A to Z of Nutritional Terms for Beginners



Estimated reading time: 16 minutes, 27 seconds.

When starting out on a journey to a healthier you, some of the terms used in the fitness industry, can be confusing and daunting. Therefore, we have put together a summary of some of the most common terms you may here about during your journey! Knowledge is power, it goes with determination to create success…….

Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) – The ultimate in recycling, ATP is a molecule in the body that releases energy which is used to power the body’s cells. It works by breaking down into phosphate groups. During periods of rest, the reverse happens, and the phosphate group is reattached to the molecule using energy obtained from food. As such, the ATP molecule is continuously being recycled by your body.

Amino Acids –Our bodies cannot make our own protein, so we have to take in from external sources. Amino acids are protein’s building blocks – all of our antibodies and enzymes, and many of the hormones in the body, are proteins. They create the right conditions for nutrients, oxygen, and waste to be transported throughout the body. They provide the structure and contracting capability of muscles. They also provide collagen to connective tissues of the body and to the tissues of the skin, hair, and nails.

Aspartame – (See sweeteners)

Anabolic – When referring to bodybuilding and weightlifting, this means anything related to building up muscle. A good example would be eating properly and working out regularly – these are anabolic activities. (Just for information, the opposite is catabolic – something leading to muscle breakdown and decline.

Ascorbic Acid – Also called vitamin C – it’s an essential water-soluble vitamin that has a wide range of functions in the human body (see vitamins).
Bioflavonoids – Once known as “Vitamin P” there are 4000 flavonoid compounds have been characterized and classified. Sources include onions, legumes, berries, parsley, red wine, and green tea. Useful in the treatment and prevention of many health conditions, thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Branched Chain Amino Acids – These are essential amino acids (specifically, valine, leucine, and isoleucine). Essential (as in we need them in our diet), as our bodies cannot produce them. The term branched-chain refers to the molecular structure.

B.M.I – Body Mass Index is often used by doctors or dieticians as a measure as to whether someone is overweight. However, this method is not used by the fitness industry, as it does not account for the fact that muscle weighs much more than fat. Anyone who works out will have a higher than average BMI, so is advised not to use this as a measurement of fitness.

Carotenoids –Carotenoids are the colourful plant pigments found in bright red, yellow and orange coloured fruit and vegetables. They are powerful antioxidants that can help prevent some forms of cancer and heart disease. They also help improve your immune system’s response to infections.

Calcium –99% of the body’s calcium is found in the bones and teeth, and of all the essential minerals in the human body, this s the most abundant. Other uses are to help blood clot, muscles contract and it also aids the nerves when transmitting signals.

Calorie – Calories are a measurement of energy in food. We all need a certain number of calories per day to function, but when too many calories are consumed in relation to the amount we burn off (through exercise), then the body converts the excess to fat.

Carbohydrates –Carbohydrates are sugars that break down inside the body to create glucose. The glucose is then moved around the body in the blood and is the primary source of energy for the brain, muscles, and other essential cells. There is two sorts of carbohydrates – fast, and slow release. A fast-release carbohydrate is one that gives you energy quickly (eg white bread, sugary drinks), but then leaves you hungry quickly and with a possible energy crash. A slow-release carb breaks down in the body much more slowly, leaving you to feel fuller for longer. Take a look at this list for suggestions.

Cholesterol – Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver for normal body functions including the production of hormones, bile acid, and vitamin D. It is transported in the blood to be used by all parts of the body. It is both made by the body and obtained from animal products in the diet. In the bloodstream, cholesterol combines with fatty acids to form high-density (HDL) and low-density (LDL) lipoproteins. The latter is considered the “bad cholesterol,” as they can stick together, forming plaque deposits on the walls of blood vessels, leading to atherosclerosis.

Copper – A trace element needed to absorb, store and metabolise iron. A deficiency in copper can lead to osteoporosis, joint pain, lowered immunity, and anemia. Those taking zinc supplements should be aware that zinc can affect the absorption of copper, so be sure to eat plenty of copper-rich foods like Shitaake mushrooms, kale, seeds, nuts, and beans.

Cortisol – Cortisol is a steroid hormone which regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body. These include immune system response and metabolism. It also has a very important role in helping the body respond to stress. Some foods can cause a spike in cortisol – check here for more information.

Clean Eating or Eating Clean – This refers to a diet where the food you consume is natural (i.e something found in nature). It’s not manufactured or processed and is without extra refined sugar, additives or preservatives. Eating fresh food, as nature intended.

Diet – The term ‘diet’ actually refers to the food you take in, not a specific regime of eating. You can have a good diet. Or a bad diet. In our terms, we are referring not too restricting calories, but the true meaning of diet – looking at the quality of the food eaten, rather than the amount.

Dietician – A trained professional who is able to advise on the most suitable diet for your needs, according to your current health and training aims.

Diabetes – Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose in your blood is too high because the body cannot use it properly. This is because the pancreas is either failing to produce insulin or under-producing enough to help glucose enter the body’s cells. There are several types of diabetes – Type 1 accounts for about 10 percent of all adults with diabetes. It can develop at any age but usually appears before the age of 40, and especially in childhood. It’s treated with regular insulin shots. Type 2 tends to affect people over the age of 25. Treatment is a healthy diet and increased activity, along with insulin in more serious cases.

Dextrose – Dextrose is a simple sugar or monosaccharide. It’s often also used interchangeably with the word “glucose.” Glucose, or dextrose, is found mainly is honey and fruits and is also the sugar in your blood and the main form of carbohydrate used by your body.

Disaccharide – Disaccharides, meaning ‘two sugars’, are the carbohydrates formed when two monosaccharides are joined.

Enzyme -Enzymes are complex proteins that assist in or enable chemical reactions to occur. For example, a digestive enzyme would assist your body in the process of breaking food down into chemical compounds, in order that it could be more easily absorbed. Thousands of different enzymes are produced by your body.

E numbers – E-numbers are just coded numbers used to identify food additives in the European Union (hence, ‘E’ numbers). They are deemed to be safe and are officially approved for use in food across the EU, although certain independent studies link E numbers with problems ranging from hyper-activity to autism. In the USA, many of the E numbers we have in our products, are banned. Blocks of numbers are allocated to specific groups of additives i.e. the colours sit in the E100 series (eg E150 caramel and E162 beetroot red); the preservatives are found in the E200 series (eg E202 potassium sorbate and E211 sodium benzoate); the antioxidants are in the E300 etc.

Essential Amino Acids – With hundreds of amino acids, there are around 24 that are important to human nutrition, with around nine of this needing to come from the diet, as the body cannot make synthesize them. (See also branched-chain amino acids for definition).

Fasting – Fasting is generally undertaken for health or religious reasons. A fast usually denotes exclusion of food, but sometimes it can also include no liquids either for a limited period. This is one of the latest fitness trends, learn more about intermittent fasting here.

Fat -The body needs fat to survive – it forms part of a healthy, balanced diet along with carbohydrates and proteins. However, when consumed in too large proportions, the body will be unable to process it all, and it will, in turn, convert to fat on the body. There are three types of fat in the diet – saturated (these are the fats that turn hard in the fridge, like butter), unsaturated (they stay liquid in all temperatures, like olive oil) and trans fats. This article contains advice on fat consumption.

Fructose – This is a simple sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and vegetable juice. Crystalline fructose obtained from processing corn or sugar is
used in food and beverages as a nutritive sweetener. It’s roughly 1.2 times the sweetness of table sugar in most food applications.

Fiber – Also called ‘roughage’ or ‘bulk’, this is the indigestible part of plant food that pushes through the digestive system, absorbing water along the way and easing bowel movements. A healthy diet rich in grains, seeds, fruits and certain vegetables will provide plenty of fibre.

Folic Acid – Part of the B complex of vitamins, it’s vital for red blood cells (and many others too). The form of folic acid occurring naturally in food is called ‘folate’. Along with vitamin B12, it’s important for formation of red blood cells. Lack of these two vital nutrients often leads to a variety of anemia called macrocytic anemia. Women are also advised to take folic acid when trying to become pregnant, up to 12 weeks into the pregnancy in order to avoid folate deficiency, which could lead to spina bifida in the baby.

Glycemic Index (GI): The Glycemic Index is a dietary index that’s used to rank carbohydrate-based foods and the rate at which they will break down in the gut, leading to increased blood sugar levels.

Insulin – A substance released by the pancreas in order to allow glucose (blood sugar) in the body to enter the blood stream. (See also diabetes)

Halal – The true definition of the word in Arabic means ‘permitted or lawful’. There are certain foods allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines, and others not. See this link for more information.

Hydration – Referring to staying hydrated (drinking enough liquid for the body to function well). It’s important to distinguish between drinks that are hydrating (water, herbal teas), and those that are de-hydrating (alcohol, caffeinated tea and coffee) etc. It’s worth noting that when the body feels thirst, it is already well on the way to being dehydrated. We’re advised to drink up to 2 litres of water per day in order to stay hydrated.

Hydrogenated Fats – Un-natural fats that are detrimental to health. These are chemically-produced fats that were invented as a cheaper alternative to butter, and are often found in manufactured products like crispy bread. Hydrogenated fats include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated cottonseed, palm, soy, and corn oils, but theoretically almost any polyunsaturated oil can be hydrogenated.

Glycogen –Glycogen is a molecule that is derived from glucose and is primarily stored in liver and muscle cells for use later as energy. These glycogen stores are essential for the body’s maintenance of sugar levels. Those that are stored in muscle cells are usually used up during quick bursts of aerobic activity, but aside from the liver and muscles, the brain and kidneys also store a small amount of glycogen.

Lipid –General classification to denote water-insoluble compounds, such as fatty acids and sterols. In the body we have different types of lipids in the body including fats, oils, waxes and steroids. Other lipids make up the cell’s outer layers, and the fatty sheaths that insulate nerve fibres. Cells use yet another type of lipid to communicate with each other.

Lysine – One of the essential amino acids in the body (See essential amino acids)

Macronutrient –Refers to those nutrients that form the major portion of your consumption and contribute energy to your diet. They include carbohydrates, fats, protein, and alcohol. Sometimes water is also considered to be a macronutrient. All other nutrients are consumed in smaller amounts, and are labeled as micronutrients.

Magnesium – Magnesium is an essential mineral for the human body. Without it humans would be unable to produce energy. In addition, every muscle would remain in a permanent state of contraction, In short, it’s needed for protein, bone, and fatty acid formation, making new cells, activating B vitamins, relaxing muscles, blood clotting, and forming adenosine triphosphate (ATP). The production and use of insulin also requires magnesium.

Micronutrient – Vitamins and minerals are the two types of micronutrients. They play important roles in human development and well-being, although they are only needed in small amounts. Lack of micronutrients can lead to stunted child development, and in adults, diseases like rickets (lack of vitamin D), scurvy (lack of vitamin C), and osteoporosis (lack of calcium).

Monosaccharaides –These are simple sugars (i.e not manufactured/refined sugar) that are derived from plants. These sugars are absorbed into the body, stored and used as energy later. If not used up, they will eventually turn to body fat.

Phosphorus -Phosphorus is commonly found in the body as phosphate. Phosphates play an important role in energy production as components of ATP (see ATP above). Most phosphate in the human body is in bone, but phosphate-containing molecules (phospholipids) are also important components of cell membranes and lipoprotein particles, such as good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol. Small amounts of phosphate are engaged in biochemical reactions throughout the body. Good food sources of phosphorus include proteins like eggs, fish, meat, milk, nuts and legumes, cereals and grains. Carbonated drinks also supply significant amounts of phosphorus in the diet.

Polysaccharide –These are complex carbohydrates, made up of multiple sugar molecules. Examples of polysaccharides include cellulose, starch, and dextrin.

Potassium – Used to regulate heart function, blood pressure, and nerve and muscle activity, it’s also vital for carbohydrate and protein metabolism as well as keeping a balanced pH level in the body. Excessive salt (sodium) intake can increase the body’s requirements for potassium.

Protein –One of the basic components of food, protein is available in animal and plant sources. Protein is vital in many ways, in order to keep the body functioning and repairing – everything from bone development and density, through to blood clotting, healthy hair and nails and the transportation of the body’s waste, is dependent upon a regular intake of quality protein like eggs, fish, shellfish and lean meat.

Selenium -Selenium is an essential trace mineral used for healthy immune functioning. Research has shown Selenium capable of activating an antioxidant enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which may help protect the body from cancer.

Sucrose – Sucrose is a simple sugar. These simple sugars are classed as either monosaccharides or disaccharides. In this case – sucrose is a disaccharide – something that is formed by a pair of linked simple sugar molecules. When glucose and fructose are linked – the result is sucrose.

Sugar alcohols – Widely used in the food industry as thickeners and sweeteners, they are often labeled as sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and xylitol. They are not sugar, or alcohol but a white, water-soluble carbohydrate that can be produced naturally from sugar, or produced industrially. Sugar alcohols contribute fewer calories to the diet than most other types of carbohydrates but may cause digestive discomfort.

Starch – Around 1/3 of our diet should constitute of starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, cereals, rice, and pasta. Where possible, choose wholegrain varieties, and slow-release energy options like sweet potato, couscous, brown rice, etc.

Sweeteners – A chemically-produced alternative to sugar, sweeteners contain aspartame – a substance that has been linked with a range of health issues ranging from nervous system disorders through to cancer. Unfortunately, sweeteners are found in a huge variety of food and drinks, despite the doubts about its safety. Many studies have been undertaken, but many of the results declaring this product safe, have been discredited.

Theobromine – Theobromine is an alkaloid compound with a molecular structure similar to caffeine. It has a mild stimulating effect on humans and is found in certain foods, such as cocoa and chocolate. It can also be lethal to some animals, including dogs and horses, as they metabolize theobromine much more slowly than humans.


A) Vitamin A is also known as retinol and has several important functions. These include: keeping the immune system healthy, aiding night vision and keeping mucous membrane and skin lining healthy. Sources include cheese, eggs, oily fish, fortified low-fat spreads milk and yogurt.

B) Vitamin B – The B-group vitamins are a collection of eight water-soluble vitamins essential for various metabolic processes. Most can’t be stored by the body so must be eaten regularly as part of a balanced diet. This group includes thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, folate (folic acid), etc.

C) Vitamin C has a range of additional functions. It is needed to make collagen, a substance that strengthens many parts of the body, such as muscles and blood vessels, and plays important roles in healing and as an antihistamine. Vitamin C also aids in the formation of liver bile, which helps to detoxify alcohol and other substances. Failing to get enough vitamin C causes inflammation of the gums, scaly skin, nosebleed, painful joints and other problems associated with scurvy. Good sources include citrus fruits as well as tomatoes, bell peppers, okra, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. In fact, most items in the fresh fruit and veg section will supply vitamin C in varying amounts.

D) Vitamin D – the majority of vitamin D is manufactured by the body on exposure to sunlight. It’s recommended that most people spend around 20 minutes in the sun per day, where possible. It’s also available in small amounts in oily fish, eggs and fortified foods that have had vitamin D added to them – such as breakfast cereals and powdered milk. This vitamin regulates the levels of calcium and phosphate in the body – and lack of it can result in diseases like rickets.

E) Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, which protects cell membranes. This helps to maintain healthy skin, eyes and strengthens the immune system. Sources include plant oils like soya, corn and olive oil. Smaller amounts are also found in nuts, seeds and wheat germ (in cereals and cereal products).

K) Vitamin K has several important functions. For example, it’s needed for blood clotting, which means it helps wounds to heal properly. There’s some evidence that vitamin K is also needed to help keep bones healthy. It’s found in green leafy vegetables (broccoli and spinach), vegetable oils, cereal grains and small amounts in meat and dairy.

Zinc – A component of over 300 enzymes it’s needed to repair wounds, maintain fertility in adults and growth in children, synthesize protein, help cells reproduce, preserve vision, boost immunity, and protect against free radicals, among other functions.

If you find yourself struggling to achieve your goals, speak to one of our team or personal trainers. Nutrition is 80% of your results. Let’s do this, we are always with you at Ultimate Fitness Birmingham!


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