The human body, like any machine, needs high quality fuel in order to function at its very best. For athletes, whose bodies may be the most fine-tuned and remarkable machines on the planet, this requirement is especially critical. Without proper nutrition, an entire season of exercise and training can be entirely wasted, and competitions can be lost or won based on how well you fuel the machine that is your body. All athletes, from amateurs to Olympians, have begun to realize that a proper and well-maintained diet can make the difference between results and waste or victory and defeat.
Why Nutrition Matters
During athletic training, there are certain needs that must be met in order to turn the body into a high-performance machine; fuel, recovery, and compositional change. All three of these are driven largely if not entirely by proper nutrition. The need for fuel comes in the form of what you eat, as your body transforms the calories in food into energy you can use. The amount of calories necessary is different for every person dependent on inherent body factors and lifestyle, increasing as you become more active and athletic. However more important than how many calories you eat is where you are getting them from.
Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are the three macromolecules that provide these calories, and your body utilizes them in different ways dependent on their chemical composition and energetic breakdown. By properly proportioning the amount of calories and nutrients you get from these sources, you can fine-tune your diet in order to help you achieve your athletic goals.
Carbohydrates, Protein, and Fat
The base of a recreational or professional athlete’s diet should be in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates, which are broken down and stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen, are the limiting factor for proper athletic performance for most athletes, especially those in endurance and power sports like cycling, running, and swimming. Carbohydrates provide almost half of your total energy needs during most bouts of intense training and competition, and produce more oxygen per unit burned than fat, your body’s other primary source of fuel. Carbohydrates should make up the majority of your athletic diet, around 55-65% of your total caloric intake. This provides your body with adequate fuel for moderate-high intensity training, allowing you to achieve maximum performance and prolong hitting “the wall” of fatigue.