Nourishing our bodies with quality food is one of the best ways we can ensure longevity, movement, and optimal function. Here at Starkel Nutrition, as functional medicine nutritionists, we’re all about promoting the benefits of a whole foods-based diet. However, another key component of health and longevity is movement.

All exercise — whether it be strength training, endurance work, pilates, or yoga — is beneficial. But, if you’re a competitive athlete, your training and nutrition go hand in hand. Without adequate energy and nutrient intake, athletic performance can suffer.

So how should athletes eat to fuel themselves for their training?

Ultimately, there are several variables to consider for a competitive, athletic person. The type of sport, the duration of their practice sessions and events, the athlete’s performance goals, muscle mass, and frequency and intensity of training will all influence how their nutrition plan is structured.

First, the athlete’s average daily energy expenditure must be calculated. A nutritionist can help you with that. Once that number is known, we can factor in the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fats they’ll need to consume for optimal function. Again, these numbers will depend on the type of training, duration, frequency, intensity of exercise, and the athlete’s anthropometric measurements, such as their height and weight.

These macronutrient numbers are a rough estimate; a nutrition plan is always a working document, and we’ll make changes to it depending on how the athlete feels.

When it comes to protein, strength athletes require about 1.6-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight, per day. Endurance athletes, on the other hand, need about 1.2-1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day; but this can go up to 1.6 grams per kilogram in extreme endurance athletes, such as ultra runners or mountain bikers.

Carbohydrate intake operates similarly, though carbohydrate amounts per day also heavily depend on the type of sport and the duration of activity. The following amounts are a general guideline:

  • Low-intensity/skill-based activities = 3-5 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day
  • Moderate daily exercise/strength (~1 hr) = 5-7 grams per kilogram
  • Endurance training (~1-3 hrs/day) = 6-10 grams per kilogram
  • Extreme endurance (4-5+ hrs/day) = 10-12 grams per kilogram

When calculating fat intake, we can look at the remaining total of calories, after we’ve subtracted the caloric totals from carbs and protein. This will give us a caloric estimate of fat intake, which can then be converted back into grams.

These guidelines are just barely scratching the surface of sports nutrition, and there’s a lot more that can be said about nutrient consumption during athletic events, post-exercise recovery, and adjusting nutrition based on the athlete’s phase of training (in-season, off-season, or pre-season, for example). Sports nutrition specialist, Maddie Hays, MSN, CN, is a member of our team here at Starkel Nutrition, who would love to help you create your personalized nutrition plan. 

Let us not forget that prioritizing whole, unprocessed foods will not only help fuel performance but will also allow the body to obtain the essential micronutrients it needs. If you’re an athlete in need of nutritional guidance, we’d love to help.

Interested in learning more? Schedule an appointment with us to get support on your journey to holistic and kind health.

Written by Maddie Hays, MSN, CN

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