by Jim Gazzale, Sports Nutrition Specialist
There are multiple ways to track your food intake and consistently eat right for your goals and needs. You can track your calories, count your macronutrients, or use your hands to measure your portions, which is a clever way to track calories and macronutrients without actually tracking calories and macros.
If you’re up to the task of tracking your calories or counting your macros you can:
This will help you better understand how many calories are in different foods, create awareness of macronutrients, and track your intake as accurately as possible. I recommend everyone do this for at least a few weeks up to a few months. It’s a truly effective way to learn more about nutrition and how it affects your body weight, energy levels, and athletic performance.
Basic nutrition practices for general health
The evidence of poor nutrition is rampant. You don’t need to look further than your friends, family, and coworkers for proof. It’s an unfortunate reality, but there’s no sense in sugarcoating it.
There’s equal evidence to prove that proper nutrition can fuel performance across disciplines. Football, baseball, basketball, track & field, and yes, even endurance sports. First, though, let’s define ‘nutrition’:
Nutrition: the process of the body using food to sustain life.
Getting the nutrition you need seems easy enough. You know what foods are healthier than others. For example, you know that a chicken breast will do more for you nutritionally than chicken nuggets from the local fast food joint. However, the vast majority of Americans get the execution wrong. High-fat and high-sodium diets low in essential nutrients aren’t doing you any good.
Quick: what are the four basic food groups you learned in grammar school? Fruits/vegetables, meat/poultry/fish, dairy, and breads/cereal.
In theory this should work. In practice, we’re terrible at it. Millions of people each year die from diseases caused by their poor diets. Chances are they spent many years eating too many of the wrong fats and too few of the essential nutrients. Nutrition need not be complicated. So here’s what you can do to prepare well-rounded meals day after day while staying away from the drive-thru.
Protein, carbohydrates, and fats, the macronutrients, are critical for weight loss and reaching your fitness goals. Each plays an important role in our overall health, therefore a superior nutrition plan will incorporate proper levels of each. Carbohydrates and fats provide the body with its primary supply of energy while protein serves as the main catalyst for burning fat, building muscle, and recovery.
Proteins make up much of our body’s tissues, like our muscles, skin, nails, and hair. Because proteins have many important jobs, and because they’re always being broken down and rebuilt, we need to eat a consistent supply of them to support critical bodily functions. While we need a constant supply of protein, the exact amount will vary from person to person depending on our goals, age, size, health, and other factors.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. That energy either provided immediately from blood glucose or later from stored liver and muscle glycogen. Minimally processed whole foods containing carbohydrates like rice, potatoes, and quinoa contain other valuable nutrients the body needs for optimal health. Most athletes, or those with physically demanding jobs, will feel, perform, and recover better with relatively more carbohydrate in their diet.
Fats are the most calorically dense macronutrient, and much like carbohydrates, have many jobs within the body. Most notably, fats provide energy storage, padding for internal organs and insulation. The amount of fat in one’s diet will vary from person to person depending on a variety of factors like age, body size, goals, and overall health.
The 1-2-3 Eating Rule of Thumb
Coined by ISSA (International Sports Science Association), the ‘1-2-3 Eating Rule of Thumb’ calls for 1 part fat, 2 parts protein, and 3 parts carbohydrate per meal. This will work for most anyone, and especially those nutrition-minded individuals looking to maximize athletic performance. This is your basic approach to healthy (or healthier) eating and the same set of principles we teach in the SENS Fitness Fat Loss Program.
The great thing about this basic approach is that it works whether you’re trying to lose fat, build muscle, or improve your athletic performance. It ensures proper portions and being in a caloric deficit while getting adequate protein for muscle development and substantial carbohydrate for performance fueling.
Of course this 1-2-3 approach can be adapted to each individual, their eating tolerances, goals, and sports. For example, marathoners might adapt this approach once comfortable to a 2 parts fat, 1 part protein, and 3 parts carbohydrate. The reason for that is because marathoners use fat for fuel more than most other athletes so a slight increase in dietary fat is warranted. In contrast, a bodybuilder, for example, would be better off sticking with the basic 1-2-3 approach.
In addition to the slightly increased fat intake, marathoners should be eating a carbohydrate heavy diet with moderate protein. We’ve spent years developing our slow-twitch muscle fibers. That’s why it’s important to eat a high amount of carbohydrates to maintain glycogen stores for long training and racing days. Protein intake is lower than both fats and carbohydrates, just enough to maintain proper nitrogen balance and rebuild muscles. Interestingly enough, despite the lower protein percentage required for endurance athletes, they should still be taking in roughly twice as much as the average non-athlete.
Calculate caloric needs based on your goals and activity
If you’d like to take it a step further and track your caloric intake more diligently, the simplest way to calculate your caloric needs is to roughly estimate your activity levels and what your overarching goal is, i.e. lose weight, maintain weight, gain weight. Once you’ve estimated your daily activity, multiply your current weight by the numbers in the table below that correspond to your goals. For example, if you’re 175 pounds, moderately active, and working to lose weight, your starting point for daily caloric intake will be 2,100-2,450. Start there and adjust as needed over time.
|PHYSICAL ACTIVITY||LOSE WEIGHT||MAINTAIN WEIGHT||GAIN WEIGHT|
Determine your macronutrient split
Your macronutrient split is how much of each (protein, fat, carbohydrates) that you’re eating. You’ll see it explained in one of two ways: either as a percentage of overall calories (50% carbohydrates, 25% protein, 25% fat) or in total grams per macronutrient. As a point of reference, protein and carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram, whereas fat contains 9 calories per gram. There are several different ways to split your macronutrients, and depending on your food preferences you can elect to eat more fats or carbohydrates. It’s entirely up to you! Here are examples of some common macronutrient splits.
Get a customized guide specific to your goals
If you’d like a custom, done-for-you guide that will help you:
Visit us here! www.sensfitness.com/macros
Food for Thought Archive
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Sports Nutrition Specialist, USAT, USAC, PN1, Certified Online Trainer, Proprietor SENS Fitness