If you want to be a high performance athlete, you probably already know that you have to be training hard, pushing your body to the limit so you can g
If you want to be a high performance athlete, you probably already know that you have to be training hard, pushing your body to the limit so you can get as much out of it as possible.
However, what you probably don’t know is that the changes that happen to your body as a result of these training sessions happens after you’re finished training. Once you’ve stopped training, your body has to get to work rebuilding muscle tissues, optimizing hormone levels, and doing a whole host of other physiological functions.
In order to do these things, our bodies need adequate energy and nutrition, since the food we eat is used as the building blocks to make our bodies.
In fact, all the hard work you are doing at the gym and on the field can be seriously undermined if you are not allowing your body to recover properly.
Think about it: you’ve spent all this time and energy trying to make your body into a machine that will do what you want it to do. For example, you are trying to make your body able to run longer, sprint faster, shoot harder, etc.
You’ve put this pressure on it to do what you need it to do by training, but then when it goes to recruit the resources it actually needs to carry out those functions (build more muscle, for example) they are not there, because you haven’t fed your body properly.
What will it do? At the very least, it won’t perform as you want it. At the worst, it will break down. So, its not enough just to train hard. You also have to eat well if you want to reach optimal performance and avoid injuries.
Today’s post will walk you through the basics of nutrition so that you can set yourself up for success.
Keep it Simple.
First and foremost, you have to keep in mind that knowing what to eat is simple. A cat doesn’t question what’s good for it to eat, it just knows. You also have that ability, you just have to start paying attention to it.
People often over-complicate nutrition. They get into specific nutrient profiles of foods, and try to come up with formulas about how to properly fuel the body. I think that this is unnecessary for most people. Often people will get overwhelmed and exhausted trying to do something like this. So before I get into a discussion of macro and micro nutrients, I want to outline a few principles to keep in mind when thinking about how to feed your body properly.
1. Eat real food.
Our bodies are made to consume food in its natural state, so we should give it what it wants. Formula 1 race cars only take fuel that is triple filtered to get rid of the contaminants. Similarly, we should eat natural foods because they’re what our system is designed for. When food is processed this is like adding “contaminants” to our fuel source. The system will still work but it will be harder for the engine to run, and it will be harder on the system, because that guck will start to build up in our bodies.
So when you’re making food choices, stick with real food, not “food like products”. You should be able to identify the natural ingredients that have gone into the food. That means things like bars, chips, candies, microwavable food stuff, fast food, etc. should be avoided.
2. Eat a variety of foods.
Foods that are natural usually fall into 2 broad categories: Meat and plants.
Make sure you eat a whole lot of plants and a bit of meat, and you wont have to worry about specific nutrients and their concentrations. If you eat a whole bunch of different plant materials (fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans), you will definitely be getting enough nutrition.
You only start to become nutrient deficient if you stick to the same 3-4 foods all the time. Each plant has a unique nutrient profile, so consume them in various combinations to get all the nutrients you require.
Meat should only be consumed once in a while, if at all. This is because all animals ultimately get their nutrition from plants. Animals can’t generate their own nutrients, only plants can. So when we eat animals we are eating “second hand” nutrients.
It’s ok to eat meat once in a while, for the flavour, but its not necessary for optimal athletic performance, and it may even be detrimental, because meat can be seen as a contamination in your fuel source. Meat includes chicken, beef, and pork. More on meat to come.
3. Listen to your body.
Ultimately, eating food is about fueling your body. So listen to how your body feels above all else. If you feel better eating more meat, eat it. If you feel better eating less meat, eat less. If you feel like you’re hungry/need more food, eat more. If you are full, stop eating. Don’t replace your own feelings and awareness about your body with someone else’s advice, including mine. You are the highest authority on how your body feels, so trust that.
Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s talk about the science.
Where does your body get it’s energy from?
You body gets it’s energy by converting food you eat into a substance called glucose. It takes that glucose and uses it to make ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the only form of energy your body can use. Your body is really good at turning food you eat into glucose, which then combines with oxygen to give ATP.
Food = Glucose
Glucose + Oxygen = ATP (usable energy for your body)
However, not all the food you eat is equally able to turn into glucose. There are 3 main forms of “macronutrients” that are found in food, and each of them affects this energy equation a bit differently.
The most readily available source of glucose for your body are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates very easily become glucose in your body, which, according to the formula above, easily becomes energy for your body. These are big long molecules found in things like fruits, starchy vegetables (ie. potatoes, yams), whole grains, and other plant sources. Meat has no carbohydrates at all.
So, if you are a high performance athlete whose body is constantly using high quantities of energy, you should be consuming a lot of carbohydrates to fuel your body in those activities, and to fuel your body’s ability to repair itself. Eat a lot of carbohydrates every day.
Another macromolecule that is found in many foods is lipids. Lipids are also able to be converted to glucose, but they take a really long time. This is why when you eat them, they leave you feeling full for a long time. It takes your body a while to make usable energy out of them. Lipids are good to eat to make sure you have energy available over the more longer term (days to weeks).
However, lipids also provide you with a whole bunch of things that help keep your tissues healthy. They are absolutely vital to have a healthy brain and heart, so it is necessary to include these in your diet as well.
Lipids are more commonly called fats, and there are many different types.
A purely synthetic, man-made type of fat is Trans-Fat. This is never, EVER found in natural foods, only in “food stuffs” like the ones mentioned earlier (microwavable food, cookies, chips, sauces, etc.). Consider this as poison, as it will kill you slowly. It is very harmful to human health, and instead of acting as a contaminant in your fuel source it can be considered more like putting windshield fluid in your engine. It will ruin your engine, and it is absolutely not something that you want to be putting in your engine if you are trying to maximize the performance of your body/vehicle.
**Note, sometimes these types of products will say “Zero Trans Fat”, but they are legally allowed to say that if they include less than 0.5 grams of trans-fat per serving. So, for example, a big package of LAY’s Classic Potato Chips could contain 0.5g of trans fat for every 28 grams (15 chips), which is considered to be one serving. In a whole bag, that adds up to become 4 grams, which is significant.**
Another type of fat is Saturated Fat. This one is usually only found in animal products, including meat, cheese, dairy, and eggs. It can also be found in some oils. There is mixed evidence about how harmful this fat can be for human health, so if you must consume these types of foods (meat, cheese,eggs, etc.), consume it in limited quantities. It is certainly not necessary for health, so there is no real benefit to eating it, except taste.
The last type of fat I will discuss here is Unsaturated Fat. This is mostly found in plants and plant oils. This type of fat is widely considered the healthiest fat, since it has many necessary functions in the body including maintaining heart and brain health. Foods that contain unsaturated fats include: olive oil (certain other plant oils), avocados, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. Include as much of this type of fat into your diet as you like, but make sure you are at least getting a serving or two every day.
Protein is very rarely used as a fuel source for our bodies. Instead, it forms the raw material that is used to make up our bodies. Protein is like the building blocks our bodies use to build tissues.
There is a whole lot of hype about this nutrient at the moment, because eating protein is necessary to build muscle and feel satisfied with less food (which can help you lose weight). However, in healthy individuals who eat enough food, protein deficiency is virtually unheard of, so there is likely no need to pay special importance to getting enough protein. In fact, most people get more than they need, which has its own dangers.
The recommended amount for a normal, mostly sedentary person is about 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight (this equals about 0.36 grams per pound). Recommended guidelines for soccer athletes are 1.4 – 1.7 g/kg.
Using these ranges as a guideline, if you’re a high performance soccer player who weighs 135 lbs, you should be aiming to get about 86 – 104 grams of protein per day.
If you want to calculate how much you need as a high performance soccer athlete, follow these steps:
- Decide if you belong on the low end of the spectrum or the high end for soccer players (things like gender and body size will help you decide, smaller females will need less). Pick a number between 1.4 and 1.7 based on where you think you belong on the spectrum.
- Multiply the number by 0.453.
- Multiply the number by your body weight in pounds.
That is how much protein you need per day. For reference, here is how much protein is in some common foods:
2 eggs – 12 grams
2 slices of whole grain toast – 7.3 grams
1 handful of nuts (3 ounces, 84 grams) – 12 – 27 grams
3 ounces of tuna – 25 grams
1 cup of broccoli – 2.5 grams
1 cup of beans – 12- 18 grams
1 cup of quinoa – 8 grams
That’s about 95 grams of protein, just eating a normal, healthy day’s worth of food. So really, I would say don’t worry too much about protein. There is a little bit of protein in almost every “real food” you can eat, so just eat enough food and you should be covered.
There is no need to supplement your protein intake unless you have calculated that you won’t be meeting your requirements. In that case, I recommend Vega Protein Powder. It tastes awesome (I use the chocolate flavour) and it provides you with an easy way to sneak in some extra servings of vegetables.
You can think of MACROnutrients as the main building blocks of our food, which get broken down to be used by our bodies. MICROnutrients, then, are like the nuts and bolts that keep everything together and running smoothly.
In a race car, macronutrients would be the engine and the fuel, and micronutrients would be everything else: the body, the screws and bolts, the antifreeze, brake fluid, oil, windshield fluid, transmission fluid, and even the mechanic.
You can see that although Macro nutrients may be the energy source, micronutrients are very important and can not be overlooked. Micronutrients keep everything together, help to repair damage, help to send chemical messages, and so much more. Without adequate micronutrients, our bodies would not last very long before running into problems.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals, which are found mostly in plant foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds). There are too many different kinds of micronutrients to list here with their sources. Just know that the closer to natural a food is (for example, a fruit, compared to fruit juice, compared to a gummy snack made with fruit juice) the more micronutrients it has. The more processed it is, the more micronutrients it loses.
This is why you need to be eating a plant based, all natural diet. It will give you all the stuff you need to keep your body performing at its maximum, with minimal contaminants.
My advice to you is not to worry too much about calculating proportions of all your nutrients. Just eat a variety of healthy, natural food to satisfy your hunger. Keep it simple!
Do you have any questions about nutrition? Want to know more about anything mentioned here? Do you disagree with my views on meat? Let me know in the comments below.