A summary of important nutritional parameters
It is time to turn our attention to the controversial topic of nutrition. My goal is to simplify the plethora of incorrect information that exists and distill it into a few concerns and guidelines. In part one I will summarize the very few important parameters of nutrition. In part two we will discuss protein synthesis. In part three we will create a nutrition plan for a hypothetical athlete. Finally in part four we will discuss methods of adapting the plan for a specific athlete.
When it comes to athletic development, only a small number of nutritional parameters have importance. The two most important parameters are overall caloric balance and macronutrient composition. Of secondary importance are meal timing, food quality, and supplementation.
Caloric balance is the most important of all parameters to be addressed. When in a caloric deficit, weight loss will occur. When in a caloric surplus, weight gain will occur. Do not overcomplicate this, this is rule. Diet is the largest factor in calorie balance. Basal metabolic rate, or the amount of energy the body burns at rest, is the second most important. Caloric expenditure due to activity is third. Diet is adjusted based on food choices and portion sizes. Basal metabolic rate is improved and retained through metabolically active muscle tissue. Expending additional calories is usually achieved through resistance training, steady state cardio sessions, and high intensity interval training.
Differing levels of macronutrients influence protein synthesis, hormonal levels, satiety, food reward, insulin responsiveness and more. Macronutrients are a measure of the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in a given diet.
* Essential for protein synthesis (muscle building), and maintenance of muscle tissue.
* Provide satiety (fullness)
* Optimally consumed evenly throughout the day
* A direct and easily usable source of energy
* Provide a significant food reward
* Best consumed around and during periods of activity
* A long acting source of energy
* Provide satiety. Often considered highly palatable (easy to eat)
* Optimally consumed away from periods of activity
The frequency of meals remains controversial. Protein is best assimilated periodically throughout the day as long as a certain threshold of amino acids is achieved. This will be further explored in a part two. Whether the athlete consumes three, four, five, six, or seven meals daily likely has very little overall effect. Four seems to keep hunger manageable while seven seems to simply be inconvenient. As a general recommendation four to six is probably optimal.
The timing of specific macronutrients during the day is also controversial. Timing carbohydrate consumption and fast acting proteins around periods of activity is likely beneficial. Providing your body with easy to use energy immediately before exercise and replenishing stores during and after is logical. In addition it has been shown that consumption of carbohydrates and fast acting proteins intraworkout suppresses cortisol, the primary catabolic hormone. The muscle cells, as opposed to fat cells, are most sensitive to insulin and carbohydrate following exercise.
The consumption of quality food providers a number of secondary benefits to the athlete. It has been found that simply by eating quality food choices people reduced their overall caloric intake and increased ingestion of micronutrients. The line is not always clear cut to what qualifies as quality food, but there are some simple rules to evaluate a food. Is the food pre-prepared, processed, have more than 5 ingredients, sugar added, or salt laden? It’s probably not a good food choice. Was the food once alive and treated humanely, or did it grow in the ground? The food is probably a good food choice.
Good food differs from its counterparts in so many ways. Carbohydrates such as oatmeal, basmati rice, fruits, and berries contain a vast array quality micronutrients, digestive enzymes, and fiber. They are slower digested and therefore produce a longer lasting satiety and produce more gradual levels of insulin, meaning less of what is consumed ends up as fat. Grass fed beef, wild caught fish, and true farm-fresh eggs contain a fantastic distribution of omega 3 and 6 fats. Inhumanely treated animals fed on corn and soy, lack nearly all the essential omega 3 fats. Raw foods such as raw milk, raw milk products, and raw local honey provide essential probiotics, contain significantly fewer allergens then their pasteurized counterparts, and contain intact micronutrients. Always choose the best that you can afford: organic, free range, grass fed, raw, local, wild caught, fresh.
Supplementation provides the final piece of the puzzle. Supplements can minorly aid in fat loss, energy levels, overall health, and macronutrient partitioning. Supplements can provide easy sources of protein and easily assimilated carbohydrate that does not distress the gastrointestinal system.
The truth is that nutrition is rather simple when distilled into its basic components. In summary, balance calories for the overall goal of weight gain, loss, or maintenance. Eat adequate protein spread evenly throughout the day. Consume carbohydrates around periods of activity. Utilize fats away from periods of activity. Balance energy needs by adjusting fats and carbohydrates down or up. Eat the best quality food that you can afford. Choose food that was once alive and treated humanely or grew in the ground. Improve your fat to muscle ratio and watch your abilities as an athlete improve.
Stay tuned for part two where we will discuss protein synthesis and the effects of protein pulsing.