Fitness: Fueling Up on Food for Fitness (cont.)

MEMBER QUESTION:
What do you believe the fat/protein/carb percentages are needed for optimal athlete performance, and for 'the average Joe'?

BENARDOT:
There's surprisingly little difference between what athletes should be consuming and what the average Joe should be consuming from an energy substrate distribution. However, because athletes have a far higher rate of energy utilization, they need more. The general recommendation is for protein intake to be somewhere between 12% and 15% of total calories; fat intake 20% and 25% of total calories; and the remainder from carbohydrates -- with a focus on complex carbohydrates.

Protein is an area of common concern for athletes. Studies generally show that the protein requirement per unit of body weight for athletes can be twice as much as for nonathletes. For instance, the recommended intake of protein for nonathlete adults is eight tenths of a gram per kilogram of body weight. For athletes, the requirement jumps to somewhere between 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Because of the higher caloric intake consumed by athletes, this increased requirement of protein is easily achieved with a balanced diet.

MEMBER QUESTION:
My daughter is collegiate equestrian. All of the girls on the team are very, very body conscious and have terrible eating habits. It does take strength to ride. What kind of diet would you recommend that wouldn't add pounds but would help give them energy to ride?

BENARDOT:
That also is an excellent question. I can share with you what we do with our athletes here. This is something that is rarely considered but very important. That is, that people tend to think about total caloric requirements in units of 24 hours, but rarely consider the distribution of those calories within the 24-hour period. For instance, someone can consume 2,000 calories in one meal, which is very large, and someone can consume the same 2,000 calories in four meals at 500 calories each. The outcome for the person consuming the 2,000 calories at one time versus spreading the 2,000 calories out during the course of a day is enormous. Frequent eating patterns are associated with higher muscle mass, lower body fat, better performance, and an improved sense of well-being.

Our marathoners, for instance, are consuming food a minimum of once every three hours to avoid large energy surpluses that could lead to an increase in fat storage and avoid large energy deficits that could lead to a catabolism, or breakdown, of lean body mass. The only way to avoid these large peaks and valleys in energy delivery is to reduce the size of meals and increase the frequency of food consumption.

My recommendation would be that these equestrians should determine how many calories it takes for them to be weight stable and then target caloric intake in a way that maintains within a day their energy balance. Put simply: avoid hunger during the day.

MEMBER QUESTION:
What healthy foods can I eat to boost energy and increase muscle without taking supplements?

BENARDOT:
Increasing muscle mass requires more calories than is currently being consumed, because you are increasing your mass. First and foremost you must increase caloric intake, but it should be done in such a way that reduces excess calorie delivery at one time.

Secondly, additional calories, or as many athletes do, increasing caloric intake through the consumption of protein supplements, in and of itself does not increase muscle mass. The muscle must be stimulated to enlarge, and that requires resistance exercise.

So any food that follows the general pattern of moderate protein, relatively low fat, higher complex carbs, with an addition to perhaps 300 to 500 calories beyond current needs, plus resistance exercise, in addition to the amount that's currently being done, is the way to increase muscle mass.

"The only way to avoid ... large peaks and valleys in energy delivery is to reduce the size of meals and increase the frequency of food consumption."

MEMBER QUESTION:
What foods and drinks can boost recovery between workout days (I'm 18 and male)? For three years I've been training on- and off-season for lacrosse. During the last few months (off-season), I cannot seem to recover as well after workouts. That familiar feeling from a good hard workout is not easing up and leaves me completely tired for as long as three days. Also, my appetite has increased.

BENARDOT:
Before you can consider recovery, you must consider your state of energy balance prior to the exercise itself. Sufficient glycogen storage is critical to assure activity that will encourage a high level of performance. In addition, being in a well-hydrated state is also critical for performance and endurance.

Following exercise, it's important to take advantage of an enzyme that is elevated, which helps to replace the glycogen used during exercise. That enzyme, called glycogen synthetase, becomes more elevated as glycogen becomes depleted. It's highest immediately following physical activity; therefore, having 200 to 400 calories of carbohydrate and a little protein immediately following physical activity has been shown to improve recovery.

It's also critical to remember that fluid loss, which is a natural part of exercise, must also be replaced for muscle recovery to occur.

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