The Macronutrients – Part I


by Michael Rorick CPT, CFNS © 2014

Hi All! It’s been quite a bit of time since I’ve last checked in!! Boy! These summers can fly right on by!! In this month’s blog, I’d like to start a series about the macronutrients. It’s amazing how many differing opinions we can find out there on things like protein, high fat, low fat, trans fats, high carb, low carb, paleo & vegan diets, starchy foods, lean meats… the list goes on and on as well as some of the myths surrounding them. So, let’s talk about what macronutrients actually are, how they are processed in our bodies and why we need them. We’ll then try to dispel some of the myths around them. Let’s start by discussing the “EVIL CARBS”!! Just in time for Halloween!! How’s that for pre-framing the conversation??? 🙂

 Before I totally dive in, let me start first by saying there are 6 macronutrients that we are concerned with health and nutrition. Those are:

  1. Carbohydrates
  2. Protein
  3. Fat
  4. Vitamins
  5. Minerals
  6. Water

 Each one of these are considered essential to good health and should be an important part of our diets. It’s interesting to consider how at times certain words or phrases become part of our vocabulary and they are so common that we rarely reflect on what they actually mean. i.e. The term “essential” in nutrition means that the body does not produce it on its own and therefore it must be ingested and provided for the body. Non-essential means that the body produces the nutrient. Minerals are the simplest form of the macronutrients because they are a chemical element. Iron (Fe) as an example whether cooked or not will remain iron. After it enters our cells and leaves our body through bleeding or excretion iron will always remain iron. Water is essential and is a combination of oxygen and hydrogen (H2O). Both minerals and water are considered to be inorganic because they lack carbon. The remaining macronutrients on top of the oxygen and hydrogen content add Carbon and are considered to be organic in composition. Carbon is an element found in all living things. Think of this the next time you hear the words Carbon-ated or Hydrogen-ated.

 So let’s start our journey with carbs. Carbs, short for Carbohydrate (carbon & hydrogen) is one of the most misunderstood of the macronutrients. While they are viewed at in many circles as Evil, they are essential. They provide an immediate source of energy to our bodies by producing heat. That energy is measured in calories (kcal) and carbohydrates produce approximately 4 kcal/gram consumed. They are the primary source of energy for us and are necessary for muscle movement and proper organ function. Carbohydrates also aid in the assimilation and digestion of the other macronutrients. As a carbohydrate breaks down through digestion, it is converted into a simple sugar called glucose. This sugar enters our blood stream where insulin puts it into our cells and our liver as a thick concentrated form called glycogen. The glycogen is quickly converted to energy from the muscle tissue during exercise or movement with short bursts of energy like weight lifting or sprinting. The liver then releases more glycogen into the blood stream as needed. Once the storage of the muscles and liver are filled, the excess glucose in the blood stream is stored in fat cells throughout the body to be used at a later date. Since our body requires carbs for proper organ function, we need approximately 100 grams of carbohydrate a day just so our brain thinks correctly. In our cell tissue the glycogen is stored with water and maintains an approximate 2.7:1 ratio where the water is 2.7X more than the glycogen. In carb deficient diets as the cells lose glycogen, that ratio remains consistent and our body loses weight through water loss. This should never be confused with fat loss. After a period of time (usually 4 days) the body goes into a state of ketosis. This is where the cells begin assimilating ketones (incomplete fat metabolism) into the cells for energy. The complications can be severe when going off these types of diets and carbohydrates should be weaned back in to prevent muscle and heart damage.

Carbohydrates come in many different varieties. They are saccharides, which means they contain sugar. The more simple the sugar, the quicker they are broken down (digested) and absorbed into the blood stream. Carbohydrates have the fast gastric emptying time (leave the stomach) of the macro nutrients and will pass the stomach in an hour or less.

* Sidebar: Always eat carbs with a lean protein to slow up digestion and to avoid spiking blood sugar levels. This will help keeping the insulin from sticking it on our sides in fat cells.

 Here are the different types of Carbohydrate:

 Monosaccharides – “Single” sugar molecule or Simple Sugar




Disaccharides – “Two” sugar atom molecule




 Polysaccharides – “Many” long chain sugar molecules or Complex Carbs




 The longer the chain or more complex the molecule is, the longer the digestive process. Refined sugars tend to be simple sugars and thus are quick to be absorbed into the blood stream causing insulin spikes. Over eating these refined sugars are the leading cause of obesity and over indulgence can lead to type II diabetes as well as a host of other disease. Vegetables are carbohydrates as well. It would much healthier eating some broccoli over a can of soda any day!!! Resistant starches are carbohydrates which turn into a un-digestible fiber after they are heated and cooled. This fiber passes through our system and provides a host of benefits.

 Good carbs include things like whole grains, oatmeals, green vegetables, fruits. Bad carbs or ones to limit or remove from your diet include refined grains, soda and sugary drinks, candies, cookies, pasturized juices, sugary cereals or products where the sugar content exceeds 20% of the total carbohydrate listed. If the iingredients end in –ose (like in glucose), it’s a sugar.

So in closing, as part of a healthy diet, carbohydrates are essential to the body. And as with any well balanced diet, quantity and source of food play a huge role in not only getting the results you’re looking for but also in helping us create a state of health. Check out my blog “The Golden Rules of Meal Planning” for more information on creating a diet that is specific for you. I have another blog coming up shortly on the power of proteins!! Stay tuned…

About the Author:

Michael Rorick is a Certified Personal Trainer at Springville Health and Fitness Center, Springville NY. He is also a Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist with a Certification in Weight Management as well. His company, Alive Without Limits was founded through his passion for helping others to reach their potentials in all areas of life. At 51 years of age, he is an avid bodybuilder, musician, audio engineer, forensic audio expert, professor at SUNY at Fredonia, life coach, author and father.

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