Back to Nutrition Basics

For every athlete who understands the basics of nutrition, there's another possibly several others who would benefit from this fundamental information. Keep in mind that the following is not intended as a diet plan.

Healthy living should involve a diet that contains three macronutrients known as fats, proteins and carbohydrates along with vitamins and essential minerals. Incidentally, these vitamins and essential minerals are also known as micronutrients.

One gram of fat equals nine calories. This macronutrient serves two purposes in the body: Insulation and energy storage. You should avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, make a point of including fish oil in your diet and never reuse cooking oil.

One gram of the macronutrient protein translates into four calories. In addition to promoting growth and development, protein regulates water balance and is critical in the formation of hormones. As an active athlete, you should consume approximately one gram of protein per pound of body weight each day.

One gram of carbohydrates also equals four calories. This macronutrient is a rich
source of energy and regulates your metabolism while aiding digestion. It's a good idea to avoid refined carbohydrates and stick with low glycemic carbohydrates. Fibrous carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables will help protect your intestinal tract.

Now what exactly is a calorie? It's a standard unit for measuring the amount of energy released when the body breaks down food. According to studies, human beings need to consume approximately 10 to 15 calories per pound of body weight per day to maintain body weight. That means you'd need to intake 3000 calories per day to stay at 200 pounds. Now consider that a pound of fat is equal to 3500 calories. To lose that pound of fat, you need to eliminate 3500 calories either by eating less, expending more energy through exercise or a combination of the two.

What does it mean when you hear the phrase "alcohol has empty calories?" One gram of alcohol has seven calories, but these seven calories are not made up of protein, carbs or fats. Since they are not nutrients that can be used by the body, alcohol's calories are called "empty" even though they still contribute to your overall caloric intake. That's why it's such a good idea to avoid or minimize alcohol consumption.

The Glycemic Index ranks different foods by their impact on blood glucose levels.
A carbohydrate that turns to sugar (glucose) quickly has a higher Glycemic Index than one that turns more slowly into sugar. When carbohydrates are consumed, they are broken down into sugar and released into the bloodstream. The pancreas then releases insulin to carry the sugar to various tissues. Foods that turn into sugars quickly trigger the release of large amounts of insulin. This sudden release of insulin can contribute to a drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or an overworked pancreas (associated with diabetes). Learn to understand Glycemic Index values and make an effort to eat low glycemic foods.

Knowing how to read and understand food labels is essential to healthy eating.
Food labels show serving size, grams of fat, protein and carbs as well as the percent of the daily recommended value each food offers. These values are calculated per serving. So, when reading food labels, first confirm serving size and then see how many grams are involved. You should also know that carbohydrates are broken down into sugar, fiber and "other" which refers to complex carbohydrates. If there is no value for "other," subtract the amount of "fiber" and "sugar" from "total carbohydrates."

The list that appears beneath the food label provides you with all the additives and ingredients present in the food product. This list is compiled in descending order starting with the item of greatest proportional quantity and ending with the item of least quantity. When shopping for food, pay attention to serving size, avoid foods that have hydrogenated oils and check expiration dates!

The Bigger Picture: A basic understanding of the macronutrient content of foods and what choices to limit or avoid (alcohol and hydrogenated oils) will help you make healthier food choices and optimize the work you put into your workouts.

Cindy Martinez
NPC Figure Competitor
Reference: Nutrition Almanac 5th edition by Lavonne Dunne

The author is a compensated ON Sets and Reps Athlete, however, the views, opinions, and comments expressed here are those exclusively of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Optimum Nutrition.
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Joe Bobina
Oct 03, 2007