One of the questions I frequently get asked by endurance athletes is ‘What ratio of carbohydrates:proteins:fats should I eat for maximum performance?’
It’s a good question and unfortunately there isn’t an exact answer…..it depends.
Protein and fat need to be eaten to supply essential nutrients to the body. Carbohydrate however isn’t required to maintain a healthy body but it is useful to the body as a fuel. Carbohydrate is stored in our muscles as glycogen and supplies enough energy to fuel all our activity in an average day…that doesn’t include training. If you work at a desk all day and you don’t exercise or you are on a rest day then it is advisable to eat a reduced level of carbohydrate. If you consume more than your body needs it will be converted to fat and stored.
It then gets tricky…..
If you go with the traditional carb-centric approach, then as an endurance athlete, you may need 2 to 3 times more carbohydrate than a sedentary person. Carbohydrate needs are to dependent on body weight and activity level so they should be expressed in grammes and not as a percentage of calories. Many research studies show that athletes who eat more carbohydrate are able to perform better in heavy training. If you are on a rest day then you should reduce your carbohydrate. If you are training and trying to get leaner then it is beneficial to have a higher carbohydrate meal after training and make the other meals in the day lower in carbohydrate.
Typical nutrient ratios for an endurance athlete taking this approach would be 60% carbohydrate to 20% protein and 20% fat although these are not exact and you need to experiment to find what suits you.
Eating in this way would mean that in a typical day you might have wholegrain toast with honey for breakfast and a yoghurt, a jacket potato salad and chicken for lunch and a salmon steak with veg and rice for dinner.
You might want to experiment with becoming ‘fat adapted’ or metabolically flexible and training your body to use fat as its primary energy store. There are an increasing number of endurance athletes trying this approach with positive results. Because many of us have been brainwashed to believe that any thing with fat in it is bad then this approach might seem counter intuitive. Fat is necessary to keep us healthy. A typical nutrient intake with this approach is roughly 60% fat, 20% protein and 20% carbohydrate to get your body to switch over the being able to using fat as a fuel.
Eating as a fat adapted endurance athlete would mean that in a typical day you might start the day with an omelette with veg and cheese for breakfast, Lunch would be salad with a selection of veg, avocado, nuts and seeds and a protein source e.g. salmon and dinner would be steak with a blue cheese sauce and 2-3 portions of veg.
Do you know which approach would work best for you? Would you know how to find out ?
There is still time to get your nutrition sorted to optimise your body composition and maximise your training before next season.
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