We’ve all heard of protein carbs and fat, but do we really know them well? The difference between protein, carbs and fat is important for any fitness goal, whether trying to gain or lose weight. However, the difference between protein, carbs and fat is actually rather difficult for most to understand. Thankfully, this post will serve as a way to breakdown these commonly misunderstood nutrients in a way anyone can understand.
Most people only think of protein as something good that they want to consume a lot of. When I used to teach this to college students, I would always clear their confusion by starting with the emphasis of “What”. For protein, the “what” is that it’s a macro-molecule (long chain of molecules), specifically of hundreds of linked amino acids. Moreover, these long chains typically provide functions for our bodies in forms like muscle contraction & enzymes, among others. These functions of proteins is why they’re good, but they can also be bad if you consume too many. Proteins themselves have 4 calories per gram, and can be converted to fat if consumed in excess. So while protein is good for you, you must still be mindful of over consumption.
Like protein, carbs are poorly understood, and overly simplified by many. Also like proteins, carbohydrates are long chains of building blocks. Only instead, a complex carbohydrate is made up of simple sugars like glucose & fructose. Carbohydrates will perform some functions inside cells, but mainly are the body & brain’s go-to source of energy. Carbs also have 4 calories per gram & can convert into fat in excess, just like protein. However, carbs are essential for muscle & brain performance. So be sure to maintain some healthy carbs if exercising at high intensities.
Fats are notably different than both carbs & protein. For one, fats have 9 calories per gram and only have 3-4 parts. The parts of a fat molecule are 2-3 fatty acid tails, and a glycerol component that attaches them to each other. The fatty acid tails are what make fats so high calorie. Fatty acid tails are very long, but if it’s a mono, or poly unsaturated fat, the tails will have gaps in them, making the leaner. Additionally, fats have function in the body just like protein & carbs. Specifically, fats are used to create many important hormones like testosterone, estrogen and epinephrine (adrenaline). Moreover, those who lose an extreme or unhealthy amount of weight sometimes experience lower drive & energy because of decreases in certain hormone levels.
All in all, most fats can be eliminated from a diet, but maintaining some healthy fats (omega 3’s & 6’s) is needed for a healthy body.