Optimal nutrition will influence whether or not you make any gains in sport or exercise performance. And you certainly cannot ignore the fact that your overall health will be directly impacted by what you put into your body. Consider caring for your overall health first by following good nutrition principles and performance enhancement will follow.
Knowing your Calorie Needs
Determining how many calories you need every day is vital for meeting any health and performance goals. Calorie or energy needs are influenced by your age, gender, and level of daily physical activity; finding the right balance between energy intake and energy expenditure will influence your body weight. According to the "International Society of Sports Nutrition", people who participate in a normal general fitness program should be able to meet their nutritional needs by consuming about 1,800 to 2,400 calories per day, or about 25 to 35 calories per kilogram of body weight per day. Competitive athletes who train intensely on a daily basis, however, may require up to 50 to 80 calories per kilogram of body weight per day.
How Much Carbohydrate, Protein and Fat Should You Eat?
Once you determine your total energy requirements, it is important to consume the proper amounts of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges for carbohydrates, protein, and fats, respectively, are 45 to 65 percent, 10 to 35 percent, and 20 to 35 percent of daily total calories.
If you’re involved in a regular exercise program, you should aim for approximately 5 to 6 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight and 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight; keep fat intake to no less than 20 percent of total daily calories. For example, an active, 60-kilogram woman would require 300 to 360 grams of carbohydrates or 1200 to 1440 calories and 72 to 102 grams of protein, or 288 to 408 calories from protein. If she was consuming 2,400 daily calories, then she would be consuming 50 to 60 percent or her calories from carbohydrates, 12 to 17 percent from protein, and the remaining calories from fat.
Make Healthy Choices
Consume whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. This means the least processed the food, the better! Carbohydrates will provide the necessary fuel to support your physical activity and training. When making carbohydrate choices, select colorful fruits and vegetables, whole-grains, legumes and beans. Not only are these foods rich in heart-healthy fiber, but they are also full of antioxidants and phytonutrients, which can help decrease your risk for chronic health conditions.
Protein is needed for repairing and building muscle. When making protein selections, select lean meats, such as fish, poultry, and grass-fed lean beef, or select eggs and low-fat dairy options. Add variety by selecting plant-based protein sources as well. These would include legumes, beans, nuts and seeds. Lastly, eat healthy fats, such as omega-3s found in fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and olive oil. Cut back on saturated fats and trans fats. These are associated with higher risk of coronary heart disease, some cancers, and also unwanted weight gain.
Helpful Dietary Planning Tools
The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate and the DASH eating plan are helpful tools that can help you make healthy dietary choices. Both of these tools emphasize diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and healthy protein choices. Making poor dietary choices will not only compromise good health, but they most certainly will sabotage any gains when it comes to performance enhancement.
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: ISSN exercise and sport nutrition review: research and recommendations
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010: Chapter 2: Balancing Calories to Manage Weight
- Harvard School of Public Health: The Nutrition Source: Knowledge for Healthy Eating
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: What is the Dash Eating Plan?
Karen Skemp is a certified nutrition specialist, certified strength-and-conditioning specialist and certified exercise physiologist. She has more than 20 years of experience teaching and coaching in the areas of nutrition, wellness, exercise and sport science. Skemp holds a Ph.D. in kinesiology and a master's degree in physical education.