The first most important component of your nutrition is CALORIES. Getting the right amount to provide energy balance in you body is vital.
A calorie is a unit of heat. Despite what some nutrition novices may say, a calorie is a calorie. It’s the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one gram of water 1 degree Celsius. The laws of thermodynamics don’t change just because it’s a cookie instead of broccoli. (To be completely accurate, in nutrition they are K-Cal, or Kilocalories, so multiply by 1,000, but for our purposes and reading labels, we use Calorie with a capitol C).
You can LOSE weight eating twinkies if you eat fewer calories of them than your body needs, and you can GAIN weight eating chicken breasts and sweet potatoes if you take in more calories than your body burns. As athletes, it’s unlikely that you will, but for the sake of understanding calories, it’s important to know.
How food calories vary in their outcomes in your body and digestion is in the next two sections.
But MOST IMPORTANTLY, if you are gaining or losing weight and you don’t want to, or if you find you are unduly fatigued, the first place to look is getting ample CALORIES!
How do you know how many you need? There are labs that can determine that, semi-accurate online calculators, and nutrition counselors that can help, but for simplicity, multiply your weight by 10, then multiply that result by an “activity quotient” of between 1.2 and 2.1, 1.2 being you have a desk job and go home, 2.1 being you ran 3 marathons today and built a house between races. J For Soccer athletes, that quotient will skew to the higher end on most days.
Once you set that number, though, then you must follow up by monitoring energy levels and weight gain/loss so you can adjust in case your estimated “activity quotient was off a bit, or for when your activity level actually does change.
Next in importance is Macronutrient balance. Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats.
Protein yields 4 calories per gram.
Carbs also yield 4 calories per gram.
Fats yield 9 calories per gram.
(For information purposes, alcohol is 7 calories per gram, but you shouldn’t be drinking so that shouldn’t be an issue! ATHLETE!)
We must first understand each and their function, then determine how to balance them in our nutrition.
To build a house, you need building materials, laborers, and a foreman or someone to keep the plan on track.
Of these, the ONE that is an absolute must before anything at all can be built is the building materials! That is PROTEIN.
EVERY CELL in your body, hair, nails, skin, muscle, blood, cell walls, even your enzymes and hormones… ALL are made of proteins. The sedentary individual doesn’t need much, .8 gms of protein per kilogram of lean body mass, to stay alive. BUT, the INSTANT you enter a gym, play a sport, or athletically exert, your needs DOUBLE, or MORE! An easy number to shoot for based on nutrition research says between 1.6 and 2.4 grams per kilogram of lean mass (or body weight, in some research). Protein Calories should be divided evenly throughout your day to maintain steady protein synthesis in your body. Protein is also thermogenic, raising your body temperature and actually using 5-15% of its Calories in the digestive process. This also assists with satiety, the sense of fullness.
Simplify your life and shoot for about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. If you fall barely short, or if you go over a bit, this will be a safe amount and keep you in the ballpark.
Now you need workers. How many depends on how much work you want to get done in a day. I built a garage by myself, but it took FOREVER! Having more laborers would have moved the work more quickly. These are your CARBOHYDRATES! Your body prefers carbohydrates for ready fuel, stores them in your liver and muscles as glycogen (a form of sugar readily available for energy/ATP production), and in your blood as glucose, a monosaccharide, or simple sugar, which regulates insulin.
To keep this simpler, maybe switch the analogy and think of carbs as gas in your tank. You can’t go anywhere without some! Carbohydrates should make up roughly 50%-60% of your total daily intake, depending on how much energy you need that day or the next.
Last is FATS, or LIPIDS. They are the regulators. Vitamin D and many hormones are produced in fat cells and they are needed to regulate body function. But like bosses, the old saying is “Too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the broth.” Your fats should be mostly UNSATURATED and only 10%-20% of your daily calories.
So, 1 gm PROTEIN per pound of bodyweight, give or take.
50-60% of remaining total calorie need in CARBS.
10-20% of the calories in fats.
MATH TIME! Start by calculating an estimate of your total energy/calorie needs.
BW x 10 x (1.2-2.1) = Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE)
Calculate the grams of protein you need. BW x 1gm, then multiply by 4 to get the calorie total.
Gms x 4 = _Protein Calories
Multiply your total calories by 50-60%, or .5-.6. This will be your carboydrates.
TDEE x (.5-.6) = Carb Calories
Subtract these two from your TDEE, and the remaining Calories are your fats.
TDEE – Protein Calories – Carb Calories = Fat Calories
To convert your Fat Calories to grams (how they are listed on product labels and nutrition information apps/websites), divide by 9 (9 Calories per gram of fat).
There are apps that can help you track, the most popular being MyFitnessPal. The free version can be customized enough to accommodate simple Calorie and Macronutrient tracking, as well as being able to scan food labels and provide a decent database of nutrition facts. A word of caution, ALL nutrition facts and labels are estimates, so you must still monitor your weight and energy to be sure.
Next in priority is Micronutrients. Your vitamins, minerals, and water. This is where the QUALITY of your food comes in. YES! It is a THIRD level priority! Important as healthful foods are, sometimes athletes have a hard time getting enough calories if they focus only on broccoli, brown rice, and tilapia! But your internal health and energy will be GREATLY improved in the long run if the MAJORITY of your foods are healthful choices, providing fiber, vitamins, and minerals necessary for healthy bodies. If you get at least 75-80% of your protein and carbs from whole food sources, there’s room for a donut or a cheeseburger in your Calorie and Macronutrient balance. When in doubt, get the healthful choice.
If you’re broke, it’s actually CHEAPER to eat healthy!! Buying a large Costco bag of chicken breasts or tilapia, skim milk and eggs for protein, a large bag of brown rice or box of Quaker Oatmeal and some fruit for carbs, and fresh or frozen vegetables (just as good, sometimes BETTER than fresh) for fiber and vitamins. You’re good to go! Protein powders are quick and easy, but can be a more costly option.
Next is timing. As I said, keep your protein evenly spread through the day. Carbs should be higher in the morning, pre- and post- training. Fats should be early in the day, or later in the day, but not around training, as that will slow digestion and gastric emptying when you are most primed to absorb nutrients. For most people, meal timing is irrelevant. For a student athlete, it is important for providing training energy before and enhancing recovery after training, especially when you have repeated training sessions (weights, practice, class, etc.) spread through the day.
Above all, stay hydrated. You can survive (fatigued and weak) without food, but not without water! Just as every cell has protein, your entire body from blood to intracellular fluid uses/needs water. STAY HYDRATED. It’s not about “8 glasses of water” or carrying a gallon jug. Just drink fluid throughout the day, NEVER wait to be thirsty, and keep your urination relatively clear. Fruits and vegetables have water in them. Sports drinks (watch the sugar calories), flavored water, vitamin water, etc. are all valid.
Last is supplementation. Be careful here, as NCAA has strict rules. I refer here mostly to vitamins and additional protein, which can help fill gaps in your whole food nutrition. That said, creatine and branched chain amino acid supplementation are safe, approved, and proven effective for recovery, strength, and performance, consult with the trainer first.
That’s it! Keep it simple (other than the math, but even that can be skipped by using MyFitnessPal after you get your TDEE calculated.)
I’m providing additional helpful documents that Eldon can distribute regarding healthy versus less healthy meal options and some fast food choices.
Good luck and Good Health!
MS, Sports Conditioning
NASM-CPT, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Golf Fitness Specialist