Did you know that about 60 percent of Americans say they want to feel healthier, and over 50 percent want to lose weight? We all hear advice that we should get regular exercise and eat a healthy diet. But what does that look like, and how do you make sure your diet is meeting your fitness goals?
Your diet will look very different depending on whether you’re eating for fitness or eating for sports performance. Read on to learn more about fitness nutrition vs. sports nutrition and what you should aim for with each.
Reaching Specific Goals
Before we dive into the different nutrition, let’s talk some about the goals of each. The aim of sports nutrition is at helping a person to achieve certain athletic goals. These goals may include growing more muscle mass, getting leaner, lifting more weight, running faster, and so on.
The focus of fitness nutrition is on helping a person become the healthiest version of themselves, athletic goals aside. We usually focus these diets on achieving a general nutritional balance rather than specific ratios of macronutrients. And while sports nutrition goals may change in a matter of weeks or months, individuals usually view fitness nutrition goals in the long term.
Accounting For the Right Calories
A person’s daily calorie intake goals will depend on their particular situation. Whether they’re eating for fitness or sports performance, age, sex, body composition, and goals can all play a role in how many calories a person should consume.
Mostly, the recommended daily calorie intake for males is 2,500, while females should aim for about 2,000 calories a day. If you’re trying to lose weight, those numbers may drop as low as 1,250 calories a day.
If you’re eating for sports nutrition, your calorie intake recommendations may be higher. For instance, Tour de France riders usually eat between 5,000 and 8,000 calories a day. Overall, if you’re looking to gain weight, eat more calories than you burn, and vice versa.
Differing Electrolyte Requirements
Electrolytes are minerals your body needs to perform various functions. These can include potassium, calcium, sodium, and more, and you lose them through sweat and other bodily fluids.
If you’re focused on fitness nutrition, a healthy diet should get you all the electrolytes you need. However, check that you’re getting the daily recommended amounts of these nutrients in your food each day.
If you’re eating for sports nutrition, you’re likely losing a lot more electrolytes per day during your workouts. Many sports drinks contain important electrolyte cocktails designed to keep your body running at peak capacity. You can also take specific electrolyte supplements designed to replenish your depleted stores.
My athlete needs to put on weight. Coaches and parents have long held this belief that their athlete needs to put on my weight and sometimes this is true.
Unless the athlete is overweight, they need more to improve performance. During the initial adaptation to a sport, a youth athlete may fall short of their caloric needs for athletic performance. Not only are they not gaining weight but they are losing weight from the extra activity.
There is an important distinction between gaining weight and gaining muscle. An athlete needs to focus on building lean muscle tissue and supplying the right amount of calories to sustain energy throughout their sport and life.
Let’s look at the differences between each macronutrient for both fitness nutrition and sports nutrition.
Carbohydrates are one of the most controversial macronutrients in any nutrition world. Carbs are our body’s main source of energy and are very important for any athlete working to power through their workout. But carbs also break down in our blood as sugar and can cause insulin resistance and diabetes if not eaten in the appropriate amounts.
If your focus is fitness nutrition, aim to keep your carb intake between 45 and 65 percent of your daily calorie intake. For most people, that translates to between 225 and 325 grams of carbs per day, preferably as complex carbohydrates.
If you’re working on sports nutrition, however, you may need to take in more daily carbs to fuel your workouts. Staying around that 45 to 65 percent is a good idea, but it’s incredibly important to focus on eating complex carbs. This includes whole grains, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oats, and certain vegetables.
The difference in protein quantity for a fitness enthusiast and athlete is less than that of carbohydrates. But this minor difference can have a big impact on an athlete’s performance.
The fitness enthusiast needs adequate protein to support workout recovery and reduce their hunger for fat storing nutrients. Adequate protein for the athlete means sustained strength throughout the event and a reduced risk for soft tissue injuries.
For fitness nutrition, recommendations range from .8 grams to 1.5 grams per kilogram. For athletes, the range is from 1.2 to 2.0 grams per kilogram. What we find here is that the minimum effective protein starts higher than it does for fitness.
The amount of protein you need for athletic performance will depend on the sport. High impact, explosive power, and resistance based sports require more protein than endurance based activities. Sports such as football, high jump, and wrestling are all muscle demanding sports that require more amino acids for performance and recovery.
Gone are the days of low-fat diets. The individual looking to transform their physique needs fats to fuel hormones and sustain energy. The athlete needs healthy fats to prolong cognitive performance and reduce the risk of joint related injuries.
The specific need of fats will depend on the diet protocol the individual follows. Since athletes consume more carbohydrates, they will be less likely to follow the low-carb or ketogenic diet that most. Most athletes need 10-20% of their calorie intake as fats. This wide range differs based on their body fat percentage and carbohydrate consumption.
Fluid Intake Based on Activity Levels
Given that our bodies are more than half water, it should come as no surprise that hydration is important, no matter what your fitness goals are. Staying hydrated can help you lose weight, keep your blood sugar in check, have better skin, and more.
Males focused on fitness nutrition should aim to drink about sixteen cups of water or other hydrating fluid every day. Females should aim for about twelve cups of water a day.
As with most things on this list, athletes will need to drink more water to keep up with their energy expenditures. One simple way to tell if you’re getting enough water is to monitor your urine output. Healthy urine should not smell strong, be dark-colored, or be cloudy enough that you couldn’t read a magazine through it.
Age Isn’t Just a Number
It may not surprise you to learn that your nutrition needs will change as you get older. Your nutritional needs will change in the same ways as your age, whether your focus is sports nutrition or fitness nutrition.
Teenagers need to eat more protein than adults in order to give their bodies what they need to grow. They often need to eat fewer calories and carbs, but water and electrolyte intake are still just as important.
As you get older, your metabolism slows down, and you may need to decrease your calorie intake to see the same results. You may also want to shift away from carbs some as you age in order to keep your blood sugar within a healthy range.
Learn More About Performance Nutrition
Whether it is for aesthetics or athletic performance, nutrition is a comprehensive subject. Many of the articles you will find here are beneficial to anyone who engages in physical activity.
Your diet needs will change depending on how old you are and what goals you want to achieve for your body. People focused on fitness nutrition should eat about 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day, with about half of those coming from carbs. People focused on sports nutrition may need to take in more calories and carbs and will need to drink more water and replenish their electrolytes more often.
Become a Certified Sports Nutrition Specialist
If you’d like to become a true expert in nutrition science, check out our Sports Nutrition Specialist certification course. We partnered with Dr. Richard Kreider of Texas A&M University to give everyone access to the scientific information got in his and his colleagues’ sports labs.
We can help you become a certified sports nutritionist from the comfort of your own home. Get certified today and start learning the science surrounding sports nutrition.