If you’ve ever counted macros before, you’ve probably asked yourself if the quality of the foods you’re eating matters. The benefit of macro tracking is working within a specific individualized macro profile/budget, with less restriction than following a meal plan. But how much freedom do we really have?
The Importance of Choosing High-Quality Foods: A Key to Fat Loss and Muscle Gain
The world of nutrition and fitness is complex, but there is one principle that is universally understood: what you eat matters. Whether you’re in a caloric deficit aiming for fat loss, reverse-dieting once you’ve hit your goal physique, or eating in a surplus to gain muscle, the quality of the foods you choose to fit your macros plays an integral role in your success, and here’s why!
Macronutrients: The Basics
It’s important to establish a basic foundation and understanding of macronutrients. There are three primary macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. The fourth macronutrient (often not mentioned) is water, but we won’t take a deep dive into this macro, as there is only one way to hit your target (drink up!)
Our bodies use/respond to each macronutrient differently, and synergistically with one another. Proteins are essential for building and repairing body tissues, which becomes even more important with regular exercise, specifically resistance and strength training. Protein also helps to keep you satiated and helps stabilize blood sugar levels (thereby reducing cravings and maintaining energy). Carbohydrates provide a quick source of energy, and many carbs contain fibre, which assists with digestion and excretion. Our third macronutrient, fat, supports cellular function and hormone production and also assists in slowing down digestion (which can become handy when in a caloric deficit and wanting to decrease hunger).
The Right Foods to Fill Your Macros
When it comes to your fitness and physique goals, the quality of your food is just as important as the quantity. Whether you’re in a calorie deficit, maintenance or surplus, choosing nutrient-dense over calorie-dense foods helps to ensure that your body gets the micronutrients it needs to function optimally.
During a fat-loss phase, high-quality proteins like lean meats, eggs, fish, and legumes help repair and preserve muscle during weight loss and increase your basal metabolic rate due to thermogenesis. When it comes to building muscle, protein is also essential. Choosing high-quality proteins with complete amino acids (which are the building blocks of protein) is necessary for optimal muscle protein synthesis. By maintaining a high protein intake, we can repair and preserve muscle, which ultimately also increases our basal metabolic rate to maintain more muscle on our frame, making it easier to maintain a higher caloric intake with less effort (the ultimate goal).
Whether you’re in a caloric deficit aiming for fat loss, reverse-dieting once you’ve hit your goal physique, or eating in a surplus to gain muscle, the quality of the foods you choose to fit your macros plays an integral role in your success……
During a fat loss phase, high-fibre (complex) carbohydrates, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains help to promote healthy digestion and excretion and stable energy levels throughout the day. During a muscle-building phase, carbohydrates provide the necessary energy for intense workouts and help replenish glycogen stores in muscle, promoting recovery and growth. Choosing complex carbohydrates helps to provide sustained energy throughout the day (versus short energy bursts and crashes), and essential vitamins and minerals.
During a fat loss or muscle-building phase, healthy fats are important as they are involved in hormone production, including anabolic hormones like testosterone, which are crucial for both muscle growth and fat loss.
The Role of Micronutrients
Once you’ve mastered the art of hitting your macros, it’s important to consider micronutrients – vitamins, minerals and other compounds found in foods. Micronutrients play a crucial role in a myriad of bodily functions, such as energy production, bone health, immunity, and inflammation. All of these factors can affect your fitness journey, your general health and overall wellbeing.
Although it is tempting to fill your macronutrients with calorie-dense treats, it is vital to choose high-quality foods that support your overall health and wellness and make the journey to reaching your goals much easier. What I suggest to my clients is an 80/20 rule – choosing nutrient-dense foods 80% of the time and indulging within their macro guidelines 20% of the time. This allows for the flexibility of macro tracking and some food freedom, with the structure to support an effective body composition phase.