No, we’re not talking about how to become a super heavyweight bodybuilder, powerlifter or wrestler, we’re talking about the film Super Size Me, a 2004 documentary, directed by and starring independent U.S. filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. The film follows Spurlock for a period of thirty days in which he ate only fast food (McDonalds’s) and documents the physical and psychological effects of this lifestyle (he also stopped exercising).
When he began his experiment, Spurlock was 33 years old, healthy and slim, weighing 185.5 pounds and a height of 6 feet 2 inches. After thirty days, he gained 24.5 lb, an increase of 13% of his body mass. He also experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction and severe liver damage. It took several months for Spurlock to lose the weight he gained and return to normal health.
So what does the film Super Size Me have to do with athletes and physical performance? Well, any number of things. For one, a surprising number of athletes, not only on the high school and college level but also the pros, eat like they’re in their own private Super Size Me movie. Oh, they may make use of sports recovery drinks and take creatine or a few other supplements, but when it comes to food, their choice of what they eat and drink includes more than a little pizza and burgers and fries and soft drinks. Of course, the majority of athletes, especially those in high school and college, are young and active and can burn off a lot of junk. But the point is that the choices in what you eat and drink affect your body composition, your mental and physical health, and your physical performance.
The foregoing statement would seem to be only a matter of common sense, but the reality is that many athletes at all levels simply do not pay much attention to diet. One reason may be that, historically, more emphasis was placed on the training of athletes than the feeding of them. But the bottom line is that for any athlete, and particularly the natural athlete, your nutrition is every bit as important as how you train. But the fact is that no matter how hard and regularly you train, no matter what equipment and techniques you use, without an adequate supply of the necessary nutrients – in the proper amounts and the proper times – you simply cannot reach your peak levels of physical performance. Optimum nutrition can make a great athlete even greater, a good athlete superior, and an average athlete good.
Here’s what the International Olympic Committee has to say about how good nutrition can impact performance, this taken from the IOC Sports Nutrition consensus statement from 2002:
“The amount1, composition2, and timing of food3 intake can profoundly affect sports performance. Good nutritional practice will help athletes train hard1, recover quickly2, and adapt more effectively3 with less risk of illness and injury4.”
“The right diet will help athletes achieve an optimum body size and body composition to achieve greater success in their sport”
Just what is the ‘right diet’ for athletes? The answer depends on a number of variables, including but not limited to the type of sport or athletic endeavor, age, gender, overall state of health, training program parameters and certain individual genetic propensities. Having said all that, there are certain guidelines. Here are a few of them:
1. Consume enough food to maintain your desired weight. Notice we didn’t say consume enough calories to maintain your desired weight. Though calories are the accepted measure of food energy, we are concerned with proper nutrition, not just jamming calories from any source down the feeding tube. However, since the calorie is an accepted and undeniably valuable tool for nutritional analysis, let’s go there first.
There are three main factors involved in calculating how many calories your body needs per day: Basal metabolic rate, energy expenditure, and the thermic effect of food. As with so many things, there are simple ways to calculate your caloric needs and more complex methods. The complex methods usually involve using bodyweight times a multiplier.
A) Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy your body needs to function at rest. One of the most accurate methods of estimating your basal metabolic rate is the Harris-Benedict formula:
Adult male: 66 + (6.3 x body weight in lbs.) + (12.9 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)
Adult female: 65 + (4.3 x weight in lbs.) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
B) The second factor in the equation, physical activity, is important to the athlete and/or the person who is involved in regular exercise. Some examples of the energy expenditure of select activities (note that these will vary depending on factors such as position played in team sports and intensity of effort in strength training).
CALORIES PER POUND PER MINUTE
Running: 9 min/mile
Running: 8 min/mile
Running: 7 min/mile
Running: 6 min/mile
Running: 5 min/mile
Cycling 1: 5+mph
C) The thermic effect of food is the amount of energy your body uses to digest the food you eat. To calculate the number of calories you expend in this process, multiply the total number of calories you eat in a day by 10%.
D) Add A + B + C and you get an idea of how many calories you need to maintain your present body weight.
That was the complex method. For those of you who prefer less math, here’s a simpler method of calculating caloric needs:
For Fat Loss – consume 12 to 13 calories per pound of bodyweight.
For Weight Maintenance, consume 15 to 16 calories per pound of bodyweight
For Weight Gain, consume 18 to 20 calories per pound of bodyweight.
Note: the above numbers should be adjusted for energy expenditure.
2. Feed your body frequently throughout the day. To quote from the January Natural Nutrition column: “By supplying your body with adequate nutrition periodically throughout the day you will ensure an available pool of amino acids for cellular growth and repair and adequate carbohydrates for energy, as well as helping to stabilize blood sugar levels which, in turn, promotes higher energy levels and regulates hunger.”
3. Eat whole, natural foods whenever possible; avoid packaged, processed foods as much as possible.
4. Get your protein. As a general guideline, taking in about 1 to 1.5 grams per pound of bodyweight will be adequate for building and repairing tissue. .Basically, every time you eat, have some protein.
5. Don’t skip the carbohydrates. Athletes trying to gain weight and/or athletes involved in endurance type activities should consume approximately 2 to 3 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight – or an approximate 2 to1 ratio of carbs to protein. This intake should be sufficient to help maintain body weight, furnish energy for training and maintain glycogen stores.
6. Fats. The remainder of your calories will be in the form of fats (remember, we’re talking about ‘good’ fats here, not the kind that come out of the deep fry bin). Take in about .5 gram/lb bodyweight.
7. Take Vitamin & Mineral Supplements. If you eat a perfectly balanced diet with adequate amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and dairy products, you could be getting the required RDAs for vitamins and minerals. But chances are you don’t eat that perfectly balanced diet, and chances are you need a bit more than the RDA for some micro-nutrients as RDAs are the minimum recommended intake needed to avoid or alleviate nutrient deficiency, not the levels needed for optimal health and physical performance. Vitamin and Mineral supplements can be an inexpensive form of nutrition insurance. Buy some.
8. Remember that Water is a nutrient. All athletes need to pay particular attention to hydration. Drink water and non-sugar containing beverages. Again, quoting from the January Natural Nutrition column: “Drink at least 64 oz. of water every day. This is in addition to any other liquids you consume. Water is vital for optimum health, for maintaining correct fluid levels in the body, for proper weight control (drinking enough water can help you burn fat) and for maximizing muscle growth and function (remember that muscle is about 70% water).”
Athletes should be well hydrated before beginning exercise; and should also drink adequate fluids during and after exercise to balance fluid losses. Consumption of sport drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes during exercise will provide fuel for the muscles, help maintain blood glucose levels and the thirst mechanism, and decrease the risk of dehydration.
9. Timing is important. The body is more in need of and more receptive to certain nutrients at different times. Case in point is the post workout increased need for carbohydrates to replenish glucose levels and protein to aid in cellular growth and repair. If you’ve worked out with high intensity, you probably won’t feel like eating solid food immediately after the training session, so liquid form is often preferable. A growing body of studies indicates that consuming adequate food and fluid before, during, and after exercise can help maintain blood glucose levels during exercise, maximize exercise performance, and improve recovery time.
One final tip: Look at your body as a machine and food as fuel. Do you want to be a Ferrari or a 4 cylinder sub-compact? If you opt for being a Ferrari then you better be putting high octane in your tank.