No matter what level of athlete or competitor you are, taking a holistic approach to your diet and nutrition can help you optimize not only your training and performance, but your overall health as well. The world of nutrition has never been more confusing, with countless diets emerging in recent years promising a host of health benefits. We’re here to help you better understand the science of nutrition so you can use it to help you train harder and feel better. To start we’re going to cover some basics.
Put simply, macronutrients are the “fuel” (aka calories) that your body uses for energy to power every system, function and activity. These range from internal functions like your metabolism to exercise and muscle recovery. The three macros are: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. While you’ve no doubt heard of them before, understanding how they work together to fuel your body is an important part of developing an optimal nutrition plan to help you achieve your goals. Furthermore, tracking your intake of macros and calories is an important part of any diet and nutrition program. We did a deep-dive on macro tracking, and some of the best tracking apps available in a previous article, which you can check out here.
Macro Ratios & Diet Trends
Just like everything health and nutrition-related, the right macro ratio - the percentage of protein, carbs, and fats in your daily diet - is highly personal and there’s no “right” ratio for everyone. Furthermore, the optimal breakdown for any individual is highly-dependent on factors including their fitness goals, body type, activity level, and weight. Adding in additional considerations like a particular diet or nutrition plan and you’re going to need to have a breadth of knowledge based on what your overall goals are. Let’s break down a few notable diets that are making waves in the athlete and competitor communities and dive into some context about how they relate to macros and nutrition.
The Keto Diet
Perhaps the most controversial diet today, the keto diet includes a ratio of very low carb to high fat intended to move the body in a metabolic state called ketosis. When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. The keto diet can support significant reductions in blood sugar, insulin levels and help with weight loss, making it well suited to people seeking those results. From a macro standpoint, this diet is very low in carbohydrates, high in dietary fat and include a moderate amount of proteins, with typical breakdowns in the range of 5%-10% of calories coming from carbs, 25%-35% of calories coming from protein, and 60-70% of calories coming from fat. There are also variations on this general diet, with macro ratio adjustments used to achieve specific goals or support different lifestyles. Many athletes turn to the keto diet with goals of losing weight, changing body composition, and leaning down and while it takes some very specific preparation and dedication, many athletes swear by it.
The Paleo Diet
If there’s one other diet that’s as debated and discussed as the keto diet it’s the paleo diet. Like the keto diet, paleo has its fair share of diehards (including many, many top athletes) and it’s fair share of detractors. Just like with any fitness plan or diet, Paleo isn’t for everyone, but can yield some impressive results when adhered to properly. “Paleo” is short for Paleolithic and it’s a dietary plan that focuses on foods that humans ate during the Paleolithic era. This diet strives to eliminate products made via modern food processing and farming methods, focusing on natural foods that would be available to our ancient ancestors. In theory, the Paleo diet supports the idea that the human body is not well adapted to modern-day, highly-processed foods and cutting out foods such as dairy, grains, and legumes can help a person lose weight and prevent heart disease and diabetes.
Like the keto diet, the paleo diet focuses on higher ratios of fat and protein and lower amounts of carbs, though not to the degree of the keto diet. While there are moderate variances within the range of macro ratios, general paleo ratios are 45% of calories from protein, 35% from carbs, and 20% from fat. The key difference however is that with a paleo diet adherents aren’t focused as strictly on macro breakdowns because forcing the body into ketosis is not a primary goal. With the paleo diet, it’s more about what you’re eating (and not eating) rather than adhering to a strict ratio. Ultimately, many athletes have found success with the Paleo diet because of its relative balance of macro ratios that support high-intensity training and fitness goals, as well as its general impact on nutrition and health with respect to its focus on natural and whole foods.
Gone are the days when a plant-based diet isn’t taken seriously by athletes as a means to fuel their body for training and competition. More and more elite and professional athletes are choosing to forgo all animal products and focus on plant-based diets these days, regardless of their sport or competition level. From the NFL to Crossfit, to the UFC and beyond, athletes are embracing the health benefits of a vegan diet like never before. By focusing strictly on vegetables and plant-based protein sources, as well as a balanced macronutrient profile, peak performance and optimal nutrition can be achieved. The most common issue plant-based athletes can face is adequate protein intake, but with the right diet, meal planning and an appropriate range of supplements, the myths about vegan diets and their lack capability to support top performers are being smashed with each new adopter. While there’s never one “right choice” for everyone, the optimal plant-based diet will take work and a host of specific needs but this radical approach can yield big dividends.
Similar to any high-performance machine, when it comes to your body you get out of it what you put into it. While the diet universe is a broad and noisy space, the key to success is experimenting with your own plans to find the right balance to achieve your goals.