the basics of nutrition

Simply click a nutrient below to get started. Each section features information pertaining to that specific nutrient and its affect on health and exercise performance.

Carbohydrates Protein Fats Vitamins Minerals Water

Your body is complex and remarkable!

The complexity of the human body is almost beyond comprehension. Just imagine all of the reactions and processes that occur simultaneously and continuously, allowing you to sustain life on a day-to-day basis. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it!

do you know your nutrients?

But as remarkable as your body is, there’s no way it could function without the six essential nutrients from the world of nutrition: carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. These nutrients perform at least one of three different functions:

  1. Regulate metabolic processes
  2. Provide energy
  3. Build and repair tissues

Click the icons above to take a look at each of the nutrients individually, to get a better understanding of what they do, how much you need, and where you can get them.

carbohydrates

Some say carbohydrates are the foundation of a healthy eating plan, while others think they contribute greatly to the obesity epidemic and many chronic diseases. Bodybuilders and strength trainers often associate them with fat accumulation, while endurance athletes and enthusiasts see them as “the” key ingredient in a winning performance. Some experts want you to limit carbohydrates; however, most mainstream health organisations want them to make up at least 50% of your diet. Others argue that the type of carbohydrate makes all the difference. Some have even gone so far as to question whether carbohydrates are even essential to the human body at all (they aren’t, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them)!

So who are you to believe? What’s the story on this nutrient, and how important is it to your health and performance? Let's review some brief background information on carbohydrates before we get into the nitty-gritty.

There are many different types of carbohydrates—sugars, sugar alcohols, starches, and fibers—and they are found in a wide variety of different food groups. A short list of these groups, along with some food examples, appears below. Remember, despite being considered excellent sources of carbohydrate, some of these foods have protein and fat in them as well.

do you know your sources of carbohydrates?

Starchy Foods Fruits Vegetables Dairy
Whole grain Breads Apples Carrots Milk
Rice Oranges Broccoli Yogurt
Pasta Bananas Cauliflower
Bagels Pears Asparagus
Crackers Grapes Eggplant
Oatmeal Strawberries Zucchini
Kidney beans Kiwi Radishes

other sources

Sports Nutrition Sweet Sources
Sports drinks Candy
Sports bars Soda
Energy gels Doughnuts
Cake
Cookies

how much should you consume?

The National Academy of Sciences recommends consuming 45-65% of your calories as carbohydrate to promote optimal functioning of your body. This range will certainly accommodate most active individuals; however, there are scenarios that might require going slightly above or below these percentages.

it's all about energy

Carbohydrates function primarily as an energy source, providing 4 calories per gram consumed. The brain, in particular, likes to use carbohydrate (sugar) as an energy source. The recommended intake for carbohydrate was set at 130 grams per day because it's the minimum amount of sugar used by the brain on a daily basis, and it's considered the minimum requirement for all healthy adults.

protein

Aside from water, protein is the most important nutrient for your body. It forms the basis for all muscle tissue and is the major component of almost all enzymes—those little catalysts that keep all the processes in the body running smoothly. Protein can even serve as an energy source in certain circumstances, though its role in building and repairing tissues is much more prominent.

There are 20 amino acids that act as the building blocks for proteins. Nine of these are considered essential, meaning we need to obtain them from the foods we eat because we can’t manufacture them in the body. The other non-essential amino acids can be made in the body without any problems. All 20 amino acids are used to form an almost unimaginable number of proteins that perform a wide variety of functions within the body.

do you know your amino acids?

Essential Non-essential
Isoleucine Alanine
Leucine Arginine
Valine Asparagine
Histidine Aspartic acid
Lysine Cysteine
Methionine Glutamic acid
Phenylalanine Glutamine
Threonine Glycine
Tryptophan Proline
Serine
Tyrosine

about the essentials:

  • Isoleucine aids the formation of hemoglobin and stabilizes and regulates blood sugar and energy levels.
  • Leucine promotes the healing of bones and skin and the repair of muscle tissue.
  • Valine promotes muscle growth.
  • Histidine is considered an essential amino acid only in children; adults generally produce adequate amounts.
  • Lysine aids the absorption of calcium, helps form collagen, and helps in the production of antibodies, hormones, and enzymes.
  • Methionine improves skin tone and promotes hair and nail growth.
  • Phenylalanine has two forms; one has nutritional value and the other can alleviate pain and depression.
  • Threonine aids the formation of tooth enamel, elastin, and collagen.
  • Tryptophan is a natural relaxant and enhances the release of growth hormones.

how much should you consume?

The recommended intake for protein is 0.8 grams/kg of body weight; however, many experts agree that more may be needed in active populations. The recommended range for protein intake is 10-35% of total calories, which easily covers the needs of most individuals.

fats

Fats as a nutrient? It's hard to believe when practically every person wants to get rid of it! Besides, fat is associated with a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. And, at one point, everyone seemed to be on a low-fat diet, trying to reduce their long-term risk for these conditions.

Now, many individuals decrease their fat intake for the purpose of losing weight, realising that fat has over twice as many calories per gram compared to carbohydrates and proteins (fats have 9 calories per gram). This is actually a pretty good strategy for weight loss, but unfortunately many individuals still struggle for long-term success.

are your fats healthy?

We used to think in simple terms—increased dietary fat leads to increased body fat, which leads to obesity and other chronic diseases. Things have actually gotten a bit more complicated these days, with more and more research centered around fat and its effects on health and wellness.

We now know there are unhealthy fats and healthy fats. The four major dietary fats in the foods we eat include saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.

  • The unhealthy fats—saturated and trans fats—tend to be more solid at room temperature (like a stick of butter).
  • The healthy fats—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—tend to be more liquid (like vegetable oil).

Fats can also have different effects on the cholesterol levels in your body. The unhealthy fats raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood. While the healthy fats lower bad cholesterol levels and are beneficial when consumed in moderation.

how much should you consume?

The recommended intake level is 20-35% of daily calories. This range will meet the needs of most individuals, and will help prevent both unwanted weight gain and increased health risks. Fat intake, like many other nutrients, needs to be tailored to your individual goals.

vitamins

Vitamins can fill the gap when you don't have an ideal diet. (And who does?) Vitamins are crucial to the proper functioning of the body, and you need them in varying quantities. Vitamins are available in a wide variety of foods, and your best bet is to consume a diet that incorporates the three founding principles of nutrition: balance, variety, and moderation.

However, when your diet fails to achieve an optimal intake of vitamins from food, you can supplement with vitamin products.

There are essentially fourteen vitamins that you should be aware of, and they are classified as either fat-soluble or water-soluble. The basic difference between the two is that excessive amounts of fat-soluble vitamins can be stored within the body, while most water-soluble vitamins are simply excreted if you take in too much.

do you know your vitamins?

Water Soluble Fat Soluble
Thiamin Vitamin A
Riboflavin Vitamin D
Niacin Vitamin E
Vitamin B6 Vitamin K
Pantothenic Acid
Vitamin B12
Folate
Biotin
Vitamin C
Choline

beyond deficiencies

Vitamins have several important functions within the body, including energy production, antioxidant protection, blood formation, and several others.

Initially, attention was focused on vitamins because of the prevalence of deficiency diseases in areas around the world. And although these conditions still exist in certain places, most research on vitamins is now focused on how they enhance health and wellness.

minerals

Minerals have a myriad of functions in your body. Much like vitamins, minerals are needed in relatively small amounts, but this certainly doesn’t discount their importance to the body. Minerals actually come from the soil, but you get them from eating plants, animals, and from drinking water. They are excreted readily, which means you need a constant source of minerals daily.

do you know your minerals?

Macro Minerals Micro Minerals
Calcium Iron
Phosphorus Copper
Magnesium Zinc
Potassium Chromium
Sodium Selenium
Iodine

mighty minerals at work for you

Minerals have quite an array of functions within the body, including serving as building blocks for tissues (bones and muscles), regulating metabolic functions as part of various enzymes, and helping your body to maintain acid-base and water balance. In addition to being crucial for overall health and wellness, and some minerals even positively affect exercise performance.

water

It’s a FACT—water is the most important nutrient for your body! You’ve probably heard that you can survive several weeks without food, but only a few days without water. This clearly demonstrates how vital it is to your overall health and well-being. Water comprises about 60% of total body weight in the average adult male and about 50% in the average adult female. Can you believe that? Keep in mind, individuals with more lean muscle mass will have a higher body water content than those with a higher body fat percentage, since muscle mass is approximately 70% water.

three ways to obtain your daily water needs

  • The first is the most obvious—drinking fluids. Soda, juice, milk, coffee, tea, and a whole host of other beverages, all have water as their foundation.
  • The second way you acquire water is through the food you eat. Fruits and vegetables are 80-90% water on average, and meats and seafood are generally 60-70% water. Even grains, nuts, and seeds have water in them, despite appearing relatively dry.
  • The third way to obtain water is through the metabolism of food. When carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are broken down for energy, water is produced in the process.

it's a balancing act

One of the reasons you need water so frequently is because you lose water on a daily basis. In fact, you lose water from four main areas of the body: urine, feces, sweat, and exhaled air. As you might imagine, most of the losses come from urine and sweat. Ultimately, when you balance these losses with your daily water intake, you are in a state of normal hydration.