Nutrition Basics for Athletes… Carbs, Fats and Protein

By Doug Corbett (NASM, FMS, NS, PES, Fitness Nutrition Coach)

Nutrition Basics Top

Today I am going to post another brief article on nutrition prepared by Doug Corbett (NASM, FMS, NS, PES, Fitness Nutrition Coach) for our athletes.  We often get so many questions about nutrition basics that I thought a primer could be of help.  Remember, a great training program should always go hand-in-hand with an excellent nutrition plan in order to unlock the athlete’s potential to get “bigger, faster and stronger”.  

By the way, just in case you missed Doug’s article on proper nutrition for athletes titled “Athletes Eating for Success” please click here.

A couple of pieces of toast for breakfast or cereal for breakfast, a turkey sandwich with some pretzels for lunch, cookies and soda after school, pasta for dinner, and then a bag of potato chips after dinner, maybe some ice cream too. Does this seem familiar? For many athletes this is how a day of eating goes.    I know we have all seen this:

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After working with hundreds of athletes, I can tell you the average athlete has a poor diet which needs to be addressed so that they can achieve their full athletic potential.  The macronutrients found in food (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) each have an impact on performance.  A diet of 80% low quality carbohydrates, 10% protein, and 10% fat will never be better than a diet of high quality carbohydrate sources with more fat and protein.  There are two main reasons why fueling the body with the right mix and sources of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins is so important:

  1. Performance during the game/workout, and
  2. Recovery after the game/workout.

Now let’s review each of these three food elements.

Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are essential for athletes.  They not only fuel athletic performance on the field, they are necessary for rebuilding muscle post-workout and for maintaining and/or gaining muscle weight.  Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the liver.  The athlete uses this glycogen as fuel like a car uses gas.  If the athlete does not have the proper amount of carbohydrates every single day, he/she will be tired, foggy, slow, weak, etc.  Depending on your sport, you will require more or less carbohydrates for performance.  Sports that require more endurance require more carbohydrates.  For example, a soccer player will need more carbohydrates than a baseball player when it comes to game time.  Having said all that there are good carbs and bad carbs.  Here are some examples of good and bad:

Good vs. Bad Carbs

Protein – Protein is thought of as the muscle building nutrient.  The truth is, you need quality carbs, protein, and fat for muscle growth but protein plays a large part in specifically maintaining and growing muscle mass.  Protein consists of amino acids which the body uses to repair and grow muscles and tendons.  Without adequate protein consumption, the body won’t be able to repair itself optimally after a game or a workout.  Here are some examples of types of food with high levels of protein:

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Fat – Fat is calorically dense (9 calories per 1g of fat) so it’s a great way to get a lot of calories.  Fat provides the essential fatty acids, omega 3 and 6, as well as the fat soluble vitamins, A, D, E, and K, which are important for many metabolic and regulatory processes in the body.  This also seems to be the most lacked nutrient in an athlete’s diet. Low fat diets are not a good idea for anyone, especially athletes.  There is lots of misinformation about fat being published. The truth is athletes need fat as much as any other food element.  You just have to make sure to distinguish between the healthy kind and the not-so healthy kind.  Here are some examples of good vs. bad:

Good vs. Bad Fats

Nutrition impacts energy levels, strength, speed, and focus.  It is something that needs to be top of mind every single day.  For athletes, there are no off-days or breaks when it comes to nutrition.  If you are fueling yourself poorly, your performance won’t be as good because you lack the focus and physical and mental energy.  Sure, messing up here or there isn’t a huge deal but when you go on for months with a poor diet, someone who is taking their nutrition seriously will become stronger, bigger and faster than you.