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Nutrition for Athletes: A Macronutrient Breakdown

When considering nutritional needs for athletes, the goal is simple. Promote peak athletic performance. To reach this peak, our recovery must be on point, our energy levels must be on point, as well as body composition. Some types of athletes rely heavily on carbohydrate intake while other rely heavily on fat intake. These differences in nutrition needs are dependent on the type of sport the athlete participates in. If we are not fueling our body for the competitions we compete in, we have already lost. We have let our opponent know that we are unwilling to do what is necessary to win. If winning and success are your goals, nutrition should be a goal as well.


Carbohydrates serve a main purpose as an energy source. Nerve cells and red blood cells use carbohydrates almost always, and muscle uses carbs before it will use fat. Carbohydrates can also spare protein from being used as an energy source, and aid in digestion as carbs are stored with water inside the muscle. Aerobic athletes (such as distance runners) require more carbohydrates as a percentage of their diet than strength athletes, mostly due to their training using so much more energy and being longer in duration. Aerobic athletes need between 55%-65% of their total daily calorie intake to come from carbohydrates and should eat at least 5-7 grams of carbs per kilogram bodyweight per day. (To find out what you weigh in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2) The aerobic athlete should also consider increasing their carbohydrate intake to 8-10 grams/kg body weight once they consistently hit 7 grams/kg. Strength athletes do not have the same carbohydrate needs as aerobic athletes, and instead should aim to consume 5-7 grams per kilogram of body weight, there is no need to increase consumption to 8-10 g/kg.


Regarding performance, the main goal of protein is the building and preservation of muscle mass, to keep athletes as powerful as possible. Protein can come from various sources, but the highest quality proteins come from animal products. Plant proteins generally lack having a complete spectrum of amino acids, which are the building blocks of all proteins. Historically speaking, aerobic athletes were generally thought to require less protein than strength and power athletes, but after years of research, we now know this is not the case. Due to the high amounts of protein breakdown in aerobic training, both strength and endurance athletes are suggested to eat the same amount of protein, relative to body mass. All athletes are recommended to eat 1.5-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day.


Fat is used as the body’s primary fuel source at rest and at low intensity. Also, the longer a training session is, the more you will rely on fat. Fat is also used in helping to maintain sex hormones, possibly enhancing your mood, assisting in bodyfat control, as well as reducing inflammation. It is recommended that athletes eat around 30% of their daily calories from fat, but the healthy range is between 20%-35%. Eating too little fat can result in reduced exercise performance and reduced testosterone concentrations and eating too much fat can lead to eating too many calories and weight gain in the form of fat.

Chris Still

B.S. Exercise Science


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