Whether you’re new to exercise, a weekend warrior or a seasoned athlete, proper nutrition will better energize your performance, improve recovery time and reduce the risk of injury.
All food is made up of some combination of the four macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, fat and water. Each macronutrient plays a unique role in helping you achieve overall health.
Carbohydrate, absorbed as glucose, is typically the main source of fuel for your body and brain. Glucose can be used for energy or converted to fat or glycogen (the form of glucose that is stored for later use) when there’s a surplus. Foods that contain mostly carbohydrates include fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes and dairy.
Protein comprises amino acids, which play many roles, including repairing damaged tissue, constructing hormones and digestive enzymes, building immunity and transporting oxygen through your body. Excess protein is stored as fat or can be used as an inefficient form of energy. Foods that contain a lot of protein are meat, fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy, legumes and soy.
Fat is an important source of fuel, an essential part of cell membranes and the backbone of sex hormones. It also facilitates the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and many phytonutrients. Fat-rich whole foods include nuts, seeds, coconut, avocado, olives and whole-fat dairy.
Hydration is crucial for good health and sports performance. To calculate how much you need, use this general rule of thumb: Divide your weight (in pounds) in half and drink that many ounces of water daily. When engaging in physical activity, aim to drink an additional 12 ounces for every 30 minutes of exercise to make up for lost fluid.
The amount of each macronutrient you need to perform your best varies depending on your age, gender, lean muscle mass, length and intensity of exercise, and whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. To ensure you’re getting what you need, start by making sure you eat and drink some of each macronutrient at every meal (start by using the “Know Your Numbers” calculator) and monitor how you feel when working out. After three to four weeks, you may consider adjusting the amount of carbohydrate, protein and fat you eat and note any differences in your results and how you feel.
Also be sure to Time Your Meals Right.