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Macronutrients for Athletes – Complete Guide

People often wonder what the minimum requirement of [insert any macronutrient, vitamin or mineral here] is. This is indeed an interesting and great question.

In this crisp guide, we’ll be releasing a few nutrient guidelines and recommendations that will provide you with the absolute minimum amount of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and water for athletes.

There are only three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Within this guide, we will also discuss two more crucial elements of any Athlete’s diet.

These are water and fiber.

The minimum Requirement of Protein

Let’s start with the king of macros, protein.

You will know exactly why you should always cover the absolute minimum requirement of protein. This applies to any athlete.

The Main Functions of Protein

  • Enzyme and protein synthesis: There are undoubtedly hundreds of tissue types and enzymes that consist of proteins.
  • Nutrient Transport: Proteins act as “smart” transporters that bring nutrients to the right tissues.
  • Energy Source: Protein provides just under 4 kilocalories per gram.
  • Hormone production: Hormones control many important chemical activities in the body and consist of protein.
  • Fluid Balance: Proteins help to balance the body to balance its fluid balance (blood and surrounding tissues).
  • Acid-base balance: Proteins make an acidic environment less acidic and an alkaline environment less alkaline.
  • Growth and maintenance of tissue: Protein is needed to build and maintain tissue. It is also useful for the synthesis of non-proteinogenic nitrogenous substances, e.g. Phosphocreatine is needed, which is a high energy, a nitrogenous substance that contributes to improved energy delivery at intermittent loads.

Basically, the formula is: no protein = no gains. And I mean that because your muscles are literally made out of protein.

Now that you know roughly what your body needs protein for, we’ll look at HOW MUCH protein you should be having on a daily basis.

Tabel full of food with macronutrients for athletes

Intake Recommendations for Protein

The recommended minimum requirement changes depending on your individual nutritional situation. If you are under your calorie needs (cutting, etc. ), you have a different minimum requirement as if you have maintenance calories or a calorie surplus.

If you are in a calory deficit, your body is likely to burn some of the protein for energy needs. During maintenance or bulking, your body does not need protein as an energy source as it gets enough fats and carbs.

The minimum recommended calorie intake for protein is 1.2g protein per kilogram of body weight, MINIMUM.

The recommended minimum intake for protein in a hypocaloric diet (calorie deficit) is 2g of protein per KG body weight.

The minimum Requirement for Fat

Same game as the protein.

First, we clarify what our body needs fats for. Then we discuss the minimum requirement.

The main functions of fats

  • Energy Source: With just under 9 kilocalories per gram, fat is the most productive source of energy for our bodies.
  • Energy storage without limit: Fats can be stored energy-efficiently and in large quantities. These can be used during an energy deficit and prevents your body from starving.
  • Saturation: Fats stay longer in the stomach and can help us feel full for longer.
  • Taste carrier: Fatty food is considered tastier and wholesome.
  • Nutrient supplier: On the one hand, fat enables the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D & K). In addition, some fats – known as essential fatty acids (omega 3) – are essential. Meaning, they cannot be produced by our body. Also, there are quite a few other fat-soluble substances (e.g., antioxidants) that require fats for ingestion.
  • Cholesterol supplier: Although cholesterol has a bad reputation, it has important functions in the body. It is among other things the starting material for continuous hormone synthesis (for example, testosterone. Testosterone is partly produced from monosaturated fats.
  • Cell Health: Cells have a layer of fat (lipid layer) called the cell membrane. This cell membrane is made of fatty acids and it controls the permeability of the cell compared to nutrients (which influences nutrient intake).

Intake Recommendations for Fats

Similar to the protein, the minimum fat requirement changes when you are in a calorie deficit (diet phase).

This is primarily because, during a diet, you have to ensure an ideal protein and carbohydrate intake. Fats are very energetic, so fat intake is usually lowered to save calories.

For the hard-training athlete, adequate levels of protein and carbohydrates are more important than fats. They help maintain muscle and deliver performance.

Also not insignificant is the fact that you have more food volume when limiting fats and focusing on proteins and carbohydrates.

This makes it easier for many athletes to stick to their dietary requirements.

What would you rather eat in the diet: a plate full of vegetables or 15 almonds? You know what I mean.

The recommended minimum supplementation for fats at the beginning of a diet is 20% of your total calorie intake.

The recommended minimum intake for fats in a hypocaloric diet (calorie deficit) is 15% of your total calorie intake.

Also, you should differentiate between monosaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

If you go as low as 15% calories from fats, make sure you get enough omega 3’s. As already mentioned, these are essential and provide huge benefits.

If you want to learn more about the benefits of omega 3’s check out our article.

fish oil, an essential marconutrient for athletes

The minimum Carbohydrate Requirement

Carbohydrates <3.

Come on, everybody loves carbs. They are incredibly delicious – it’s that easy!

But are they of use if we want to train hard and optimize our body composition?

The main functions of carbohydrates

  • Energy Source: Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel (important for weightlifters who need fuel!)
  • Saves protein: If carbohydrates are present, your body prefers burning carbohydrates instead of proteins. That’s in everyone’s interest I guess.
  • Optimizes fat oxidation: “Carbs burn fats” – you may have heard this saying before. It’s not really accurate, but you get the idea,
  • Energy storage: Carbohydrates can be stored in two forms, as glycogen (liver, muscle) or fat (after appropriate conversion in the liver). Fat can also be transformed back to glucose to deliver energy.

Carbs are crucial for sports. Although carbohydrates are not essential, they do help us deliver more power, more energy.

Exercise intensity plays an important role in maintaining and building muscles.

This is why carbohydrates also play an important role in the diet of a weight training athlete.

Intensive training drains the glycogen reserves (carbohydrate storage) of the muscles. It is important for strength athletes and bodybuilders to always regenerate these energy stores.

This is the reason why traditional low-fat diets have become popular with bodybuilders.

Feed Recommendations for Carbohydrates

Again, the absolute minimum intake depends on what your nutritional situation currently looks like. Whether you are in a calorie surplus/calorie balance or a calorie deficit.

The recommended minimum intake for weight-loss carbohydrates is 4g per kilogram of body weight.

In the case of a strict diet, 4g / kg are often not possible, because it would lower the protein and fat intake under the essential need.

In that case, the recommended minimum intake is the number of calories left after you’ve covered the minimum levels of protein and fats.

Fats and proteins are essential, carbs aren’t. While they are super useful for any sport, during strict diets you have to cut them instead of anything else.

The Absolute minimum Requirement for Fiber

Let’s get straight to the point.

The Main Functions of Fiber

  • Digestion & intestinal peristalsis: If you eat enough fiber (especially the water-soluble), it can be good for your daily business on the toilet. That says it all, right?
  • Gut Health: Fiber can reduce the risk of hemorrhoids and bowel puffing.
  • Regulation of cholesterol level: Dietary fibers combined with cholesterol allow excretion (LDL cholesterol).
  • Regulation of diabetes: Since dietary fiber affects blood sugar levels and contributes to a lower intake of sugar, they are health-promoting, especially for diabetics.
  • Weight Management: High-fiber foods are often low in energy and high in volume. They fill the stomach and last for a long time, which reduces hunger and cravings.

As you can see, dietary fiber, although not essential to survival, plays an important role in nutrition, which you should by no means ignore.

Feed Recommendations for Fiber

The minimum fiber intake is 14g fiber for every 1,000 kilocalories you eat.

If eat 2,000 kcal a day, you should have at least 28g of fiber in your diet (at 3,000 kcal, it’s 42g, and so on.)

This recommendation is a little conservative, but I think that this is a sufficient number to follow.

If you feed a few grams less for a few days, fine. But fiber is great, and shouldn’t be ignored.

Which foods are suitable as fiber sources?

– Whole grain products

– Legumes (beans, peas, etc.)

– Nuts & seeds

– Vegetables and fruits

Side Note on Fiber: If you focus on getting the fiber intake recommendation, in many cases, it also means a healthier food choice.

They make sure you stay healthy and build muscle. I strongly believe that the healthier you are, the better the results you can get.

This may be obvious, but some people are seriously worried about their fitness (and not about their health). I think it all goes hand in hand.

The Minimum Need for Water

Yes, I know: I do not need to talk about the function and meaning of water. You probably know enough about how important it is to be sufficiently hydrated.

However, to keep the list complete, I will list everything (maybe there is something you did not know yet).

The main functions of water

  • Regulation of body temperature
  • Supply of tissue with liquid
  • joint lubrication
  • Protection of organs & tissues
  • Nutrient transport (vitamins, minerals etc.)
  • oxygen transport
  • Excretion of metabolites

Just about all the important functions of the body are dependent on water. The average male consists of 60% water, that makes the importance of water clear right?

Intake Recommendations for Water

Drink enough liquid so that your urine is clear and transparent when you go to the bathroom.

Note: I said fluids – not just water! Many popular drinks, such as Coffee, diet soda, tea, sports drinks) consists mainly of water, they also contribute to hydration.

If your urine is clear and transparent then you are well hydrated!

Overview infographic for macronutrients for athletes

Summary

Protein: 1.2g / kg body weight (no calorie deficit) or 2.0g / kg  (calorie deficit)

Fats: 20% of total calorie intake (no calorie deficit) or 15% of total calorie intake (calorie deficit).

Carbohydrates: 4g / kg body weight (no calorie deficit) or the amount left over after you’ve spread your calories to protein and fat (calorie deficit).

Fiber: 14g for every 1,000 kcal you consume.

Water: Until your urine is clear and transparent.

Final Note

Why is all this so important?

It’s important for several reasons. If you have a basic understanding of why you are doing something, you get a better feeling for how to achieve the end result.

This can be compared to a training program. If you know what you are doing and why you are doing it then you are more likely to get results.

Also, keep in mind that this is the minimum to get the best results as an average strength athlete.

These are no intake recommendations for the non-exercising people.

You can be healthy if you eat less protein than is recommended here, but if muscles and body strength are important then you stick to the minimum levels.

You will also find that this is not the maximum. In reality, calories limit the potential maximum that we can eat.

And that means that you could easily cover the minimum amount of fats and carbohydrates and fill the rest of the calories with protein – and do well if that’s your preference.

Did you find the article informative? It would be nice if you share it with friends and family (sharing is caring), or tell us your opinion in the comments.

Cheers,

Sam

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