When trying to lose weight, diet accounts for 80% of your progress and exercise only 20%. For the competitive fighter nutrition is even more important. To paraphrase Napoleon, A fighter trains on his stomach. Just like I wrote on my 11 Rules for Competitive Success article, junk in equals junk out. You eat garbage, you’ll look, feel, and perform like garbage. But it’s not enough just to eat the right foods.“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! You’re telling me eating healthy isn’t enough?”
Nope. It’s a good start though.
Today’s focus in on optimizing your macronutrient ratios. The 3 macronutrients are:
What roles do they play in your body? Glad you asked!
Proteins (4 calories/gram)
Protein serves as the building blocks for muscle. No protein consumption, no muscle. Simple as that. As your activity level rises, you will need more protein to help repair damaged muscle and build new muscle. Here are some basic ranges to get you started:
- 0.7 g/lb of lean BW – Off-Season or Light Activity
- 1.0 g/lb of lean BW – Moderate Training
- 1.25-1.5 g/lb of lean BW – Heavy Training or Mass Gain
I wouldn’t stress too much about being exact. If you’re training moderately and eat more than a gram of protein per pound of lean BW, you’re not going to turn into the Incredible Hulk. Your body will just use it as extra energy. There are some claims that excess protein is converted to glucose. This remains debatable and isn’t the focus of today’s subject. We might cover it in a later post.
Carbohydrates (4 calories/gram)
The main function of carbs in the body is to supply quick energy used in activities that require explosive movements, sprinting and weightlifting. As carbs are eaten your body converts them into glucose and stores them in your muscles. Excess glucose will either be stored in the liver or converted to fat. At any given time your muscles will have approximately 350-500g of glucose stored in them with a backup of 100g in the liver.¹ Chances are unless you are EXTREMELY active, training hard for hours every day you won’t need more than 150g of carbs/day. Here are some simple ranges to follow depending on your needs:
- <50g/day – Ketosis; fast weight loss
- 50-100g/day – Normal weight loss
- 125g/day – Maintenance
- 150g/day – Hard training/Athletes
These ranges closely follow the Primal Blueprint carb guidelines. Again, these are not hard numbers. You will need to experiment with these ranges to see where you perform best while maintaining your ideal weight. I typically like to stay on the lower end (<100g/day), but I am also not training like a competitive athlete is. This entire week I have been ketogenic (except for lunch on Thursday…co-workers brought in pizza) and doing my daily weightlifting and my Taekwondo classes. If I were training for longer periods at higher intensity, I would need to increase my carbs in order to replenish my muscle glucose levels.
Fats (9 calories/gram)
Fats get a bad rep, but is actually good – no, CRITICAL – for optimal health. Fats help regulate hormones, provide the biggest bang for your buck regarding calories, and unlike carbs, do not cause insulin spikes (meaning no crash shortly after you eat a high fat meal). Even saturated fats are good for you if they come from the right sources (like eggs and butter) and not some processed junk. Fats fill in the remaining caloric needs for your diet after you’ve determined your protein and carb needs and will be the primary macronutrient you will adjust to fulfill your weight goals.
Let’s look at an example…myself!
Height: 72 inches
Weight: 210 pounds
Activity Level: Moderate
By using this information (and a Calorie Calculator) we can estimate that my daily caloric needs to maintain my current weight and activity level is 2619 calories/day. From there we need to determine by lean body weight (sorry don’t have a link for that). Last time I calculated my lean mass, I was at approximately 165 lbs. That was calculated quite a while ago so it’s probably not accurate, but for demonstration purposes, we’ll roll with it.
Using all that information, we can now determine my macronutrient ratios if I wanted to maintain my current weight and activity level (moderate).
Protein (g) = 165 lbs x 1.0g/lb = 165g of protein/day x 4 cal/g = 660 calories from protein
Carbs (g) = 125g x 4cal/g = 500 calories from carbs
Fats (g) = 2619 calories – (660+500) = 1459 calories from fats ÷ 9 cal/g = 162g of fat/day
- Protein: 165g / 660 calories (25.2%)
- Carbs: 125g / 500 calories (19.1%)
- Fats: 162g / 1459 calories (55.7%)
Easy enough right?
If I want to lose weight all I need to do is drop the carb and fat levels down.
If my activity levels increase, I increase my protein and carbs accordingly.
Again, these aren’t hard guidelines. Some people will do better with higher carbs while some might not notice any real issues going lower. As with everything else, track your progress and see how your performance/weight fluctuates with your diet.
Hopefully, this has helped you clear some of the mystery around athletic nutrition. The biggest key is experimenting to see what works best for you.
Got questions? Leave comments!
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