggies (carbohydrate, but a little protein too)
Eggs (protein and fat)
As you can see these one-ingredient, natural foods contain a mix of at least two macronutrients. There are a few foods which can basically be counted as just one macro (because the amount of any other macronutrient is teeny) – white fish like cod, or tuna, for instance are pretty much just protein.
When we look at our nutrition to put on lose fat, and build some lovely lean muscle, we need to know about more than calories. We need to consider our macronutrient intake, too as this will help us know where we are getting most of our calories from and where maybe we need to change things.
Here’s how macronutrients contribute to our calorie count
1 gram of protein = 4 calories
1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories
1 gram of fat = 9 calories
That’s not 1 gram by weight, but by the macronutrient count within the food. So 100g potato isn’t 100g carbs/400 calories (don’t panic!) 100g potato (raw weight) has about 16g.
OK so now we know what the macronutrients are, and how they contribute to the calories we eat, let’s look at why we need them ALL in our diet (yes ladies, even to shed body fat!)
Protein (crucial, but not a free calorie!)
Protein is hugely important to us because the body can’t make it by itself from any other food source. And protein is super-important for ladies who lift and work out hard! You can’t build a booty without enough protein in your diet, it’s just not going to happen girls.
Protein is great because it helps us feel fuller, it helps prevent cravings, and balances out hunger signals. The body has to work pretty hard to digest and use protein, too, so it actually has a mild thermogenic effect. Meaning that it actually burns a good few calories just digesting protein properly
Aim for around 1.5-2g/kg of bodyweight. So if you are 60kg aim for 90-120g protein each day.
Great protein sources are chicken, turkey, red meat (not just beef, try wild and exotic meats and game too), fish (white fish and oily fish), eggs, dairy and quality protein powders.
Carbohydrates (myths and truths!)
Hands up who thinks you need to avoid carbs to lose weight?
Right, let’s get this straight. Those of you who are active and work hard need carbs. It’s just a case of food choices, and how you time those carbs strategically. Carbohydrate foods give us energy, help our bodies recover from hard workouts, and have other functions too like helping shuttle nutrients and protein into our muscles. They can even make us feel relaxed and get better quality sleep.
What is important to know about carbs:
Do not overload on carbs
Eat them when you’re most active
Know your triggers. If certain carb foods set off cravings and binge-type behaviour, then it’s a no-brainer: don’t eat them.
Depending on your sport, training frequency, level of daily activity and current body fat percentage (do you sit down all day or work outside on your feet?)
Aim for 1.2-3.3g carbs per kg bodyweight per day (so that 60kg girl would be on 70g-200g carbs per day. But it depends on her circumstances and what her training goal is!)
I would tend to place your carbs intake around your workouts mainly post training, and in the evening to aid sleep.
Fats (and why females need them in their diets)
Low-fat does NOT mean you’ll lose body fat! Let’s get that straight.
Dietary fat (the fats you eat) are not linked to body fat (the jiggly stuff you want to lose) any more than the other protein and carbs are. Calories from all three macros can be stored as excess body fat if you eat too much of them. Yep, you could get fat on chicken and spinach if you over-ate on it!
The reason women are wary of fats is that it’s the macronutrient that contains the most amount of calories per gram (9 calories per gram remember) and it’s so damn tasty it’s easy to overeat! I get it. It’s much easier to go overboard on chocolate and nut butter than on chicken salad, right!
But that’s no reason to fear fats and definitely no reason to cut them out. Just be sensible with them, watch portion sizes, and make smart choices.
Your body actually needs healthy fats. The female body and your hormones really needs a decent level of dietary fat to function properly. That means everything from sleeping well, to being in a good mood, to having a healthy sex drive! Your body will even lose fat better if you let it eat enough healthy fat.
Choose good sources of healthy fats (avoid trans fats – which tend to be in packaged stuff, baked goods, pastries…). Some great sources of fats for us girls are oily fish, whole eggs, raw nuts and seeds, nut butters (no sugar or oil added), coconut products (raw coconut, coconut oil, tinned coconut milk), real butter, and avocados.
Just remember that fat has 9 cals per gram, so watch your portion sizes. Aim for 0.8-1.3g fats per kg body weight (our 60kg girl would be on 48-80g fats per day).
So now you have the basics, you can start to fine-tune your diet.