Nutrition for Health and Fitness
Accelerate your recovery with tips from one of Moji’s nutrition experts.
Allegra Burton, M.P.H., R.D.
Santa Monica, CA
- Eating right is a vital part of staying healthy and physically active.
- Your body performs at its best when fueled with proper nutrition.
- In order to achieve optimal levels of health and fitness, it is important to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet to ensure you are getting enough of the right kinds of macronutrients – lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
- Eating right will help maintain blood sugar and energy levels during exercise, maximize performance and improve recovery time.
- It is also important to stay well-hydrated at all times
To maintain health and fitness, eat regularly scheduled meals and snacks throughout the day that meet calorie and macronutrient needs in order to maintain body weight, replenish energy stores, and provide adequate protein to build and repair tissue (1). In general, active adults should eat a diet high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat. The amount of total calories will vary depending on body weight, gender, and activity level. Men generally need more calories than women; more active athletes need more calories than less active people. The more energy used in activity, the more energy needed to achieve energy balance. For very active athletes, inadequate energy intake compromises performance and negates the benefits of training. If the body does not get enough energy in the form of calories, it will use lean tissue and fat for fuel. Loss of lean tissue mass results in the loss of strength and endurance, as well as compromised immune, endocrine, and musculoskeletal function (2).
Why are carbohydrates important?
The body’s preferred fuel for any endurance sport such as running, swimming, skiing and cycling is muscle glycogen. Glycogen is the body’s storage form of carbohydrate. If muscle glycogen breakdown exceeds its replacement, glycogen stores become depleted. The result is fatigue and inability to maintain training and racing intensity. In order to replenish and maintain glycogen stores, an active individual’s diet needs to be carbohydrate rich.
How much carbohydrate should I eat?
Carbohydrates should provide 55-65% of total calories. To figure out the approximate amount that is right for you, multiply your weight in kilograms by 7, or multiply your weight in pounds by 3.2 to give the recommended number of grams of carbohydrates per day. The best sources of carbohydrate are grain products (preferably whole grains), such as whole grain bread, brown rice, whole grain cereals and pasta, as well as white and sweet potatoes (with the skin), fruits,vegetables, legumes and low fat dairy foods. Food labels tell you how many grams of total carbohydrate are in a serving of that food. Each day, an active person should eat approximately 6-11 servings of grain products, 3-5 servings of fruit and 3-5 servings of vegetables, and 2-3 servings of low fat dairy foods.
- a serving of a grain product, such as a slice of bread of 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta, and a serving of fruit, such as a piece of fruit or 3/4 cup fruit juice, each provides 15 grams carbohydrate.
- a serving of dairy, such as 1 cup of low fat milk or yogurt or 1.5 ounces of cheese provides 12 grams carbohydrate.
- a serving of vegetables, such as 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables, 1/2 cup chopped vegetables, or 3/4 cup vegetable juice provides 5 grams carbohydrate.
- NOTE: starchy vegetables such as peas and corn, as well as dried beans such as lentils or garbanzo beans provide greater amounts of carbohydrates, about 15-20 grams per 1/2 cup serving.
Why is protein important?
Protein is needed for muscle growth and repair. Regular physical training tends to reduce muscle protein breakdown and protein loss from the body. While some protein breakdown may occur during exercise, protein build-up is enhanced during recovery and the effectiveness of protein synthesis is increased. When muscle glycogen stores are high, protein contributes no more than 5% of the energy needed. However, when muscle glycogen stores are low, due to inadequate calorie and carbohydrate intake, protein is used for energy rather than for muscle growth and repair and may contribute as much as 10% of the energy needed for exercise. Such use of protein for fuel is expensive and inefficient (3).
How much protein do I need to eat?
Protein should contribute 12-15% of total calories per day. To figure out the amount for you, multiply your weight in kilograms by 1.3, or multiply your weight in pounds by 0.6 to calculate the approximate number of grams of protein you should consume per day. Good sources of protein include fish, skinless poultry, lean meat, eggs, soy (such as tofu) and low fat dairy products, all of which contain all of the essential amino acids and thus are complete proteins. Other good protein sources are nuts, seeds and dried beans. As with carbohydrates, food labels tell you how many grams of protein are in a serving. An active person should consume 2-4 servings per day. One serving of lean meat, fish or poultry is 3 ounces, roughly the size of a deck of playing cards.
- A 3 once serving of a poultry, fish or lean meat, e.g. a small fish fillet, 1 medium pork chop, 1 small hamburger or 1/2 of a whole chicken breast provides 21 grams of protein.
- 1/2 cup of cooked beans, 1 ounce of cheese, 1 egg, 2 egg whites, 4 ounces of tofu or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter each provides 7 grams of protein.
- one cup of low fat milk or yogurt provides 8 grams of protein.
- one serving of grain products (preferably whole grain), such as a slice of whole wheat bread, provides 3 grams of protein.
What are the consequences of eating a high-protein diet?
When an athlete eats more protein than he needs, he either burns it for energy or stores it as fat. Carbohydrates are a more efficient and less expensive source of energy. In addition, consuming too much protein increases the body’s water requirement and may contribute to dehydration, because the kidneys require more water to eliminate the excess nitrogen load of a high-protein intake. Also, eating a high-protein, high-fat diet after heavy training will cause incomplete replacement of muscle glycogen and impair performance. Such a diet is hard to digest and may lead to feeling sluggish. A high-carbohydrate diet, on the other hand, is easy to digest and quickly restores muscle glycogen.
Why is fat important?
Fat is important as a source of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins and as a source of energy for weight maintenance (1). It is important to eat enough fat – but not too much. Too much fat displaces carbohydrates needed to fuel muscles. Too little fat can mean not enough to replenish fat stored within the muscles that supports endurance performance. Exercise does not completely eliminate the health dangers associated with eating a high-fat diet, such as increased risk of heart disease, stroke and certain cancers. It is important to choose sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, nuts and nut butters, avocados and fatty fish such as salmon; limit intake of saturated fat; and avoid trans fats as much as possible.
How much fat can I eat?
Endurance athletes as well as all people should consume 20-30% of total calories from fat and less than 10% from saturated fat. High-fat foods include donuts, fried foods, ice cream, bacon and hot dogs. Food labels tell you grams of fat and percentage of calories from fat per serving. Choose foods with less than 30% of calories from fat that are low in saturated fat and free of transfat.
Will a high-fat diet impair my performance as an athlete?
Muscle glycogen is preferred over fat for fuel for high intensity exercise of long duration because fat breakdown cannot supply energy fast enough. In addition, fat takes longer to digest than carbohydrates and thus should be limited in pre-exercise meals.
It is important to be well hydrated before exercise and to drink enough fluid during and after to replenish fluid losses. Dehydration (water deficit in excess of 2-3% of body mass) decreases exercise performance, especially in hot weather, and may impair mental/cognitive performance (4). Water is generally adequate for hydration before, during and after activity lasting less than 1 hour. For exercise events lasting more than 1 hour, beverages containing 6-8% carbohydrate, such as typically found in sports drinks, are recommended to help sustain fluid and electrolyte balance and endurance exercise performance (4).
In general, to maintain health and fitness, it is important to fuel the body with a healthy, well-balanced diet and adequate fluids. The active individual should eat a diet high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat. The amount of food – number of calories – required depends on a number of factors including the individuals gender, age, body size, activity level, and intensity, duration and type of exercise performed.
- Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109:509-527.
- Burke LM, Louks AB, Broad N. Energy and carbohydrate for training and recovery. J Sports Sci. 2006;24:675-685.
- Rodriguez NR, Vislocky LM, Gaine PC. Dietary protein, endurance exercise, and human skeletal-muscle protein turnover. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2007;10:40-45.
- Sawka MN, Burke LM, Eichner ER, Maughan RJ, Montain SJ, Stachenfeld NS. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39:377-390.
- Jentjens RL, Cale C, Gutch C, Jeukendrup AE. Effects of pre-exercise ingestion of differing amounts of carbohydrate on subsequent metabolism and cycling performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003;88:444-452.
- Moseley L, Lancaster GI, Jeukendrup AE. Effects of timing of pre-exercise ingestion of carbohydrate on subsequent metabolism and cycling performance. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003;88:453-458.
- Currell K, Jeukendrup A. Superior endurance performance with ingestion of multiple transportable carbohydrates. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008;40:275-281.
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