AFM Fittest Nutrition Series – The importance of diet in training

By Haley Hall, R.D., LD. and Laura Cajacob Ugokwe, R.D., LD. – April 9, 2013
Photography by Fotohogg

When training for an event or competition, the laser focus put on the workouts tends to neglect a critical part of the performance equation: fueling your body.  Nutrition plays an integral role in supporting the training regimen.  Benefits of fueling appropriately include, but are not limited to, higher intensity training over longer intervals with improved recovery, body composition and strength, and decreased risk of injury.  The 2013 AFM FITTEST is less than two months away; have you considered your nutrition plan?  With some guidance, you will be far more prepared than your competitors who failed to take diet and hydration into consideration.

Sports nutrition is the study of food, fluid, and supplementation and their relation to training, recovery, and performance. This nutrition specialty is a surprisingly new field considering its importance in exercise performance. Although the first research on carbohydrate and fat metabolism in athletes was completed in 1930, sports nutrition did not thrive as a science until the 1980s. Exercise physiologists determined athletes needed carbohydrates for optimal performance, so they collaborated with dietitians in order to practically apply these principles.  Partly due to this alliance between industries, there were remarkable advances in the training of athletes in the last two decades of the twentieth century.


The evidence-based research available today makes practical application to athletic training far more accessible to non-professional athletes.  For an example of what you could be eating to get the most out of your training, see the AFM FITTEST Nutrition Plan at  The Simple Eating Plan is designed to incorporate a variety of foods with very little time and effort, while the Quick Cooking Plan takes it up a notch, providing several recipes to make things more interesting.  Both plans provide approximately 2,000 calories per day and can be mixed and matched to best suit your needs. To decrease calories and promote fat loss, cut out the nighttime snack, choose only fruits or vegetables for one snack daily, or decrease portion sizes at meals. If trying to increase muscle mass prior to the competition, boost the calories by increasing portions at meals, adding calorie dense foods (cheese, avocado, nuts, etc.), and doubling the nighttime snack.  Both plans provide approximately 50 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 25 percent from protein, and 25 percent from fat.  This is enough carbohydrate to fuel your exercise, plenty of protein to promote muscle growth and recovery, and adequate fat to balance hunger levels and stave off cravings.  Eating five to six times a day will balance energy levels, keep you satisfied and effectively support exercise.

In contrast to what many active people believe, weight loss is not directly correlated to improved performance. Active people may be on the higher end of standardized weight charts despite being lean and strong, and losing weight may mean a loss of muscle.  A better measure of body composition in relation to performance is body fat percentage.  If body fat is above average, it is likely performance could be enhanced with a reduction in body fat. Although weight may stay the same or even increase, less body fat overall means decreased strain on the cardiovascular system, less weight for muscles to move around during activity, and reduced load on bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments.  If the body fat is low to begin with, however, a reduction may come with a cost including decreased energy, reduced hormone function, and increased risk of injury.

Eating to be the fittest in Austin is no easy task.  Do not waste all of the hard work you put into training with an inadequate nutrition strategy. Remember: Proper nutrition enhances strength, endurance, body composition, and recovery while decreasing fatigue and injury risk. With deliberate planning, some effort in the kitchen, and a little discipline, you will have an edge up on your competitors come AFM FITTEST on June 15. 


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