Macronutrients - Most People Know "The Basic 3"...But What's Missing
Updated: Feb 15
I recently posted on social media, "Macronutrients: - Protein, - Carbohydrates, - Fat ...
What's Missing?" Maybe the best place to start is making sure we all have the same understanding of what is meant by "macronutrients"!
Macronutrients are nutrients that provide calories or energy and are required in large amounts to maintain body functions and carry out the activities of daily life.
Most people are familiar with and know "The Basic 3":
Proteins are the building blocks of life and are essential to keeping/creating muscle mass. It is commonly found in animal products, though is also present in other sources, such as nuts and legumes. (Proteins contain 4 kcal per gram.)
Carbohydrates are mainly sugars and starches that the body breaks down into glucose (a simple sugar that the body can use to fuel its cells). Often described as the body's primary energy source, carbohydrates provide energy, store energy, build macromolecules, and spare protein and fat for other uses. Glucose energy is stored as glycogen, with the majority of it in the muscle and liver. (Carbohydrates contain 4 kcal per gram.)
Fats are an important and necessary source of energy in our diets. Its important to differentiate that dietary fat is different from that of body fat! The right types of dietary fat serve important functions in our bodies. Apart from serving as a dense source of energy, dietary fat is essential for absorption and transport of fat-soluble vitamins. (Fats contain 9 kcal per gram - roughly double the amount found in the other two macros.)
Pretty simple, right? Except that a quick google search for "macronutrients" yields results that suggest there could be as many as 7 Macronutrients including water and fiber as the most often additionally listed. So for the purposes of providing dietary guidance to the clients we work with, we need to narrow our search/meaning to macronutrients that provide energy, or more specifically that provide calories! Since water and fiber don't contribute to calories, lets throw them out.
Fiber is an essential nutrient and contributes to health and wellness in a number of ways.. However, for simplicity sake lets agree that your body doesn't absorb calories from (certain types of) fiber - a topic for another post!
So what IS a macronutrient that provides energy and contains calories that is most often overlooked? Alcohol!
Alcohol is technically it's own macronutrient (and contains 7 kcals per gram) but because it isn't essential for survival it's not typically mentioned with the other macros. So from our earlier definition ("nutrients that provide calories or energy and are required in large amounts to maintain body functions and carry out the activities of daily life.") some might suggest that since alcohol is not "required" (let alone in large amounts) then it should be thrown out!
But...not so fast. The easy rub is that it DOES contain calories/provide energy (albeit not in a desirable fashion). But what about this - technically, carbohydrates aren’t essential to life, either.
To metabolize alcohol, the body converts ethanol to acetaldehyde to acetate, and then shuttles it through the citric acid cycle—which means alcohol acts like both a carbohydrate and fat! NOTE: Your body must deal with alcohol and partition it’s use/elimination from the body before any of the other macronutrients primarily because there isn't a way to store it on the body. This can create all sorts of problems when consumed in excess and/or too frequently.
So there you have it - when mapping your macros, don't forget to count the calories from alcohol intake in your overall calories consumed and make sure you understand how alcohol effects nutrient partitioning in the body...more on that topic to come!