Nutrition is a very important part of an athletes training, but unfortunately many people are still unsure what is right and wrong for them when it comes down to what they should eat for maximum results. Some think that drinking strictly shakes all day, or eating nothing but protein is the way to go. Let me tell you, this will just not work. Depriving your body of carbohydrates, proteins, or fats (yes even fats) can be very detrimental. The problem is that many people really do not know what your body does with these types of foods.
Why do we even need food? Calories, these are tiny units of energy that your body uses in order to do work. What types of food contain kcalories? All types. Carbohydrates give 4 kcal per gram, protein gives 4 kcal per gram, and fat gives 9 kcal per gram. It's easy to see from this information that fats are the most energy dense type of food. This means that fats give the body more energy than either carbohydrates or protein.
We'll start with carbohydrates. I'm sure you've heard of glucose before. Carbohydrates are the source of glucose. Glucose is a simple carbohydrate that is stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen can be thought of as just a string of glucose. Think of a person representing glucose and a string of people holding hands as being glycogen. Any time you need energy to do work, such as playing sports, your body releases stored glucose. Back to the line of people, it's like removing one person at a time from the string of people; your body releases one glucose at a time from glycogen. Since glucose can be obtained and stored so easily from the body, it is used in order to fuel most of the body's cells. Get this, glucose provides energy for your brain and for making blood in your body. Glucose can be made from protein, however, this requires the breakdown of body protein, yes, from muscle. That's right, if you're not eating enough carbohydrates, your body will start breaking down precious muscle tissue for glucose. Unfortunately, your body cannot use fats for glucose. Also, protein has its own roles in the body, and making glucose is not one of them, so by restricting carbohydrate intake, you throw your body's processes out of whack.
Now onto protein. More familiar than glucose is the term amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, just as many glucose molecules make up glycogen, amino acids make up proteins. There are numerous functions of proteins in the body, but I'll just concentrate on the most important, proteins are involved in growing, repairing, and replacing tissue. They are able to do this because they are the building blocks of body structures.
When speaking of proteins, the term nitrogen balance is usually thrown on the table. This is referring to protein synthesis and degradation in the body. If the body synthesizes more than it degrades and adds protein, you have a positive nitrogen balance. Protein intake exceeds output, and protein is retained in tissue as new muscle is added. Obviously, this is something that you want. Watch out, if your protein output exceeds intake you would have a negative nitrogen balance. This is not good because the opposite is now happening. Your body is degrading muscle and other body proteins. You usually see this in people who are starving, burned, injured, or have a fever. This puts your body in what is called a catabolic state.
An anabolic state is when your body has a positive nitrogen balance. The term catabolic refers to the state of the body in which body compounds are broken down for energy purposes. Ultimately, you cannot grow if your body is in a catabolic state. An anabolic state refers to a growing state of the body in which energy is used to build up body compounds.
Now for the fats. Fats are very important. In the body, fats are the main source of energy. Believe it or not, fat combines with glucose for energy in order to spare the breakdown of protein. This way protein can be used in order to do its job, make more muscle! Like I said, fat broken down in the body gives 9 kcals per gram. Now think about that, since fat releases more kcals (energy) per gram, it only makes sense that your body would first use fat as its chief source of energy. Many people believe that if you do cardio or something like that before breakfast, you'll burn body tissues (protein). In my opinion, this doesn't make much sense. If you have fat stored in your body, why would your body choose to use protein (4 kcals per gram) instead of fat (9 kcals per gram) for its fuel source. True, if you stop eating, your body will begin using protein in order to preserve fats for stored energy, however, if you continue to eat, your body will not burn proteins because your body is constantly being refueled with the nutrients it needs for metabolic activities.
Saturated fats are the fats that you want to stay away from because high intake can lead to things like heart disease and high cholesterol. Your body cannot break down saturated fat very well either because of its chemical composition. Unsaturated fats are the good fats that are easier for your body to breakdown. Some act as an antioxidant and many actually aid in losing stored fatty tissue in the body One easy way to tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is that sat. fats are solids at room temperature (lard and animal fat) and unsaturated fats are liquids at room temperature (oils).
Finally I'll end in telling you that despite many theories, if you eat an excess of anything, it will be stored as fat. Many people ask me why being fatter makes you stronger. I don't think this is entirely true, I think that you get stronger with increased muscle; fat just gives you some extra energy. You don't need to get fat in order to become strong, so don't be fooled into that.
I hope that this basic lesson in my nutritional theory shines some light on why we eat certain foods. And that it will assist you in any diet structure you are following.