As a beginner, nutrition might seem overwhelming. After all, there are so many moving parts that putting everything together feels impossible.
The good news is, by breaking it down into the individual components, you can gain a much better understanding of everything.
With that in mind, we’ve put together this post to give you the rundown of protein, carbs, fats, and alcohol.
But First: What Exactly Are Carbs, Fats, Protein, and Alcohol?
Carbs, fats, protein, and alcohol (ethanol) are collectively known as macronutrients. Each gram provides calories (energy) for the body, which makes them essential for our survival. Well, apart from alcohol, that is. But more on that below.
Carbs and proteins provide four calories per gram, where fats offer nine. Alcohol also provides an energetic value (7.1 calories per gram), technically making it a macronutrient. Theoretically, it can give us the energy we need to survive for a period without any food.
Protein – The Muscle-Building Nutrient
While primarily known as the muscle-building nutrient, protein’s roles in the body are far more profound.
Most notably, protein provides the body with the building blocks it needs to heal tissues, recover from strenuous workouts, grow, and develop (1, 2). Protein is also responsible for giving a structure to neurotransmitters, antibodies, cells, hormones, and more (3).
Not getting enough protein doesn’t just mean we can’t build muscle well. It also means we can’t function normally and stay healthy.
Fats – The Complex Molecule
While often criticized for raising cholesterol, clogging up our arteries, and leading to heart attacks, fats are essential for our health and well-being.
But how is that possible?
Well, it mostly has to do with the type of fat we consume. Yes, highly processed fats (such as trans fats) do, indeed, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (4). But fats from whole and nutritious foods (such as monounsaturated) play a crucial role in our health. Specifically, they support our immunity, assist with producing hormones, and make cell production possible (5). They also keep the brain healthy and protect our internal organs (6).
Carbohydrates – The Controversial Source of Energy
With the rise of ketogenic diets, some people have made carbs look like the unhealthiest thing on the planet. But this is far from the truth.
Carbohydrates provide us with fuel (7). Specifically, as we eat a carb, we break it down into simple glucose molecules. These molecules then travel to the liver, where some get converted into glycogen (a complex carb form that gets stored for later use), and the remaining ones travel back to the bloodstream. There, they:
- Maintain healthy blood sugar levels
- Provide energy for the brain
- Provide the body with an immediate source of energy
So, while many people fear carbs and avoid them, these nutrients play an integral role in our health and well-being.
Alcohol – What Makes it Different?
While technically a macronutrient like protein, carbs, and fats, alcohol is different. Specifically, alcohol – also known as ethanol – carries an energetic value but provides no nutritional use for the body.
At 7.1 calories per gram, ethanol is nearly as energy-dense as fats but without the many vital functions in the body.
In other words, if you never drink alcohol, you’ll do just fine, which isn’t something we can say for the remaining three macros.