In the first part of this blog series, we briefly touched upon the importance of nutrition to your recovery. In this blog, we are going to dive deeper and explain the basics of optimizing your nutrition to recover as quickly and completely as possible. If you haven’t already read the pilot article of this series, I recommend you check that out first.
When trying to make a change to your diet or eating habits, it’s important to remember that there is no single best diet or best food to be eating. As Stan Efferding famously states, “The best diet is the one you’ll stick to, the best exercise program is the one you’ll do. Compliance is the science.”
This quote has stuck with me ever since I first heard it when I was a freshman in college, trying to find the special diet that would get me jacked or make me throw harder. In reality, there is no magic diet or magic food, and results, especially with nutrition, will require consistency over time—which is why finding the diet that supports your goals and that you’ll stick to will benefit you the most.
In working order of nutritional importance, calorie balance comes first. Unless you have a rare underlying medical condition, your caloric balance will determine whether or not you gain, maintain, or lose weight. Below is the basic caloric balance needed to achieve the listed goals.
Gain weight: Calorie surplus
Maintain weight: Calorie maintenance
Lose weight: Calorie deficit
What’s a calorie?
A calorie refers to a measurement of energy. Your body burns a certain amount of calories, or energy daily. The total amount of calories you burn each day is based on your total daily energy expenditure, or TDEE. Your TDEE is made up of the following; basal metabolic rate or how many calories you burn at rest, non-exercise activity thermogenesis (calories burned from walking, tapping, yard work, etc.), thermic effect of food (how many calories are burned from digesting food), and lastly exercise activity thermogenesis(the calories burned from exercise).
Improper caloric balance is typically the most common thing that prevents athletes from meeting their body weight goals. If you’re trying to gain weight but are not, for example, then you are very likely just not eating enough and so should eat more.
Determining how many calories you need
When determining how many calories you need to eat to reach your goals, there are a few different factors to account for. The first is calculating how many calories you need to maintain your current body weight.
This can be done in a variety of ways, such as using online calculators or, most commonly, tracking your food and bodyweight daily for 7 days and then reassessing. If your body weight has been roughly the same (+/- ~2lbs) for an extended period of time, you can assume that the average number of calories you’ve been eating is your maintenance level caloric intake.
Reaching your goals
After finding out your maintenance level caloric intake, the next factor to take into consideration is how quickly you want to reach your goals. If you have twenty weeks until your competition season starts and your goal is to gain 10lbs, that might dictate a much different path than if you had only five weeks to drop the weight.
Now that you have found your maintenance level caloric intake and have established your goals, we can move on to determining how many calories you should be eating to meet these goals. It takes a surplus of 3500 calories to gain one pound and a deficit of 3500 calories to lose one pound. Once you take that into consideration, the rest is fairly simple math.
If you want to gain one pound a week, you know you need to be in a 3,500 calorie surplus over the course of the week, or a 500 calorie surplus daily. If maintaining or improving body composition is a priority, then taking a slower route (~0.5lb/week, 250 calorie daily deficit) is probably preferable.
Protein and what it does
Before we dive into the specifics of protein, let’s first go over what protein is and what it does (the next sentence is a bit technical, but we’ll break it down further so stick with me).
Proteins are biochemical molecules consisting of polypeptides that are joined by peptide bonds between the amino and carboxyl groups of amino acid residues. Basically, you can think of protein as the main building block of your muscle and lean tissue. There are many different types of proteins throughout our body. They aid the body in many different functions such as digestion, muscle contraction, maintaining connective tissue structure, and hormone regulation. Due to their role in those functions, protein is very important for athletes.
How much protein you need
Now that we have established what protein is and why it is important to our bodies, we can cover how much protein athletes need. You only need about 0.8g per kg of bodyweight per day to prevent a deficiency. Depending on numerous factors such as eating habits, body composition, goals and more, protein intake at 1.6-1.8g/kg of bodyweight should be sufficient for most athletes.
In a meta analysis from Morton, et al., they found that increasing protein intake much past 1.6 g/kg/day did not increase lean body mass. This does not mean that protein intakes exceeding 1.6g/kg/day are inherently bad; it just means that you can better allocate your calories elsewhere.
Protein is very satiating compared to carbohydrates, meaning that it leaves you feeling fuller, longer. This is important to note if you are a person who struggles with feeling full all the time when trying to gain weight, or feeling hungry all the time when trying to lose weight.
Raising or lowering your protein intake to match your goals and eating habits is your best bet to finding a sustainable and healthy diet.
High quality sources of protein
Here is a list of quality sources of protein that you can add into your diet to help hit your daily protein goals.
- Lean Beef (90/10 or higher): 6oz = 36g of protein
- Chicken Breast: 6oz = 36g of protein
- Fish: 6oz = 36g of protein
- Turkey Breast: 6oz = 54g of protein
- Whey Protein: 1 scoop = ~ 24g of protein
- Egg Whites: 1 cup = 26g of protein
Carbohydrate & Fat intake
After you have taken care of your calorie and protein needs, the next step is to monitor your intake of fat and carbohydrates. First, let’s focus on carbs and learn what they are and their role in the body.
What are carbs?
Carbs are the sugars, starches, and fibers found in food. Carbs provide the body with glucose, which is stored in muscles as well as the liver and used for energy. Carbs are classified typically as either complex or simple. Generally speaking, simple carbs such as sugar are absorbed more quickly than complex carbs like those found in potatoes, which digest at a slower rate. Due to this, the timing of your carb intake can matter.
Typically, you should choose a simple carb option closer to competition or training and more complex carb options throughout the rest of your day. Carbs are an important energy source during exercise, especially during short, explosive movements such as swinging a baseball bat or throwing a pitch, due to the glycogen demands of explosive actions. The quantity of carbs consumed can be adjusted higher or lower just like protein, based on time of year, goals of the athlete, and eating history.
The role of fats
Fats play a critical role in the body. They assist brain function and regulating hormone activity. Your brain consists mostly of cholesterol and fat, so you can begin to see the importance of having adequate fat in your diet. When it comes to calories, fats contain 9 calories per gram, over twice as dense as protein or carbohydrates, which both contain 4 calories per gram. Due to this, fats are not as satiating as protein or carbs calorie for calorie.
For men, lack of fat intake reduces testosterone and other hormones that are critical for reproductive health. For women, inadequate fat intake can cause infertility and increase complications from PMS. The specific source of fat is also important for your health.
Generally, steer clear of vegetable oils and opt for healthier alternatives. Avocados, grass fed butter, animal fats, and extra virgin olive oil are great options for improved health and performance. A good rule of thumb is to try and get Omega 3 fats in a 2:1 ratio to Omega 6s.
If you would like to learn more about advanced nutrition for athletes, we strongly suggest checking out the links below. They will take you to resources from experts in their respective fields that can give much more in-depth information on specific topics included in this article.
Dr. Andy Galpin: http://www.andygalpin.com/
Renaissance Periodization Team: https://renaissanceperiodization.com/
Dr. Layne Norton: https://www.biolayne.com/
Written by Connor Rooney, High Performance
Kozimor, A., et al. Effects of dietary fatty acid composition from a high fat meal on satiety. 2013. Appetite. 69:39-45