You may, or may not have followed a recent debate on the Singletrackworld website, where I and another battled out our differences over some nutritional advice I gave for and leading up to the Red Bull Mountain Mayhem event. Debate is great and necessary, but when two people stick firmly to their guns, it can leave those following it a little dazed and confused. The purpose of these next two articles is to put forward the views of a number of authors with regard to long and short-term nutritional strategies. I will of course give an opinion on these findings, but the most important thing is that all the information’s here, so interpret it how you will…
Here’s a few different author’s views on long-term nutrition for athletes:
Melvin Williams PhD “The Ergogenics Edge” (1999). Melvin recommends that carbohydrate should represent between 60-70% of dietary calories long-term, but makes recommendations as high as 75% for the 24 hours after prolonged or strenuous exercise to encourage recovery.
Dan Benardot PhD “Nutrition for Serious Athletes” (2000). Dan recommends that carbohydrate should represent 65% of dietary calories, although most of his sample diets in the appendices are higher than this at 65-70%.
Asker Jeukendrup “High-Performance Cycling” (2002). In the nutrition chapter, Louise Burke suggests that a cyclist devote 50-70% of totally energy intake to carbohydrate.
Jack Costill and David Wilmore (1999) “Physiology of Sport and Exercise”. Jack and David recommend that an athlete consume 55-65% of his/her calories as carbohydrate.
Body in Action Training and Education Ltd (Instructor Training). This group recommends that athletes obtain 60-70% of daily calories from carbohydrate.
Melvin Williams PhD “The Ergogenics Edge” (1999). Melvin recommends 12-20% of dietary calories be devoted to protein.
Dan Benardot PhD “Nutrition for Serious Athletes” (2000). Dan suggests 12-15% protein for the general population and his sample diets all tend to hover around the 15% mark.
Asker Jeukendrup “High-Performance Cycling” (2002). Here Louise doesn’t mention percentages, but suggests 1.2-1.6grams per kg bodyweight. This is in line with the recommendations of Melvin Williams.
Jack Costill and David Wilmore (1999) “Physiology of Sport and Exercise”. According to the researchers protein accounts for 5-15% of the average American’s diet. They go on to say that a diet of 10-15% protein should be adequate for most athletes.
Body in Action Training and Education Ltd (Instructor Training). This group recommends that athletes obtain 12-15% of daily calories from protein.
Melvin Williams PhD “The Ergogenics Edge” (1999). Melvin makes no recommendations for fat intake other than to point out that the necessary essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins are readily obtainable on a vegetarian diet consisting of only 5-10% fat. He does say however that athletes may train quite effectively on diets containing 30-40% calories as fat if they’re consuming substantial carbohydrate too.
Dan Benardot PhD “Nutrition for Serious Athletes” (2000). Dan suggests that 20-25% fat is necessary to assure sufficient energy and nutrient intake. He also recommends that athletes don’t sink below 10% of daily calories as fat. However, most of his sample diets contain 16-20% fat. There’s one diet for a huge 240lb athlete where fat represents a shade under 25% of total calories.
Asker Jeukendrup “High-Performance Cycling” (2002). There are no recommendations for fat intake in this book, although there’s lots of discussion on ‘Energy Balance’, which I’ll touch on towards the end of this section.
Jack Costill and David Wilmore (1999) “Physiology of Sport and Exercise”. The recommendations here are that total calories from fat should not exceed 30%, as fat intakes above this figure are linked with health risks.
Body in Action Training and Education Ltd (Instructor Training). This group recommends that athletes obtain around 20% of daily calories from fat.
So, what should your long-term athletic diet consist of? If I wanted to be safe and cover my back I’d say 50-75% carbohydrate: 10-20% protein: 10-25% fat. However, if I were to stick my neck out and suggest an optimum, it would probably be consistent with most of Dan Benardot’s sample diets, which are around 65-70% carbohydrate: 15% protein: 15-20% fat. I would also expect this mix to change, for instance during times of really heavy training load when you’re consuming lots of carbohydrate on the bike and afterwards to optimise recovery. This transience in diet will be discussed in more detail in the follow-up to this article ‘Short-term nutritional strategies’. It’s quite conceivable that an athlete will not achieve energy balance during periods of heavy load training, but compensate later on during low-load recovery periods – this should be incidental as opposed to being planned however.
As I mentioned briefly above, there is the issue of ‘Energy Balance’ and this is really important. You must get as many calories in as you are using up. There’s no point in having a high carbohydrate, low fat diet and yet you’re not consuming enough calories. This would be disastrous on a long-term basis and could seriously affect your health – let alone performance. You have to work very hard to get the carbohydrate calories in and you’ll need a few little tricks up your sleeves. Most of these books discuss the use of glucose polymer as an effective tool for attaining energy balance, because it can be mixed into foods, tea, coffee etc without being noticed, yet it contains substantial carbohydrate energy. It’s also empty of other nutrients though, so should never replace proper meals – just be a supplement to them.
Finally, don’t worry if this whole article seems over your head or difficult to apply, it’s just a review of literature. I don’t expect you to have either the time or inclination to count your calories, but you should try to be more aware of what you’re putting into your body. Go for lower fat options and make a real effort to consume carbohydrate rich foods and some rich sources of lean protein twice per day and you won’t go far wrong.
There’s bags of information on carbs at the following links: Search for
A background to carbohydrate.
Keep an eye on the TORQ website over the next few weeks for the follow-up to this article ‘Nutritional Stratergy (part 2)’.