Nutrition is a hot topic with everyone from the housewife trying to find the best meals for the family to the bodybuilder trying to attain the leanest body possible. It is an area surrounded by controversy. Doctors, researchers, dieticians and food and supplement companies all have weighed in on the subject with hundreds of different theories. The thousands of fad diets and supplements aimed at fat loss and health maintenance are testaments to this variety.
Nutrition at its base is simply "the act or process of nourishing or being nourished," according to Merriam-Webster’s definition. Everyone has a concern for nutrition when you take it to its basic form. If we fail to nourish our bodies they will fail us when we need them. This is extremely important for athletes. An athlete wants his/her body to function at its peak during competition and while in practice. Poor nutrition can effect the body’s ability to perform under normal conditions, let alone the extreme conditions of a practice or game.
Athletes use large amounts of energy during their activities. Due to more muscle mass they use more energy during everyday activities, and while at rest, also. This increased energy must be fed with an increase in carbohydrates. The increase must come from complex, or long chain, carbohydrates. Carbohydrates have taken an unfair beating in the media lately. The increase in popularity of low carbohydrate diets, such as Atkins, has people running from anything sweet. An athlete cannot afford to skip the carbohydrates. Not only do they supply immediate energy but they are stored in the muscles and fat stores for future energy use. The trick is to find the right amount of carbohydrates for your energy needs. Athletes who are involved with high intensity activities for short to moderate duration should get 65-70% of their calories from complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, pasta, cereals and fiber rich foods such as long grain rice and green leafy vegetables. Athletes involved in endurance activities can lower their carbohydrate intake to 60% with a slight increase in fat intake.
Protein is the nutrient responsible for repair and maintenance of the muscles and many of our hormonal responses. Any athlete involved in a strenuous activity, whether high intensity and short duration or low intensity and longer duration, need protein to repair the muscular damage caused by the exercise. Protein is seldom used for energy, except in extreme conditions. To make sure enough protein is obtained a formula of one gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight to maintain bodyweight is recommended. Gaining muscle mass will require a 1.5 to 2 gram per kilogram amount. This translates to 15-25% of the total caloric intake.
Fat intake is almost as controversial a subject as carbohydrates. There are diets proclaiming the benefits of higher fat intake. Athletes who are taking in more calories than average need to be careful of an increased fat intake for health reasons. Fat is needed to provide protection and cushioning for the internal organs and joints. High intensity athletes should limit their fat intake to between 10 and 15%. Endurance athletes, who burn more fats in their activities, can increase their dietary fat intake to increase energy storage. These athletes may increase to 20%.
Overall caloric intake must be sufficient to ensure adequate energy and nutrients for repair and maintenance. Extra calories will be stored in one of two places. Protein and some carbohydrates will be stored in the muscles as new muscle cells and muscle glycogen. The remainder of the carbohydrates and fats, not used for energy needs will be stored in body fat stores. For maintenance an amount of 10 calories per pound of bodyweight is adequate. Obviously, to lose weight an amount lower than this is needed and to gain an increase in this amount is recommended.