There’s one thing that we can all agree on: Diet is critical to your performance. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to monitor a well-rounded diet. But where do we start? Nutrients, of course.

There are two main classifications of nutrients: micronutrients and macronutrients. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals that you should consume in small portions. These include vitamins, iron, and zinc. Conversely, macronutrients need to be eaten in higher volume, because they’re designed to give your body the necessary energy to survive. There are three types of macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

While micronutrients are important, we’ve broken down the necessity and benefits of macronutrients in your diet. Macronutrients are the primary energy sources of your body. These sources are found in virtually every food.

Protein

If you’re into weightlifting, you’ve probably been overloaded with information on protein. This macronutrient is found in animal meat and select plant-based sources. Protein is necessary in hormone and enzyme production. Found throughout your body, protein is also responsible for muscle growth and retention. Studies have also linked high protein diets to lower blood pressure.

While proteins have unique chains of amino acids, not all of them have all nine essential acids. This difference separates complete proteins (having all nine essential amino acids) from incomplete proteins (not having all 9 essential amino acids). Many plant-based proteins, such as beans and spinach, are incomplete proteins. You’ll need to supplement your diet with complete sources of protein, such as soy beans, quinoa, animal meat, or milk. While animal meat and dairy products tend to have complete protein, it’s still possible to maintain a non-animal-based diet with a proper diet.

Carbohydrates

We love carbs. But we don’t love carbs because they (often) taste good. Instead, we appreciate what they can do for our bodies. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source because they’re easy to break down.

Carbs are classified as simple or complex, depending on their molecular structure. Simple carbs are often refined foods, such as fruit juices or milk. These foods are easy to break down, but offer little long-term benefit to your body. Complex carbs are usually foods that are not heavily refined and maintains a high fiber content. These foods include whole wheat bread, brown rice, and wholegrain pastas.

Fats

It’s easy to dismiss fats as unhealthy, but that’s not always the case. Fats are an important form of energy that your body and brain need to survive. Here’s a fun fact: Fat is critical in the production of hormones that regulate your body. The heavy-duty macronutrients are also needed to maintain digestive flow, hair, and body.

But, like carbs and proteins, all fat is not made the same. Unsaturated fats are found in oil and are generally healthy for you. Two kinds of unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados, nuts, and certain seeds. These fats are critical to heart health. Polyunsaturated fat includes omega fatty acids, which are often found in fish. These fats can increase anti-inflammatory capabilities as opposed to the immune system.

The least healthy fat to consume are trans fats. These are processed fats that are designed to be stored for long periods of time and can be found in fast foods. Studies have link trans-fat to heart disease and increased cholesterol levels.

So, what does this mean?

While there are only three major macronutrients, the benefits they provide to our bodies are manifold. There should be no circumstances where one macronutrient should replace another. But there are baselines to what you should consume.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that the average person consumes 45 to 65 grams to carbohydrates, 10 to 40 grams of protein, and 25 to 35 grams of fat per meal.

Don’t worry, we’re not done with talking about macronutrients tune in next week to learn how you can use each of these nutrients to your advantage during the holiday season.