The foods you eat each day provide the macronutrients to fuel your body for exercise.
Different foods provide different proportions of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Along with alcohol, which we don’t include as a major fuel source for many reasons, these three key macronutrients provide energy to our muscles, brain, and major organs, along with vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients, and are vital for many functions in the body.
Much research over the years has gone into determining the proportions of these nutrients for best fuelling different types of exercise. While there is little doubt that we will continue to refine this knowledge, there are some general recommendations that we now understand to be useful for most active people.
Carbohydrates and Protein
In summary, carbohydrate provides the main fuel for exercising muscles, both in activities of short duration (e.g., sprints) and long duration (i.e., distance running). The longer the duration of the exercise, the more carbohydrate is used, so athletes doing endurance sports like triathlon, marathon running, ironman/woman, road cycling, and adventure racing will require more carbohydrate each day than those involved in shorter duration events.
It is important to remember however, that many athletes competing in shorter events such as swimming, track events, and team sports, will often train for extended periods of time, which means that they may also have quite high carbohydrate needs during training periods.
As a guide, an intake of around 5g to 7g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day (/kg/day) is recommended for general training needs and from 7g to 10g/kg/day for athletes such as endurance athletes with increased carbohydrate needs. This equates to anywhere from 350g to 700g of carbohydrate a day for a 70kg athlete.
Every active person also needs adequate protein. People who are training hard require more protein than those who are less active; however, most athletes achieve their protein intake through the increased amounts of food they eat.
Most active people will need a protein intake somewhere between 0.8 and 1.7g/kg/day. For a 70kg athlete this is around 56g to 119g of protein a day. Those looking to gain lean body mass may need as much as 2g/kg/day; however, once again, these amounts are not difficult to achieve with a well planned, high energy eating program.
It is important to regularly spread out your protein intake over the day, and to aim for a high protein, high carbohydrate snack immediately after intensive exercise, as this will improve muscle recovery.
To check how much carbohydrate and protein you eat each day, download the app EasyDietDiary and enter your usual food intake over three or four days. If required, the information generated can then be used by a sports dietitian to plan a personalised program.
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Disclaimer: This article provides general advice only. Readers should seek independent professional advice from their general practitioner or dietitian in relation to their own individual circumstances or condition before making any decisions based on the information in this article.