Macronutrients – Eating for Athletes

There’s lots of chatter around macros and how to divide them for the day. Some experiment with leaving out carbs to lose fat. Or as a product of the 80’s, we heard that fat is bad so reduce that as much as possible. The reality is that we need macronutrients and they all have their place daily. Typically a specific split doesn’t work for everyone and even when you find that balance, life, age and exercise may have you tweak the split.

To start with the definition – Macronutrients are those that provide calories or energy needed for growth, development, metabolism and all body functions. Macro means large therefore macronutrients are the nutrients we need in the largest amounts. 

The 3 main macronutrients are: Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat.

Each macronutrient provides specific calories: Protein = 4 calorie/gram; Carbohydrate = 4 calorie/gram; Fat = 9 calorie/gram.

Everything we eat contains macronutrients or are broken down by macros, and every package of food contains a list of these macros but not necessarily broken down that nicely. We’ll come back to labels.

Let’s start with Protein. We are all working on muscle growth at the CFW, right? If you review the US dietary guidelines, you’ll see that we need ~10-15% of our daily calories to come from protein. This can be plant or animal based protein. If you read any guidelines for athletes or active people, we’re told to consume .8-1.2 grams per body weight or desired bodyweight in protein. If we want to grow muscle, it could be more like 1.4 grams per body weight. 

So if you weigh 150 pounds and follow a 2400 calorie diet to maintain weight, the USDA guidelines state you should consume 10-15% in protein which would come out to about 288 calories in protein or 72 grams. In this same scenario, athletes or people that want to build muscle should have 150-210 grams of protein. This is where information becomes confusing. So do we eat 72 or 200 grams? That is a huge difference.

To put it in perspective of food, a 4 oz raw chicken breast is approximately 130 calories, 25 grams of protein (25×4=100 calories). To get the 100 grams of protein in a day, that would be at least 4 chicken breasts. Ok, I gag a little just thinking about that. You can see how that could become tough out of the gate and discourage people. 

Let’s take a look at a plant based option, lentils. These hearty nuggets contain about 325 calories per cooked cup with 20% protein (16g), 44% carbs (36g) and 36% fat (13g). That would be 6 cups of lentils in our 100 grams per day example. Another unrealistic example, at least for me. 

There’s also the science of how much protein we can metabolize at any given meal. That range is somewhere between 25-40 grams per meal. So even if you were so inclined to eat 3 chicken breasts or 3 cups of lentils in one sitting, chances are that you’re straining your organs trying to digest it and your body won’t leverage all the protein. 

As we age, we do need a bit more protein to maintain muscle. As we work hard in the gym to build those quads, glutes, pecs, and biceps, I would recommend to try and eat at least .8 grams per body weight so in our 150 lb example, that’s about 120 grams of protein per day. Before you set goals and redesign your eating plan, start to track what you typically eat in a day. There are plenty of apps out there that will count it all up for you. I personally like the app Lose It. It’s super simple to use, has a great database and you can include recipes for meals that you eat often. 

I try to load up on protein early in the day because I struggle with it. Here is an example of my typical breakfast:

4 oz salmon, 1 egg, a smoothie with frozen berries, 1/4 banana and 3-4 cups of greens, and a handful of carrots or grapes. That is about 400 calories, 32g protein, 35g carbs, and 16 grams of fat. This probably last me about 3 hours depending on how hard I worked out that morning. 

If you’re looking for nutrition advice or help with meal planning, reach out. I’d love to chat. Next time, I will cover carbs – friend or foe?

– Coach Jen