I'm a small-town Minnesota dietitian and triathlete.
I help endurance athletes reach their performance and body composition goals through a flexible eating style.
You may hear me mention calories and macros, but lately I’ve felt the need to have a deeper discussion about them and how they can play a role in your athlete diet.
A calorie is essentially a measurement of energy. We consume said energy to fuel our bodies so that we can live and function. From basic functions – like keeping our heart beating and keeping every single living organ, tissue and cell in our body running – to more complex functions such as fueling our muscles to run 26.2 miles.
The more active you are, the more calories your body needs to function. BUT, calories are just one small piece of the puzzle. Your weight, your body composition and how you’re fueling your body – there’s more to it all than just calories.
The term “macro” is a nickname for macronutrient – a nutrient needed in large amounts within our diet. Macronutrients are measured in grams and the three main macros are carbohydrates (4 calories/gram), protein (4 calories/gram) and fat (9 calories/gram).
Carbohydrates are our body’s fastest and easiest source of fuel – making it the preferred source of fuel for exercise – especially for endurance athletes and highly explosive strength requirements (i.e. sprinters). When we consume carbs they get either used immediately for energy or they are stored in our muscles and liver as (fancy, technical term alert!) glycogen. When you consume too much – carbs get converted and stored as fat.
Side note: There’s a lot of discussion/debate out there about the keto diet and using fat as the main source of energy. While this route may work for a select few athletes, it’s not for everyone, and is a separate blog topic discussion for another time.
While protein can be used as energy, it’s not a preferred source. When consumed protein gets broken down into amino acids that are used to build, maintain and repair alllll of our body’s muscle and tissues. Yep, that’s a big, important job right there. When we consume extra protein that our body doesn’t need, guess what happens?
Our body builds more muscle? Nope.
It gets converted and stored as fat? Bingo.
Fat is our body’s longest-lasting source of energy. It can get used immediately for energy after we consume it, or it gets stored as fatty tissue. When our body is resting, it prefers to use fat for energy because when we’re resting we don’t need that quick energy. Our body would prefer to save that glycogen (aka: stored carbs/quick energy) for when we really need it.
Macros are again a piece of that sports nutrition puzzle, and we don’t eat nutrients.. We eat food. Which is why as dietitian I take the following components into consideration when working with my athletes because you need to live your life, enjoy your life and provide your body the nutrition it needs through the food you eat day in and day out:
When you’re eating and fueling like you’re training – the results are incredible. But that’s easier said than done when you consider all these factors that play into our lives and impact applying a successful sports nutrition diet each and every day.
Ok. Let’s talk about how you’re gonna get there. Start with simple, easy attainable steps. Like, adding more protein at breakfast (a common need I see among busy athletes) or adding 1-2 additional servings of fruits and vegetables to you day (another very common need I see with my athletes).
Want to be more mindful about your diet? I’d highly recommend taking a food journal for 3-5 days. Being able to see on paper what you’ve eaten in an entire day can be a game-changer. You’d be amazed at what you learn from this exercise! Tip: I typically have my athletes use MyFitnessPal as it’s a free, easy-to-use app with a great database of foods (Ignore the calorie and macro recommendations, they are generally skewed and I have my clients go off my recommendations instead).
If you’re looking for help to skip all the confusion, the time and the energy it could take to figure it out on your own, that’s where I can come in and hand you a plan for what to do and show you exactly how to change your eating for a better body and better performance – in a manner that works for you. Working with a dietitian is hands down the direct, most efficient route to your performance, physical goals.