Know Your Macros: How Protein, Carbs, and Fat Fuel Athletic Performance
People often ask me, “What is the recommended calorie intake from carbs?” or “What percent of my diet should be protein?” For most people, we generally recommend a 40-30-30 distribution for carbs, protein, and fat, respectively, but for those with athletic goals, their requirements are more personalised.
Calculating Macros for Sports, Exercise, and Athletic Performance
The amount of the different macros that athletes need varies on the type and intensity of activity they are engaging in. Macro percentages for strength training, for example, differ somewhat from those for endurance runners.
Here’s a quick rundown on what athletes need to know about their macros.
How Much Protein Do Athletes Need?
It should make sense that athletes require more protein than sedentary people since they generally have more muscle mass.
The standard recommended protein intake for endurance athletes is in the range of 1 to 1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Strength athletes are advised to take in about 1.5 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight.
That means that an 82kg athlete might need a minimum of about 90 and 110 grams per day to support endurance activity, or roughly 130 to 150 grams a day to support strength training.
Recommended Carbohydrate Intake for Athletes
Carbohydrates serve as the main source of fuel during exercise, which is why it’s so important for athletes to consume adequate amounts.
Carb requirements will vary based on activity:
For most moderately active people, a well-balanced diet that supplies about half (45 to 55 percent) of the calories from carbohydrates should be adequate.
Endurance athletes may need proportionately more, generally in the range of 55 to 65 percent of total calories.
Ultra-endurance athletes, such as those who participate in events lasting longer than 4 hours, need even more: up to 75 percent of their total calories from carbohydrates.
Sports dietitians prefer to calculate carbohydrate needs according to bodyweight rather than a percentage of calories because it gives the athlete a specific intake goal:
For general training, athletes are advised to take in about 5.5 to 7 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, swimmers) need more; the goal is about 7 to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight.
Ultra-endurance athletes who engage in competitions that last for four hours or more may need 11 grams or more per kilogram of body weight.
The Role of Fat Intake for Athletes
Dietary fats supply the body with essential fatty acids. They’re termed essential because the body can’t make them, so have to come from your diet. They’re an important part of the structure of every cell in your body and serve as a valuable energy source during activity.
Rather than suggesting a precise amount of fat for athletes, sports nutritionists usually recommend an intake of around 25 to 30 percent of their total calories: the amount that’s recommended for the general population.
Like the general population, athletes are encouraged to select mostly unsaturated fats from foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish, and oils such as seed oils and olive oil. The body uses both carbohydrates and fat as fuel, depending on the intensity and duration of the activity. When exercise intensity is light to moderate, fat supplies about half of the body’s energy needs. Fat becomes increasingly more important than carbohydrates for sustaining activity.
By SUSAN BOWERMAN
MS, RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND,
Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training, Herbalife Nutrition.