The Importance of Macronutrients in Your Outdoor Adventure Meal Plan
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Whoa, did you know that our bodies need some serious fuel to function at peak performance? We’re talkin’ about the big guns: carbs, fats, and proteins, also known as macronutrients. But, here’s the catch – our bodies can’t produce these bad boys on their own. Nope, we need to chow down on some delicious food to get our daily dose. Not only do these nutrients give us the energy we need to tackle the day, but they also come loaded with a bunch of other health perks.
Daily Recommended Ranges
The Macronutrients and What They're Good For
Your body's primary source for energy
45% - 65% of your daily caloric intake | Minimum 130g /day
Carbs are converted into useable energy. Whether you’re planning to scale the summit of a towering mountain or paddle your way across a vast lake, carbohydrates will provide you with the necessary fuel to accomplish these physical feats. So make sure you’re fueling your body with the right types of carbs to help you power through and achieve your goals. There are 2 primary carbohydrate groups to be aware of:
- Simple carbohydrates: Primarily sourced from sugars. These carbs convert into energy fast & are burned through fast.
Examples of Simple Carbs:
- White, brown & raw sugars
- Maple, corn & birch syrups
- White rice & pasta
- Fruit juice
- Complex carbohydrates: Primarily sourced from starch & fiber. These carbs convert into energy slower & are burned through slower.
Examples of Complex Carbs:
- Brown rice & pasta
- Legumes & lentils
So which carbohydrate type is better? Complex carbs rightfully have a better reputation since the food sources they’re found in often provide additional vitamins and minerals, whereas simple carbs typically solely provide sugars. The truth is, however, they both serve a purpose and both are important! Simple carbs are a great way to instantly fuel your body to get you going. Complex, on the other hand, are best for maintaining energy and feeling full. Although it’s best to primarily go for complex carbs, the absolute best approach is to mix both into your diet to gain the benefits instant and long term energy.
Fiber is a type of complex carb. But unlike most other forms of carbs that break down into sugars for your body to use as energy, fiber helps maintain healthy bowel function and movement. Fiber also:
- Helps you feel full, promoting healthy body weight
- Reduces the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease
- Reduces the risk of diabetes
Consuming enough fiber is always important, but it can be a challenge to get your daily dose of fresh fruits and veggies while roughing it outdoors. Have you ever heard someone say they have issues with nature calling when they’re out in the woods? (Or maybe you’re one of those people) Often, it’s because they’re lacking fiber.
In conjunction with the daily 130g of carbs, aim to consume:
Fiber Food Source Examples
- Elderberries (10g per cup)
- Avocados (10g per fruit)
- Acorn Squash (9g per cup)
- Raspberries (8g per cup)
- Blackberries (8g per cup)
- Dried figs (8g per 1/2 cup)
- Dried prunes (6g per 1/2 cup)
- Pears (6g per fruit)
- Green Peas (16g per cup)
- Brussel Sprouts (6g per cup)
- Broccoli (5g per cup)
- Potato (4g per medium potato)
- Cabbage (4g per cup)
- Spinach (4g per cup)
- Dandelion Root (3g per cup)
- Asparagus (3g per cup)
Seeds & Grains
- Corn bran (11g per tbsp)
- Chia Seeds (6g per tbsp)
- Oat & Wheat bran (6g per tbsp)
- Flaxseed (4g per tbsp)
- Bulgur (6g per cup)
- Brown pasta (6g per cup)
- Barley (6g per cup)
- Navy beans (19g per cup)
- White beans (19g per cup)
- Black turtle beans (17g per cup)
- Kidney Beans (16g per cup)
- Lentils (16g per cup)
- Black beans (15g per cup)
- Mung beans (15g per cup)
Your body's tool for storing energy and transporting vitamins and minerals around the body
20% - 30% of your daily caloric intake | No minimum grams
Guess what? Fats aren’t all bad after all! They actually play a huge role in keeping your body healthy. Healthy fats help fuel your muscles, protect your organs, and keep you warm and cozy. And did you know, they also help your body absorb important vitamins and minerals? Plus, there are essential fatty acids that your body can’t live without! While they might not be the quickest source of energy, fats do a great job of building up your energy reserves. So don’t be afraid to indulge in some of the good stuff.
Unsaturated Fats (Healthy)
The primary types of healthy fats include unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. They are known for their ability to help reduce levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, while maintaining or even increasing levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, which is considered “good” cholesterol.
- Olives & olive oil
- Avocado & avocado oil
- Nuts & nut butters
- Fatty fish
Saturated Fats (In Moderation)
Saturated fats are commonly found in animal-derived foods such as red meat, poultry with the skin, full-fat dairy products like whole milk, cheese, and butter, and fatty cuts of pork.
Non-animal based saturated fats include:
- Coconut & coconut oil
- Palm oil
- Cocoa butter (chocolate)
These food sources are still important to eat as they provide high sources of protein and various other vitamins & minerals, such as B12. It is simply suggested to opt for leaner cuts of meat and to be mindful of overall intakes.
Trans Unsaturated Fatty Acids (aka Trans Fats... aka AVOID)
These are the fats the rightfully deserve a bad rap and should be avoided. They increase your levels of bad cholesterol, without offering many health benefits in return. Although some healthy saturated fat sources naturally contain trace amounts of trans fats, trans fats are primarily found in processed foods such as hot dogs, commercially baked and fried foods, shortening, and non-dairy coffee creamer.
Trans fats are used in making these foods since it provides food with texture and flavour, but is also cheap to produce and has an extended shelf life. Although added artificial trans fats were supposed to be banned in Canada as of 2020 (who knows where this actually stands), keep an eye out for trans fats in your foods. Ideally you want to keep your daily intake under 1% worth of your daily caloric intake (approx 2.2g per 2000kcal diet)
Essential Fatty Acids
The body needs certain fatty acids, such a Omega-3 and Omega-6 for functions such as muscle relaxation and contraction, blood lipid regulation, immunity response to injury and infection, as well as healthy growth and vision. Your body cannot produce these essential fatty acids on it’s own, but can be easily added to your diet through various sources (you don’t need much!)
Women should aim for 1.1g /day; Men should aim for 1.6g /day
- Chia Seeds (2.5g /tbsp)
- Ground flaxseed (1.8g / tbsp)
- Hemp Seeds (0.8g /tbsp)
- Walnuts (2.5g /oz)
- Salmon (1.8g /6 oz)
- Lake trout (1.6g /6oz)
Women should aim for 12g /day; Men should aim for 17g /day
- Walnuts (10.8g /oz)
- Sunflower seeds (10.8g /oz)
- Avocado (3.4g /fruit)
- Hemp Seeds (3g /tbsp)
- Almonds (3.5g /oz)
- Eggs (1.8g /large egg)
- Poultry (2g /6oz skinless; 3g /6oz with skin)
- Peanut butter (2g /tbsp)
- Safflower oil (1.8g /tbsp)
- Avocado oil (1.8g /tbsp)
Your body's primary source for building & repairing muscles
10% - 35% of your daily caloric intake | Minimum 46g /day (women) 56g /day (men)
Protein, oh protein, the superhero nutrient for your muscles! It’s like the muscle-repairing medicine you need after a day of exploring and having fun outdoors. Your muscles may feel like they got into a fight with a pack of wolves, but protein is here to save the day! Providing your body with enough protein helps your muscles recover and recharge, helping you to avoid unnecessary damage. So, don’t forget to incorporate some quality protein sources into your yummy post-activity meal or snack. Not only will it help you feel better in the short-term, but also in the long-term by contributing to your overall fitness goals. Remember, your muscles are your best buddies, so treat them well and give them the protein they deserve!
Protein is primarily responsible for:
- Building & repairing muscles
- Providing antibodies
- Repairing injuries
- Absorbing essential amino acids
- Helping circulate oxygen
Food Source Examples
**Although there are general daily minimal intakes for protein, a more accurate intake suggestion is 0.8g per kg of body weight (for adults)
- Chicken breast (31g /3.5 oz)
- Turkey breast (28g /3.5 oz)
- Lean beef (26g /3.5 oz)
- Salmon (20g /3.5 oz)
- Halibut (22g /3.5 oz)
- Trout (20g /3.5 oz)
- Eggs (6g /large egg)
- Chickpeas (19g /cup)
- Lentils (18g /cup)
- Black beans (15g /cup)
- Lima beans (15g /cup)
- Tofu (8g /100g)
- Green peas (9g /cup)
- Cheddar Cheese (7g /1 oz slice)
Daily Recommended Intakes and How to Calculate Macros
When it comes to meal planning, there are generalized daily recommended intake ranges for macros. It’s good practice to keep these guidelines in mind though in order to provide your body with the proper amounts of useable, stored and restorative energy. (Although keep in mind a persons individual needs will vary based on their activities and lifestyle). But how can you figure out the amount you need? How do you know how many macros a food item or meal even has?
*The recommended distribution is ideal for the average active individual. Increased protein distribution would be suggested for athletes.
Caloric Values of Macronutrients Explained
Each gram of a macronutrient contains calories:
- 1 gram of carbs = 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat = 9 calories
- 1 gram of protein = 4 calories
When it comes to meal planning and counting macros, it’s important to know these values so you can:
1. Determine the % of your daily calories a food item meets in the form of macros
Calculating the percentage of your daily intake that a food item takes is actually quite simple. For example:
Of the total 230 calories in 1 cup of lentils:
- 160 kcals are from carbohydrates (40g x 4 kcal)
- 7.2 kcals are from fat (0.8g x 9 kcal)
- 72 kcals are from protein (18g x 4 kcal)
For a person with a daily caloric intake of 2,000 kcal, this would mean 1 cup of lentils provides:
- 12.5% of daily kcal intake from carbs
- <1% of daily kcal intake from fat
- 4% of daily kcal intake from protein
2. Determine how many grams of each macronutrient your body needs
There are minimum macronutrient recommendations because these are the minimum the human body needs to function properly, which applies to everyone. Your recommended intake will likely exceed the general minimum and will vary depending on your activity and lifestyle.
Note: you will need to know your daily caloric intake average or goal in order to do this next step.
For a daily caloric intake of 2,000 kcal:
Carbs = 4 kcal /g
65% = 1300 kcal
1300 kcal = 325g
(1300 kcal /4 kcal)
65% = 325g
Fat = 9 kcal /g
20% = 400 kcal
400 kcal = 44g
(400 kcal /9 kcal)
20% = 44g
Protein = 4 kcal /g
15% = 300 kcal
300 kcal = 75g
(300 kcal /4 kcal)
15% = 75g
While keeping in mind the recommended macro ranges is beneficial, it’s important to remember that everyone has unique needs based on their lifestyle. You don’t have to go crazy and calculate every single ingredient to a tee, or obsess about exact macronutrient balance every day. Some days you might find yourself reaching for extra carbs and less protein, and that’s totally fine!
Incorporating Macros Into Your Outdoor Adventure Meal Plan
Find your minimum range
It’s time to break out those calculators and get crunching. Calculate your specific macros needs in grams using the formulas above – and don’t forget to jot them down on your meal plan. Keep in mind that you’ll want to hit the minimum daily requirements for carbs (130g) and protein (46g for women, 56g for men), but don’t fret if your meals plans vary slightly from day to day. As long as you’re meeting those minimums, you’re golden! So go forth and get macro-ing!
Start your mornings with complex carbs
Making sure that your body has enough energy to keep up with your day of exploring is key. Starting your day with some delicious carbs is key to keeping you energized and ready to tackle the day ahead.
Go ahead, include some simple carbs to get the ball rolling, but you really want to fuel up on some complex carbs to ensure your energy tank doesn’t quickly drain.
Keep things moving with fiber
Let’s make sure we keep our guts happy while we explore the great outdoors. Aim to include some fiber dense carbohydrates in your plan – as a reminder, we’re talking 25g/day for the ladies and 38g/day for the gents. Trust us, your stomach will thank you for it! Plus, you don’t want any tummy troubles while trekking through the wilderness
Include protein throughout the day, but especially after crushing some goals
After putting in all that hard work, it’s time to fuel up and give your muscles the TLC they deserve. Properly nourish and replenish your muscles to ensure your body is ready for the next day. This will help you maintain your energy levels and prevent fatigue and injury. Protein also helps you feel full longer.
Save fat dense meals for the evening
You’ll want to incorporate some fats throughout the day (to help move those nutrients around and to continue building those energy reserves), but it’s to best keep meals that are more dense in fats for the evening. This avoids the risk of feeling sluggish during the day, and also helps store your energy for the next day.
And remember to incorporate those good fatty acids! Omega-3 = 1.1 g/day for women; 1.6g /day for men. Omega-6= 12g /day for women; 17g/day for men.
For more meal planning tips, check out: How to Meal Plan for Outdoor Adventures Like a Pro
Headed to the backcountry? You’ll want to read: How to Meal Plan and Pack Your Food Like a Pro: Backcountry Edition
When you are out and about, exploring the great outdoors, keeping a close eye on your macros and the types of foods you consume can have a significant impact on your overall performance and enjoyment. This can mean planning ahead and packing plenty of healthy options full of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
Ultimately, taking a thoughtful approach to your diet while enjoying all that the outdoors has to offer can help you feel energized, focused, and ready to tackle any adventure that comes your way.
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The Foodie Behind the Screen
Hi there! I'm Bri.
I create and share nutritious and flavourful recipes for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers.