The basic building blocks of food
Macro nutrients are the basic building blocks of all food. It is crucial to understand the types of nutrients that are available to you, how each works, and when to eat them – and when not to. Also keep in mind that we need to get the basics right before we can move on to more advanced nutrition topics.
Carbohydrates (stored in your body as glycogen) are an athlete’s immediate source of energy. Carbohydrates are a modest source of energy with 4 calories in one gram of carbohydrate. Your body can store 800-2,000 calories at once. Your body can burn through that relatively quickly when we’re talking about endurance events so you will need an additional source of energy for workouts beyond 1.5-2 hours. If you consume more than 800-2,000 calories of carbohydrates, then your body converts it into fat.
Think of carbohydrates as kindling in a bonfire. The kindling gets the fire started and can burn relatively brightly, but it also burns out relatively quickly. The main use for kindling though is that it helps get larger logs lit.
Fat is the body’s long-term source of energy. In workouts lasting over 3 minutes, this is the main source of energy. Fat is a dense fuel source because there are 9 calories in every gram (more than twice that of carbohydrates). There are two important caveats to keep in mind about fat. First is that in order to access the energy stored in fat, your body needs to burn new carbohydrates. Second is that it takes your body 12 hours to digest fat before you can use it for energy in a workout – that means that it doesn’t do any good to eat something high in fat such as peanut butter during a workout.
Think of fat as the logs in a bonfire. The big logs burn for a long time and can get very hot. In order to get the logs burning though, you first need to light the kindling.
Your body uses protein to build and maintain your muscles. This is very important for recovery after completing a workout so that your muscles can build and repair. Protein is not a substantial source of energy during workouts so you should try to eat it primarily in meals and in a recovery snack immediately following a workout.
Think of protein as the fire pit itself. You don’t actually burn the fire pit, but instead the fire pit gives a strong foundation so that it will support a bigger, stronger fire.