Most equations for calculating energy needs consider an individual's gender, weight, and height as well as the level of physical activity. Given these differences and the importance of consuming adequate calories, it is important to consult a sports dietitian for the optimal energy prescription.
Carbohydrates are essential for peak athletic performance, as the body uses this nutrient more efficiently than fat or protein. The timing of carbohydrate intake is also important. Athletes should consume 1.0 to 4.0 g/kg of body weight one to four hours prior to exercise, focusing on longer-lasting sources of carbohydrate combined with a source of protein (e.g., peanut butter on whole grain bread). Recommendations for carbohydrate intake are higher for endurance training and competition (7.0 to 10.0 g/kg/day) and high-intensity athletics (5.0 to 8.0 g/kg/day).
The recommendation for daily dietary protein intake is 1.2 to 1.7 g/kg/day. The amount of protein depends not only on the level of physical activity, but also on the athlete's rates of growth or healing. For example, athletes who are in a critical growth period at or around puberty may need more protein.
Dietary fat serves several functions. It is an additional source of energy, provides essential fatty acids that the body cannot synthesize on its own, and assists in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Athletes should follow the same consumption guidelines as those recommended for the general public: 20 to 35 percent of total calories should come from fat, with less than 10 percent from saturated fat.
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