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At Esports Healthcare, we believe nutrition is one of four categories that complete what we call the foundation of wellness alongside sleep, mental health, and physical activity. You cannot live a long, healthy life if any one of these four aspects are ignored.
Of these four, sleep is the most universal; in other words, every mammal needs sufficient sleep (e.g. 8 hours per night). Unfortunately, for nutrition, there is incredible complexity and huge variations from person-to-person. Allergies, sensitivities, poor absorption, and many other factors may require specific changes in your diet.
However, there are some aspects of nutrition that are true across the majority of the population—energy needs, general nutrient needs, and the benefits of certain types of nutrients vs. others. We’ve compiled these facts to provide to you the basics of nutrition.
What does your body need?
Nutrition, at its foundation, is simply the intake (most commonly by ingestion) of different types of nutrients necessary for your body to function and survive. This includes macronutrients (energy), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), fiber, and water.
Calories are units of energy for the human body. Calories (technically, kilocalories when written with a capital C) are specifically defined as the amount of energy required to raise 1 liter (L) of water 1 degree centigrade (+1° C). Calories come from five sources: fat, carbohydrates, protein, alcohol, and ketones. Each are described in more detail, below.
How much energy do you need?
Energy needs are one of the many aspects of nutrition that can vary tremendously. The two major factors for determining energy needs are your basal metabolic rate and your physical activity (or exercise).
Basal metabolic rate (BMR)
BMR is the number of Calories your body will burn, daily, to simply stay alive; it is the energy required to maintain basic bodily functions such as heart rate, respiration, and nervous system activity.
A visual of BMR is if you were to lie perfectly still with your eyes closed and do absolutely nothing for 24 hours. BMR does not include extra Calories burned via any level of movement or exertion (physical activity or exercise).
Physical activity and exercise
As you move, you burn more Calories. The number of Calories burned will be determined by the type, duration, and intensity of the physical activity or exercise you perform. Longer duration and higher intensity will burn more calories. Exercise types may vary based on additional factors.
As previously mentioned, energy comes in the form of Calories via macronutrients which are described, in detail, below. There are also micronutrients which do not provide energy. They do, however, provide your body with the molecules necessary for all body system functioning.
For example, iron is a micronutrient mineral that is used for hemoglobin in your blood. Without iron, your body cannot create hemoglobin. And, without hemoglobin, your body cannot transport oxygen throughout the blood. Later in this post, we provide a table for micronutrients and their primary function(s).
For reference, you should drink half your body weight in ounces of fluid. For example, someone who weighs 120 lbs should drink 60 ounces of fluid, and someone who weights 160 lbs should drink 80 ounces of fluid.
Water is vital for life, and it makes up 60-70% of the human body. Some organs, such as your blood, are >75% water (blood plasma is >90% water, lungs are ~83%, and skeletal muscle and the kidneys are ~79%).
For more-detailed information about water and its effects on the human body, check out our hydration page.
By definition, nutrients are substances that provide nourishment essential for growth and the maintenance of life. Macronutrients are a subcategory of nutrients; they are categorized as “macro” because they are nutrients that provide energy via Calories.
The three primary macronutrients are fat, carbohydrates, and protein. Additionally, alcohol and ketones provide Calories. Each of these have a different quantity of Calories:
- 1 g Fat: 9 Calories
- 1 g Carbohydrates: 4 Calories
- 1 g Protein: 4 Calories
- 1 g Alcohol: 7 Calories
- 1 g Ketones: 4 Calories
Fat is the most energy-dense of all macronutrients at 9 Calories per gram. Fat is the favored energy source for prolonged, low-intensity activity. Fat is also the foundation of cholesterol and, therefore, many hormones. Most notably, cholesterol makes sex hormones and cortisol.
Saturated fats are long carbon chains with zero double-bonds. Chemically, the lack of double bonds means the chain has the maximum amount of hydrogen atoms possible (full hydrogen saturation).
Higher-than-recommended amounts of saturated fat have been correlated with increased blood cholesterol and greater risk for cardiovascular disease. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat, whole-fat dairy products, butter, ice cream, coconut oil, and palm oil.
Monounsaturated fats are long carbon chains with a single double-bond which leads to their name. Chemically, the single double-bond means the chain has two fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat with the same number of carbon molecules.
Monounsaturated fats tend to be anti-inflammatory in nature and are useful to reduce cardiovascular risk. Common sources of monounsaturated fats include peanuts and peanut butter, tree nuts and their nut butters, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil.
Polyunsaturated fats are long carbon chains with two or more double-bonds. Chemically, the two or more double bonds means the chain has 4+ fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat with the same number of carbon molecules.
Similar to the monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats tend to be anti-inflammatory and may help reduce cardiovascular risk. More specifically, marine-sourced (e.g. fish) polyunsaturated fats tend to provide greater health benefits. Common sources of polyunsaturated fats include walnuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds or flaxseed oil, salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna.
Polyunsaturated fats from industrial seed oils (e.g. corn oil, soybean oil, and safflower oil) often contain higher amounts of the omega-6 fatty acids which tend to be more pro-inflammatory than the omega-3’s (e.g. fish and fish oils). This is especially true if your consumption of these omega-6 fatty acids exceeds omega-3 consumption. The general recommendation is to lean towards marine-sourced polyunsaturated fatty acids, as mentioned above.
Unlike the previous three fats, trans fats are synthetic; trans fat does not exist in nature. They are named based on the trans-configuration of the molecule. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, there is no reference daily intake nor daily value for trans fat.
It is our recommendation at Esports Healthcare for you to avoid trans fats in your diet. On the ingredient labels, trans fat must be listed. However, nutrition labels may read 0 g when trans fat still exists. Look for words and phrases such as “shortening” or “partially hydrogenated” to identify the presence of trans fats even when the label reads 0 g per serving.
Cholesterol is a category of molecules derived from fatty acids. It is an oily substance created by all cells in your body. Each cell makes cholesterol for its own use (e.g. cell membranes), and additional cholesterol is transported to the liver via lipoproteins (e.g. LDL and HDL).
Cholesterol is also the precursor to bile salts and steroid hormones. Generally speaking, your body will not absorb cholesterol from other sources such as egg yolks and meat products.
In blood screenings, cholesterol values are reported via their lipoproteins (carrier molecules) such as low-density lipoproteins (LDLs) and high-density lipoproteins (HDLs). A common misconception is that LDL is “bad” cholesterol and HDL is “good” cholesterol.
While it is true that an elevated LDL is associated with increased risk for heart disease, it is not appropriate to describe LDL as “bad” cholesterol. For more information about cholesterol molecules, check out Dr. Thomas Dayspring‘s conversations with Dr. Peter Attia on Dr. Attia’s The Drive Podcast.
Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for working muscles. Each gram of carbohydrate is 4 Calories. Carbohydrates are the category of macronutrient that includes dietary fiber and sugar. An inappropriately high volume of carbohydrates (specifically, sugar) in your diet may lead to insulin resistance, obesity, and type-2 diabetes.
Sugar is a subcategory of carbohydrate molecules with two of its own primary subcategories: monosaccharides and disaccharides. The hallmarks of sugar include the sweet taste, an elevation of blood sugar following consumption, and the often-significant insulin response that follows an increase in blood sugar (assuming the absence of diabetes or other metabolic ailment).
Monosaccharides are the simplest form of sugar and include glucose, fructose, and galactose.
- Glucose: the primary energy source for working muscles, and the only food-sourced fuel for your brain and nervous system
- Glucose is naturally present in fruit and honey
- Most consumed sugars will break be broken down to glucose
- Fructose: another sugar found naturally in fruit
- These molecules cannot break down to become glucose
- Galactose: a sugar that is naturally present in cherries, Greek yogurt, and honey
- These molecules cannot break down to become glucose
As previously mentioned, monosaccharides are the simplest form of sugar; this means they cannot be broken down into simpler molecules and are instead used in an energy process called glycolysis.
Disaccharides, as the name implies, are two monosaccharides joined together. These sugars include sucrose, lactose, and maltose. Each of the disaccharide molecules can be broken down into their individual monosaccharides—listed below.
- Sucrose: composed of glucose and fructose molecules
- The common name for sucrose is table sugar
- Lactose: composed of glucose and galactose molecules
- This sugar is most well-known for its presence in dairy milk and the associated bowel intolerance or sensitivity (lactose intolerance).
- Maltose: composed of two glucose molecules
- This sugar is found in wheat, cornmeal, and barley
- Maltose is the foundation of “malt beverages” including beer and whisky
Dietary fiber is another subcategory of carbohydrate molecules that also has two of its own subcategories: soluble fiber and non-soluble fiber. Dietary fiber supports bowel function by helping to regulate nutrient absorption and fluid balance within the bowel.
For example, sufficient quantities of dietary fiber will result in slower, less intense blood glucose spikes. And, in response, insulin spikes will also be slower and less intense. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are necessary for the full benefits described in each subcategory below!
Soluble fiber creates a gel-like substance that slows down gastric (stomach) emptying. Sufficient quantities of soluble fiber will make you feel fuller for longer periods of time. In addition, slower gastric emptying may improve nutrient absorption.
Soluble fiber can also bind to and therefore reduce intestinal reabsorption of cholesterol that has already been removed from blood circulation by the liver. Similarly, soluble fiber will also bind to sugar molecules—reducing their absorption and therefore reducing blood sugar spikes following ingestion of carbohydrates.
All fruits and vegetables have soluble fiber. Of these, some of the best sources of soluble fiber include beans, Brussels sprouts, avocados, sweet potatoes, and broccoli.
Unlike its counterpart, insoluble fiber creates a rigid, lattice formation in the bowel. The insoluble nature of these molecules will increase fluid volume within the bowel to help regulate bowel movements.
Additionally, the gel-like substance formed by soluble fiber will fill in this lattice formation; the combined structure of the two fibers types is what allows for the binding to molecules such as cholesterol and sugar. Without both, the effects are significantly dampened.
Common sources of insoluble fiber include whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, beans, cauliflower and potatoes.
Although categorized as a macronutrient due to the energy value—4 Calories per gram—protein generally should not be used as an energy source for your body. Instead, protein is more important for building body tissue, carrier proteins, and ligands.
- Body tissue: protein is the foundation of the structural (and many functional) components of your body
- Protein is the foundation of muscle, bone, skin, and hair
- Carrier molecules: protein is water soluble and can travel freely throughout the blood
- Protein is used to create carrier molecules for other molecules that cannot dissolve in blood
- Common carrier molecules include LDL and HDL for transporting cholesterol
- Ligands: molecules that bind to receptors; in other words, a ligand is the “key” and a receptor is the “lock”
- Ligand molecules bind to receptors to create a response; these molecules include neurotransmitters and therefore coordinate nervous system function
- Without ligands, most cells would be unable to communicate with other cells
Amino acids are smaller molecular structures that are the foundation of larger protein molecules. There are two subcategories of amino acids: essential and non-essential (described below). Essential amino acids must be obtained via your diet while non-essential amino acids can be formed within your body.
Chemically, amino acids are categorized by carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Specifically, each amino acid has both amine (–NH2) and carboxyl (–COOH) groups.
Protein is the least-favored source of energy due to the nitrogen. When broken down for energy, proteins (amino acids) will release their nitrogen molecules into the blood stream in the form of ammonia—a compound that is toxic to the blood in high volumes.
Fortunately, if you ingest appropriate amounts of fat and carbohydrates, protein will be spared, and any ammonia in your blood will be converted to urea and excreted in the urine.
Essential amino acids
There are nine essential amino acids that cannot be created in your body. Therefore, they need to be ingested. These amino acids include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. For summaries of the importance of each essential amino acid, read Their Roles in Your Body on Healthline.
Common sources of all nine essential amino acids (described as complete proteins) include animal-sourced protein: meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Plant based complete proteins include soy, quinoa, and buckwheat.
Non-essential amino acids
There are eleven non-essential amino acids that can be created in your body; therefore, you do not need to ingest each of these individually. These amino acids include alanine, arginine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamic acid, glutamine, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine.
Because your body can create these eleven amino acids, it is important to eat sufficient amounts of carbohydrates and protein, in general. Foods high in protein include most animal products: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, as well as plant foods such as nuts, spinach, seeds, and tofu.
Alcohol (ethanol) is also considered a macronutrient because it provides Calories. However, there are no other nutrients in alcohol. Thus, these Calories are often described as “empty calories.” For consistency with other macronutrients, alcohol is measured at 7 Calories per gram, although generally we do not measure beverages in grams.
For reference on the Calorie count for common alcoholic beverages, check out Medline’s reference page for Calories per serving.
Ketones are an additional form of macronutrient produced from fat and amino acids. A gram of ketones is equivalent to 4 Calories. The primary purpose of ketone production is to fuel the nervous system in times of starvation.
The nervous system—and most importantly, your brain—is only able to use glucose or ketones for energy. In the absence of sugar (namely, glucose), your body will produce ketones to fuel the nervous system.
For an individual whose body can create insulin (anyone without type-I diabetes), consuming a balanced diet including carbohydrates will eliminate the need for ketone production.
Ketone production is the hallmark of the ketogenic diet, whereby an individual will eat a low-carbohydrate diet (30 g or fewer) so their body will elect to burn fat as a primary source of energy. We will go into the details of the ketogenic diet and other daily eating habits in a future post.
For more information, check out Dr. Peter Attia’s post on ketosis and browse his website for additional posts and podcasts discussing ketones and ketosis.
Micronutrients are all the remaining nutrients that do not provide energy (Calories). The two subcategories of micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. Each of the micronutrients are important for supporting body system functioning.
Below is a list of vitamins and minerals including the FDA’s daily values, uses in the body, food sources, and additional notes, if any. There are four different measurements you’ll see on the daily values, defined below.
- International Units (IU): a unit of measurement for biologically active ingredients
- “An IU is the amount of a substance that has a certain biological effect. For each substance there is an international agreement on the biological effect that is expected for 1 IU.” – cancer.gov
- Grams (g): the metric standard unit of an object’s mass
- Milligrams (mg): a metric unit of an object’s mass
- 1,000 mg = 1 g
- Micrograms (µg): a metric unit of an object’s mass
- 1,000,000 µg = 1 g
- 1,000 µg = 1 mg
There are two subcategories of vitamins: fat soluble and water soluble. They are named based on their absorption and transport.
Vitamins are considered fat soluble when they absorb and transport in the same fashion as fats. Similar to cholesterol (molecules from fat) transport, fat soluble vitamins cannot travel through the bloodstream without a carrier molecule.
Additionally, fat soluble vitamins store in the liver, adipose tissue, or in muscles. Due to their storage, it is possible to experience toxicity or overdose with any of these four vitamins.
- Vitamin A (Retinol)
- Daily value: 5,000 IU
- Important for: vision, epithelial cells, reproductive health, immune system support
- Sources: liver, fish and fish oils
- Additional notes: when cooking, it’s best to steam cook vs. boiling; Vitamin A needs fat to absorb!
- Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)
- Daily value: 400 IU
- Important for: bone and teeth health, hormone formation, regulates metabolism/absorption of calcium and phosphorus
- Sources: Ultraviolet radiation (e.g. sunlight), cod liver oil, sardines, tuna, fortified milk, cooked salmon, eggs
- Additional notes: one of the most common vitamin deficiencies in the United States
- Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
- Daily value: 30 IU
- Important for: lipid antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties
- Sources: nuts, seeds, whole grain, egg yolk
- Additional notes: destroyed when cooked; Vitamin E needs fat to absorb!
- Vitamin K (Phylloquinone)
- Daily value: 80 µg
- Important for: blood health; prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis
- Sources: leafy greens (e.g. spinach), cheese, egg yolk
Vitamins are considered water soluble when they are able to dissolve and transport freely through blood stream. Unlike fat soluble vitamins, the water soluble vitamins do not store in your body. Instead, the unused water soluble vitamins are excreted in the urine.
Due to the rapid excretion, it is unlikely to experience toxicity or overdose with any of these vitamins. However, toxicity is possible with significant doses, and larger-than recommended doses of some of these vitamins may cause unwanted and sometimes uncomfortable side-effects.
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Daily value: 1.5 mg
- Important for: energy production and nucleic acid synthesis
- Sources: whole grain, legumes, nuts, meat, enriched flour
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Daily value: 1.7 mg
- Important for: may help prevent and treat migraine, Parkinson’s disease, and psoriasis
- Sources: dairy, eggs, legumes, meat, fish, poultry
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Daily value: 20 mg
- Important for: needed for energy production, metabolism, sex and adrenal hormones, lowers LDL (although may not reduce cardiovascular risk)
- Sources: meat, chicken, fish, whole grain, legumes, dairy
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
- Daily value: 10 mg
- Important for: component of CoQ10, important for Krebs cycle (energy from fat), synthesis of fatty acids, cholesterol, heme (hemoglobin), and acetylcholine
- Sources: meat, dairy, legumes, whole grain
- Vitamin B6 (Pyroxidine)
- Daily value: 2 mg
- Important for: essential for protein metabolism, neurotransmitter manufacturing, gluconeogenesis, glycogenesis
- Sources: poultry, bananas, avocados, organ meat
- Additional notes: freezing and processing of meats, grains, fruit, and vegetables can result in 70% loss of vitamin B6
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
- Daily value: 300 µg
- Important for: essential in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism, co-factor in metabolic pathways for certain amino acids
- Sources: peanuts, mushrooms, some grains, liver, egg yolk, soy, yeast
- Additional notes: produced by gut flora
- Vitamin B9 (Folate)
- Daily value: 400 µg
- Important for: cell synthesis, DNA synthesis
- Sources: green leafy vegetables, legumes, beets, whole grains, lentils, kidney beans
- Additional notes: methylated (methylfolate) is the preferred form for more efficient absorption; folate is even more important for pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
- Daily value: 6 µg
- Important for: energy, skin, muscle, nervous system, mood, asthma, diabetes
- Sources: meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs
- Additional notes: alcohol decreases absorption of B12; methylated (methylcobalamin) is the preferred form for more efficient absorption
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
- Daily value: 60 mg
- Important for: formation of 8 enzymes, functions as an electron donor, facilitates hydroxylation reactions, biosynthesis of collagen and carnatine, involved in protein metabolism, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial
- Sources: citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, kiwi
Minerals are natural, inorganic substances found in the earth’s soil. Below is a list of minerals, the FDA’s daily values, uses in the body, food sources, and additional notes, if any.
- Daily value: 2 mg
- Important for: bones, teeth, hair, nails, helps prevent osteoporosis and arthritis
- Sources: non-citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables, nuts, legumes, beer, wine, cider
- Daily value: 1,000 mg
- Important for: bone and teeth development, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, blood coagulation, hemostasis
- Sources: dairy, salmon, sardines, kale, broccoli, collards, turnips, greens, tofu, bok choy
- Additional notes: calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body; it is an electrolyte mineral; absorption is enhanced when ingested with food due to stomach acid; calcium is vitamin D dependent
- Daily value: 3,400 mg
- Important for: assists in maintaining fluid balance throughout cells and organ systems; an important ingredient for stomach acid (HCl = hydrogen chloride)
- Sources: table salt and sea salt (as sodium chloride), seaweed, rye, tomatoes, lettuce, celery, olives
- Daily value: 120 µg
- Important for: insulin co-factor, improves glucose tolerance, facilitates binding of insulin to its receptors, antioxidant, modifies brain serotonin levels, can be helpful in psychological disorders (e.g. bipolar)
- Sources: meats, liver, eggs, whole grains, brewer’s yeast, shrimp, mushrooms, cheese
- Additional notes: Vitamin C increases absorption, phytates and simple sugars decrease absorption
- Daily value: 2 mg
- Important for: promotes wound healing, anti-inflammatory, immune support, heme synthesis (hemoglobin in the blood), myocardial (heart muscle) contractility, melanin formation
- Sources: fish, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, legumes, whole grains, vegetables, fruits
- Daily value: 18 mg
- Important for: hemoglobin, needed in the conversion of tyrosine to dopamine, needed for thyroid hormone synthesis
- Sources: meat, poultry, eggs
- Daily value: 150 µg
- Important for: thyroid hormone production
- Sources: milk, cheese, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, kelp, seaweed, iodized salt
- Additional notes: iodine is essential for thyroid function and is not used in any other organ or body system
- Daily value: 200 mg
- Important for: smooth muscle (e.g. bowel and arteries) relaxer, important for skeletal muscle relaxation, functions in more than 300 enzymes, and is essential for metabolism
- Sources: nuts, whole grains, legumes, leafy greens, dairy, meat, fish
- Additional notes: magnesium is an electrolyte mineral and is therefore important for regulating nerve conduction primarily in muscles
- Daily value: 2 mg
- Important for: chondroitin sulfate (the organic matrix of bone), helps prevent and treat osteoporosis
- Sources: whole grains, clams, oysters, mussels, nuts, legumes, rice, leafy vegetables
- Daily value: 75 µg
- Important for: co-factor for many enzymes
- Sources: legumes, grains, dairy, sunflower seeds, organ meats
- Daily value: 5 g
- Important for: essential role in fluid and electrolyte balance, blood pressure regulation, muscle contraction/relaxation, neuronal transmission, muscle cramps, postural hypotension (e.g. decrease in blood pressure when standing up)
- Sources: bananas, oranges, grapefruit, pineapple, apples, tomatoes, apricots, avocado, squash, beans, fish, meat
- Additional notes: potassium is an electrolyte mineral and is therefore important for regulating nerve conduction primarily in muscles
- Daily value: 1,000 mg
- Important for: formation of ATP (cellular energy), bones, teeth, DNA, and RNA
- Sources: meat, poultry, fish, nuts, beans, dairy
- Daily value: 70 µg
- Important for: co-factor for glutathione peroxidase, functions as an antioxidant, plays a role in conversion of T4 to T3 (the activation of thyroid hormones), immune support
- Sources: Brazil nuts
- Daily value: 1.5 g
- Important for: nerve conduction, fluid regulation (absorption and retention), can decrease muscle cramps
- Sources: table salt and sea salt (as sodium chloride), meat, fish, seaweed
- Additional notes: sodium is an electrolyte mineral and is therefore important for regulating nerve conduction
- Daily value: 15 mg
- Important for: immune support, co-factor for 100 enzymes, carbon-dioxide transport, digestion, DNA synthesis, protein synthesis, aids visual function, hearing, taste, sperm synthesis, wound healing
- Sources: seafood, red meat, legumes, nuts
- Additional notes: absorption is delayed with fiber, other minerals, and current body storage