Calories vs. Carbohydrates/Proteins Article
"Macronutrient Planning" by Dr. John Eliot
How many calories should I eat, Doc? I’ve heard this question numerous times from athletes trying to improve their diet. They want to know what the best fuel is, and they want to know how much of it to consume. I rarely give them the answer they are initially looking for. That’s because, for athletes, calories are relatively meaningless.
Caloric intake alone tells us nothing about the quality of food in one’s system. An athlete can eat 90 grams of table sugar, 90 grams of a wild rice and broccoli mix, or 40 grams of pure butter and he or she will be getting identical total calories. But performance will be very different with these three items.
What’s essential is that athletes understand the difference in quality between foods, and know the gram totals of carbohydrate, protein, and fiber of the foods they eat—rather than their simple caloric value. For one thing, athletes’ bodies are fine tuned enough to handle a slight overage or shortfall in daily caloric intake. More importantly, food volume-to-calorie conversions are based on bomb calorimeter tests. Such tests measure the amount of heat given off by 1 gram of a food substance burning in a sealed container. It’s very accurate. However, the body doesn’t process foods by igniting them. We operate fairly differently in how we break down chemical structures. That makes caloric values of foods more complicated to correctly determine—certainly too much laboratory work for athletes to do regularly.
The upshot is that athletes should think in terms of their requirements of high quality carbohydrates and proteins. Totals are based on lean body weight, nature of the sport an athlete competes in, and degree of daily training. Once those values are determined, it’s fairly simple to put numbers on an athlete’s diet (unfortunately space doesn’t permit right here). After that, it’s a matter of understanding what makes one food better than another.
For proteins, we look at how lean they are (the amount of fat that comes with the protein), how available the amino acids are to the body via digestion, what the ratio of various amino acids are, and how the body’s nitrogen levels are effected. There is no one single protein that is on top in all of these measures. However, a mixture of ion-exchange whey, egg whites, fat-free milk, and fat-trimmed white meat make it easy for an athlete to get what he or she needs.
Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are rated according to their glycemic index (GI). This is a score of how quickly a carbohydrate is absorbed into the bloodstream, and thus how it effects the body’s insulin and hormonal systems. Foods that have a high GI—such as sugar, white potatoes, white rices, refined and processed flours, honey, maple syrup, etc.—should be avoided, except in certain circumstances such following exhaustive training. Throughout the day, and up to 2-3 hours prior to workouts or competition, athletes should down carbohydrate of a low GI variety—fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, low-fat dairy products, wild rices, durum semolina pastas, whole grains such as oats, etc.
It may sound complicated at first, but it’s primarily a matter of getting into a routine with the foods you like the best. Often, the hump can be tackled by a week or two of paying close attention to food labels, and keeping a nutrition log book. At the end of this period, do some calculations to figure out the contents of the food you ate, and to compare that with your goals as an athlete.
Also, remember that athletes need to develop a free, trusting mindset. That is a mindset that isn’t bogged down by over-analysis. Find a way to get into a routine with your diet so that your aren’t constantly thinking and worrying about your food intake, and thus not interfering with good mental habits. It may help to pick out your favorite fruits and sport nutrition supplements and carry a supply of them with you in your bag. That way, you have good nutrition to fall back on when your travel or when an obstacle to your routine arises.
About the Author:
JOHN F. ELIOT, PH.D., is an award winning professor of management, psychology, and human performance. He holds faculty appointments at Rice University and the SMU Cox School of Business Leadership Center. He is a co-founder of the Milestone Group, a consulting firm providing training to business executives, professional athletes, physicians, and corporations. Dr. Eliot’s clients have included: SAP, XEROX, Disney, Adidas, the United States Olympic Committee, the National Champion Rice Owl's baseball team, and the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Eliot’s cutting edge work has been featured on ABC, MSNBC, CBS, ESPN, Fox Sports, NPR, and highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, New York Daily News, Entrepreneur, LA Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, and the New York Times. Dr. Eliot serves on numerous advisory boards including the National Center for Human Performance and the Center for Performing Arts Medicine. His latest book is Overachievement: The New Model for Exceptional Performance. For more information, visit Dr. Eliot’s site at http://www.overachievement.com
[END "Calories vs. Carbohydrates/Proteins ARTICLE]
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