Nutrition 101-Navigating the Basics with Irene Gardner

Irene Gardner, MS, RD, CSSD

Irene Gardner, MS, RD, CSSD

I’d like to open our series of nutrition articles by reviewing the basics. What are carbohydrates, proteins, and fat and why do we need them?
Most simply put: Food is Fuel. It is fuel for our day, for work or school, for sports and activity. It not only fuels our muscles with energy to move, it fuels bones and tissues and our brain! We need to think and move daily and so, we need to fuel up right. 
Two types of nutrients that our food provides: macro(large) and micro(small). Macronutrients include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. All have jobs to help us live and thrive each day. Let’s learn more about those macros and give you some key tips to start today!
Carbohydrates are our main source of ENERGY! There are many foods that contain carbohydrates, some are better than others. You will often hear “carbs are sugar”…yes a carbohydrate food turns into sugar molecules in our body…that’s what gives us energy. This is not the same as say, table sugar found in soda, candy, sweets. Choose energy sources that are wholesome (mostly from unprocessed plants) and limit those that are highly processed. 

Include these foods:
- vegetables and fruits
- whole grains, like brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, barley, corn, whole grain bread and pasta
- beans and lentils (are sources of carbohydrate and protein)
- milk and yogurt (are sources of carbohydrate and protein)

Choose less often:
- refined starches, like white bread, white rice and pasta, sugary breakfast cereals
- soda, sugary drinks
- candy, baked goods
- chips, French fries

Protein foods are building blocks for muscles, bones, blood, skin, cartilage, and more. Protein helps to keep our bodies working well, by keeping our immune system strong and supporting recovery from exercise or injury.  
Protein foods include: eggs, poultry, meat, fish, dairy, nuts/nut butters & seeds, beans & lentils, tofu & tempeh.

Fats are a source of energy, they are needed to absorb certain vitamins, they help to form hormones, and they are essential to our brain. They are found in many plant and animal foods, such as, plant and nut oils, fatty fish, avocado, nuts & seeds, olives, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy.

Getting started:
If you don’t already eat breakfast, start there. Follow that with 2 additional meals a day. Each meal should have something from each macro-nutrient group. That’s 3 balanced and nutritious meals each day. Also, add healthy snacks between meals if needed—could be 1, 2, or 3 snacks in a day. Avoid the sugary drinks and stay hydrated with water. 

Now, if you’re looking to gain weight, lose weight, or would like a more personalized plan for you, meeting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist is key. Everyone is different, and so are your goals, your questions, your schedule, and your food likes/dislikes. Whether it is with me or another dietitian, we are the nutrition experts and your resource for improving your nutrition knowledge. 

Nutrition Checklist:
Power up with Breakfast
Eat 3 meals a day, plus snacks
Eat your veggies and fruits
Drink 8-12 cups of water a day
Be active everyday

Next up – Nutrition for Sports Performance!

You can contact Irene at or click on the IG Nutrition  logo and visit her website for more information and services. 

About Irene-Irene is a Sports Dietitian, a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, with a Master's Degree in Nutrition. She is also a former member of Cal Women's Rugby Club, Berkeley All Blues, as well as USA Rugby's Women's National 7s Team. She's also accumulated a number of rugby awards and honors along the way. Now Irene is working full-time to help others live well and improve performance through nutrition! She is currently collaborating with The Rugby Republic to help bring nutrition information and tips to rugggers.