There are many substances your body needs for proper daily functioning. Nutrients are a generic term for substances that promote daily health and function, repair muscle tissue, and for optimal performance. There are 6 essential nutrients we are going to talk about: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and water. We have all heard of each one of these and yet most people don’t know exactly what they are and what they do. Understanding the basics develops the confidence to make informed decisions.
Carbohydrates are nutrients composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen and are the main source of energy in our bodies. For energy is why carbs are so important in our diets and low-carb diets don’t work. There are three categories of carbs: monosaccharide disaccharides, and polysaccharides. If you have heard the term simple sugars before this is relating to monosaccharide and disaccharides. Simple sugars are found in fruit, candy, juice, and sodas. Simple sugars provide instant energy as they are introduced into the blood stream. Polysaccharides are referred to as complex carbohydrates. These are formed by many simple sugars combining together. These carbs provide long lasting energy that is stored in the muscle cells and liver. Whole grains, vegetables, and some fruit are great examples of complex carbs. For an optimal running metabolism, you want to consume 50-60% of your diet from carbohydrates, with only 10% coming from simple sugars.
Most complex carbs contain dietary fiber as well. Fiber supports the food you eat to move faster and easier through the digestive system. Fiber is also useful in prevention of cancers of the digestive system, hemorrhoids, and constipation. People should consume between 20-35 grams of fiber per day. Excellent sources of fiber are grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruit.
Fat is essential to good health. Fat serves many functions in the body including temperature regulation, protection of vital organs, distribution of vitamins, energy, and formation of cell membranes. Triglycerides are the primary form of fat stored in the body. Fatty acids are the molecules that the fats you eat get broken down into when fat enters your blood stream. It takes 3 fatty acids to create 1 triglyceride. Fat is your main source of energy at rest and during low intensity activities. During calorie restriction, low-carb diets, and low-fat diets your body actually shuts off burning fat as your main source of energy at rest.
There are two sources of fat, one from plants and the other from animals. Saturated fats come from animal sources and are typically solid at room temperature. Palm oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter are actual sources of saturated fats from plants. The solidness of the saturated fats clog up your arteries and increases your risk of heart disease. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Corn, peanut, canola, and soybean oil are sources of unsaturated fats. Not all animal fat is saturated. Chicken, turkey, and fish are loaded with essential fats for optimal health. You want 25%-30% of your diet coming from fat, with only 10% or less coming from saturated fats.
Protein is created by combining amino acids. Amino acids are the small molecules that proteins are broken down into. The body requires 20 different amino acids to create the thousands of proteins in the body. Protein’s functions include: carrier of oxygen, fights disease, chemical reactions, essential to movements, connective tissue, clots blood, and acts as a messenger for hormones. One function you don’t see mentioned is energy. Your body wants to use carbohydrates and fats as energy. Though your body can breakdown protein for energy when needed, your body doesn’t want to. Typically, this occurs when there is a shortage as in low calorie diets. Ten to fifteen percent of your daily calories should come from protein. Protein right now is very popular with fad diets, and most people are over eating it. Any substance that is eaten in excess with be stored into your fat cells.
Most of the 20 amino acids are produced in your body. There are 8 that you need to get from your diet and those are called essential amino acids. Meat, eggs, and milk contain all essential amino acids. Plant proteins do not contain all 8, so vegetarians need to very careful and eat a variety of proteins to get all 8 everyday.
Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, as your body produces what you need to daily activity naturally. Glutamine is also the most abundant amino acid in skeletal muscle tissue. To rebuild muscle tissue of those exercising on a regular basis, your body doesn’t produce enough glutamine for optimal repair. Being a non-essential amino acid is why glutamine is not common in the food we eat and for optimal results from exercise taking a glutamine supplement is highly recommended. Also, because it is an amino acid with very little calories, it is excellent for men and woman to take, especially people wanting to burn more fat away.
Vitamins are organic substances that are essential for normal and optimal functioning of the human body. Vitamins are not a form of energy; they aid in the metabolism of fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Thirteen vitamins are needed to perform numerous bodily functions.
There are two classes of vitamins, fat soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K, which are stored in your body with fat. A small amount of these vitamins are needed on a daily basis. Water soluble vitamins are not stored in your body in large quantities and are needed on a daily basis. Water soluble vitamins consist of all of the B vitamins and vitamin C. The recommended daily allowances (RDA) are the minimal needed to prevent disease. If you are getting lower than the RDA you are putting your health in jeopardy. Greater than the RDA is needed to optimal health especially the water soluble vitamins. It is possible to overdose on fat soluble vitamins if you take too much and if you take multivitamin with fat soluble vitamins in it only take the recommended amounts.
Antioxidants are vitamins that neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are the by-products of metabolic processes with in our bodies. Excess free radicals cause damage to our cells. Proper amounts of antioxidants are important for the rebuilding of muscle tissue especially for people that are exercising. Poor antioxidant amounts can decrease the results you achieve through your fitness program.
Minerals are inorganic molecules the serve a variety of functions with in the body. Mineral that are needed in large quantities are called macrominerals, which are calcium phosphorus, sulfur, sodium, chloride, and magnesium. There are many minerals needed in smaller amounts which are labeled microminerals.
Calcium is the number one mineral deficiency in America. Calcium is needed to create strong bones and Osteoporosis, which is a disease weakening the bones, can materialize over time with inadequate calcium consumption. It is estimated that 1.5 million bone fractures are a result of Osteoporosis.
Water is essential for every bodily process. Are bodies are approximately 60% water. Six to eight glasses of 8 oz. water are recommended daily for optimal health. Even the slightest amount of dehydration can cause major decrease in efficiency of the body’s processes. Your metabolism is greatly affected positively or negatively based on your water consumption.