How Protein Fat And Carbs Fuel Your Exercise
The 3 main macronutrient we need to watch for are protein fats and carbohydrates when exercising to get fit or just to lose weight.
While protein is not considered a major player as far as an energy source while exercising, because only about 5% is used in this way, protein is crucial in the recovery process. During exercise, muscle fibers tear, called microtears, and it is in recovery these tears are repaired and the muscle enlarged.
Why are the muscles enlarged? The body does not like to be stressed so it grows the muscles to better handle the stress last put upon it. It is through this process of breaking down and rebuilding back that muscle mass is added to the body. This process is not limited to bodybuilding, but also occurs in endurance-type sports whether recreational or at the professional level.
How much is needed?
Depending on training levels, protein needs will differ. For example, recreational exercisers need anywhere from 1gram per kilogram (or 2.2 pounds) of bodyweight up to as much as 1.8 grams. Endurance athletes need a minimum of 1.4 grams up to as high as 2.0 grams.
And quantity of protein is not the only consideration. Timing, or when you take in the protein, is important also. Studies have concluded that around 30 minutes prior to working out and again within 2 hours post-workout are the optimal times to take in a high-quality protein.
The protein beforehand has a chance to breakdown and provides your body with a ready source of amino acids it needs during a workout. If not readily available from food, it will pull the necessary amino acids from the protein in muscle, thus sacrificing muscle tissue. Afterward, protein is used to start the repair, recovery and rebuilding process in muscle.
Type of protein
To keep it simple, we are only going to discuss animal and non-animal types of protein. The main difference is the animal protein tends to be complete meaning it contains the 9 essential amino acids. These are not made or stored in the body so they must come daily from the food we eat.
Non-animal protein generally comes from plants and are usually not complete proteins as they are missing one or more of the essential amino acids, however two can be combined to form complete ones; for example, rice and beans. Rice is missing what the beans have and visa versa, so when paired together form a complete protein.
Whey verses soy
These are two other types of protein usually come from supplementation in the form of protein powder. Both are used to supplement protein found in food and each has its better use.
Because soy has less of a tendency to create ammonia, which causes muscle fatigue afterward as part of the breakdown process, it is better suited to ingest before and during exercise. Whey on the other hand, is better absorbed and has the highest percentage of amino acids, exactly what is needed after a workout to which it is more suited.
While the other two macronutrients carbohydrates and fat are primary sources of energy, adequate amounts of protein should be ingested prior to, during and especially post-workout to facilitate the post-workout recovery process.
Throughout recent history, dietary fat has gotten a bad rap. When mentioned, most people react like it is a bad thing… and it can be. But it is also one of the critical macronutrients of the three that the body needs to perform at optimal levels. The issue that comes into play is the type of fat and amount.
There are three kinds of fat that we get from our food: saturated, unsaturated and trans.
Saturated fat generally comes from animal sources and is a solid at room temperature; lard is one such example. Meat, eggs and dairy products all contain varying amounts of saturated fat. And of course like anything else, too much of it is not good and can lead to high cholesterol and heart disease. But when kept to no more than 10% of your total daily dietary fat intake, it will help with metabolizing the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Without enough if it, these go through your digestive system and your body gets no value from them even though you may be consuming the daily minimum requirement of each one.
Unsaturated fat is the kind found in many plant sources and usually remains in a liquid state when at room temperature. Unlike saturated fat, unsaturated has several health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease ; the exact opposites of saturated fat. Olive oil, avocados, almonds, flaxseed and fatty fish like tuna, halibut and salmon, are all great sources of poly and mono-unsaturated fat. Unsaturated fat should make up no more than 20% of your daily dietary intake.
The third type is trans fat. While it does occur naturally in limited quantities, most of it comes from manufacturing processes. It is created when unsaturated fat is made into a solid usually through a process called hydrogenation. Companies generally add it to their products to extend the shelf life, but because the body does not recognize it in its new form as neither saturated or unsaturated, the only thing it knows to do is store it as bodyfat. Because it is foreign to the body, it should be avoided when possible.
While carbohydrates and protein each contain 4 calories per gram, fat has over twice as much at 9 calories per gram, making it a great source of energy gram for gram due to its density of calories. As you know carbohydrates are used first for energy, but once it is depleted, fat is the next source making it beneficial for longer low-to-moderate intensity type endurance sports, like marathons or triathlons.
Fat plays an important role not only as a source of energy for your body, but also for your health and should be factored in as part of your daily requirement. Except for trans fat, the other two are not the culprits they have been made out to be when consumed in the right proportions.
When you exercise, carbohydrates are what your body uses as a main source of energy. Through the process of digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into smaller sugars, such as glucose, fructose and galactose. Extra glucose will be first stored in the muscles as glycogen. Once they are filled to capacity, the liver is the next to get replenished. Any leftover now will be stored as fat.
During short intense types of activities such as HIIT or Tabata, glycogen fuels muscles to perform these activities, but it can be quickly used up; generally, most people run out of stored glycogen at around the 30-minute mark, but some people can go as long as 90 minutes. It all depends on intensity and duration as far as how fast you burn through the energy stores.
However, for long, slow activities once the glycogen in the muscles and liver are depleted, your body will turn to stored fat as an energy source. If there is not enough fat to fuel the activity, the body will use protein as a source of energy, but this usually involves consuming muscle mass – something you don’t want to happen.
You may have heard about carb-loading: it is where athletes pack their glycogen stores as full as possible by eating complex carbohydrates – usually starches like breads, pastas and rice – the day before an event so they have the energy to carry them as far as possible before they must replenish it. With marathon and triathlon runners, replenishment is usually from sports gel packs literally eaten “on the run” about midway in the event. Those contain simple carbohydrates which are digested immediately ready for use to carry them through to the end.
How many carbs can we store? While it varies from person-to-person, generally speaking about 350 grams in the muscles, 90 grams in the liver and 5 grams suspended in the blood. At 4 calories per gram, that comes out to around 1,780 calories.
But some research results put this figure much higher … as much as15 grams per kilogram or 2.2 pounds of bodyweight. Doing the math, a 175-pound athlete could store as much as 1,200 grams of glycogen or around 4,800 calories. Of course it stands to reason that the more muscle one has, the more storage capability there will be.
Because protein are the building blocks of the body and is used for muscles, bone, skin, hair and just about all other tissue creation and maintenance, it will be hard to maintain a healthy body without adequate intake of carbohydrates. Also, your kidneys will suffer and can even fail if overtaxed trying to get rid of the additional byproducts created from using protein as a source of energy instead of carbohydrates.
It is easy to see why carbohydrates are so important for the recreational athlete to the professionals. As you are planning your dietary intake, be sure you are getting enough carbohydrates, and of the right kind, to carry you through your training and events.