Evidence-based Macronutrient Nutritional Considerations in the Athlete
Nutrition is a subject that should be important to every person, young or old, in order to have maximal functionality, health, and overall wellness. There are basic guidelines that should be followed regarding nutrition in terms of total caloric intake and division of diet into macronutrients which include predominantly carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Along with the macronutrients, there are very important micronutrients, anti-oxidants, and vitamins that are essential for the human body. These requirements are absolutely essential for athletic success and needed in much higher quantities for athletes in comparison to the general public. In my experience working with many high-school aged athletes, the general trend is that our kids are not eating enough calories as well as not feeding their bodies with what they need for improved athletic performance, overall good health, and decreased injury risk.
Image 1. Illustration of basic energy balance equation (courtesy of awpnow.com)
There are many factors to consider in athletes when tailoring an individualized nutritional plan. The type of training, financial situation of the family, sex, specific sport of the athlete, weather conditions, genetics, stress levels, and premorbid medical conditions among others can all effect the metabolic intake and utilization of vital food resources for the athlete and should all be considered when advising athletes on dietary choices (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dieticians of Canada, and American College of Sports Medicine 2016 Position Statement). Basic dietary recommendations can be made by physicians and athletic trainers; however, it is recommended to consider referral to a sports nutritionist if the athlete is not making forward gains nutritionally after some basic recommendations.
Carbohydrates are a vital source of energy for the athlete and are required in certain amounts for optimal athletic performance and overall energy during sports (Spriet LL,2014). Various fruits and whole grains are great, clean options for obtaining optimal amounts of carbohydrates. Additionally, carbohydrate stores are very sensitive to changes in dietary intake and change on nearly a daily basis (Spriet LL. 2014). Amounts of recommended carbohydrates are variable and change from daily athletic needs to various strategies for acute refueling after intense athletic performance or training. (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dieticians of Canada, and American College of Sports Medicine 2016 Position Statement).
Image 2. Illustration of some examples of the three macronutrients (courtesy of avitahealth.org)
Finally, the last of the critical macronutrients are fats. Fats are also utilized as a fuel by the body and are used extensively by the body in athletes that are endurance competitors (Spriet 2014). As with proteins and carbohydrates, it is extremely important to tailor the amount of fats on an individualized basis for the athlete with recommendations that no more than 10% of energy should be obtained from saturated fats (Health Canada. Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide).
Nutrition is an incredibly important and often overlooked aspect of sports medicine, especially in our high school athletes. This is from a myriad of reasons that range from financial issues to medical conditions that predispose athletes to injury due to improper caloric and nutrient intake. Although many years of research have been completed regarding optimal nutrition of the athletic person, there is still much we do not know about nutrition in regards to optimizing performance, wellness, and overall health.