Carbohydrates, fats, and protein are known as the energy-yielding nutrients. These are the dietary components your body can actually break down to create molecules of energy known as ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). While many diet plans emphasize focusing on one macronutrient over the others, a healthy diet represents balanced intake from all three groups. Lets take a quick look at each macronutrient and how it impacts energy levels.
Carbs: Carbohydrates are often seen as your body’s preferred source of energy because they can most easily be broken down to create ATP. In fact, for several of your body’s tissues, including your brain, carbohydrates are actually the main source of fuel.
Simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, cookies, and anything made with refined flour, provide the body with a rapid rush of energy as they are quickly metabolized for fuel. Unfortunately, this energy rush is often followed by a fall in blood sugar, felt by the individual as an energy crash (and of course, hunger). On the other hand, a diet high in complex carbohydrates – whole grains, fruits, and vegetables – can offer unlimited health benefits. These carbohydrate sources contain dietary fiber, which provides a slower release of energy and contributes to feelings of fullness and satiety.
Fats: Just like carbohydrates, fat has received some negative publicity when it comes to a healthy diet. However, fat is actually the most energy-sustaining nutrient since it provides 9 kilocalories (kcals) per gram (protein and carbohydrates only provide 4 each). Fat is also digested more slowly and when consumed correctly, can help provide a steady, slow release of energy and contribute to feelings of fullness.
Much like carbohydrates, when incorporating fat into your diet it is important to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy fat sources. While saturated and hydrogenated fats can negatively affect health, omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish, can contribute to neurological and cardiovascular health.
Protein: Unlike fats and carbohydrates, protein is often touted as the healthiest of the macronutrients. It is true that protein, in addition to providing a source for energy production, is also required for the makeup of skeletal muscle and enzymes. Consuming meals high in protein can support lean body mass as well as contribute to satiety and blood sugar control. Food sources high in protein include meats and poultry, legumes, nuts, and quinoa.
While no one food choice is the best for supporting energy levels, a balanced combination of macronutrients which provide a high dose of micronutrients, including B vitamins and other supportive nutrients, will give your body the nourishment it needs.
For us marathon runners a balance between the right amount of carbs, protein and fats will lead to successful races and hopefully getting beyond the “wall.”