A good food plan sets the body up for optimal training gains
So what must be considered when building the cornerstones of a diet? The most basic way of looking at energy is in terms of calories, or more accurately kilocalories (kcals). These are labelled on food packaging at the top of the table named ‘nutrition information’ and they are expressed in relation to serving size as well as per 100gm. The typical non-training male is said to require 2500kcals per day and the typical female around 2000kcals. This provides a basic approach to calorie counting, but of course requires further clarification.
The body derives energy from three main sources known as macronutrients. These are proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Each macronutrient per gram provides not only differing amounts of kilocalories but also carries out different functions within the body, which is why considering the ratios of each are important for health and recovery.
Proteins and carbohydrates are the least kilocalorie dense macronutrients, roughly supplying 4kcals/g each. Fat though is the most kilocalorie dense, supplying 9kcals/g. This helps to explain why many diets have a low fat focus.
However, some fats are essential to the human body and cannot be assimilated or made by the body and these are known as essential fatty acids. Equally important is carbohydrate which is the easiest fuel for the body to use and indeed the only fuel that our brains can use. It is known as glucose (in the blood) and glycogen (when stored in the liver and muscle cells).
In order to utilise the latent energy in food, it must be first converted into these forms of carbohydrate. This is why fats and proteins are harder to use as they must first be converted through metabolic processes.
The preferred ratios of each macronutrient for a general athlete would be seen as around 24 per cent protein, 33 per cent fats and 43 per cent carbohydrate. By simply counting calories it can be seen that significant dietary compromises might be made. Furthermore, the kcal intake of 2500kcals per day is a gross simplification.
By accounting for lifestyle factors and weight of the individual, the equations within the appendix shown below can be made more accurate for determining an individual’s energy requirements. To ensure the correct ratios, the simplest way is to multiply the percentages provided above by their kilocalorie requirement. Assuming 2500kcals are required for maintenance, a further 300-500kcals would be required to allow recovery and adaptation to training. These figures are based on a normal 180lb male. So taking the lower end of 2800kcals the following equations would apply:
» Protein: 2800 x 0.24 = 672kcals per day from protein or dividing it by 4 we are able to derive the grams required: 672/4 = 168gm of protein per day.
» Carbohydrate: 2800 x 0.42 = 1176kcals per day from carbohydrate or again divide it by 4 to establish the grams needed: 294gm per day.
» Fat: 2800 x 0.33 = 924kcals per day needed from fat or divide it by 9 to determine grams per day: 924/9 = 103gm per day.
It is best to divide these amounts over several meals and snacks every two to four hours, to ensure full assimilation of the nutrients and to avoid overloading the digestive system. Furthermore, frequent feeding will provide a constant stream of energy and building blocks for body repair and function throughout the day, ensuring an anabolic state (meaning a state of growth/ building).
Additionally, eating consistently also stops the hormone insulin spiking which will keep that level steady throughout the day. This is important as it will reduce fat storage and the potential of developing such diseases as diabetes or heart problems.