The Athlete

Athlete Diets and Maximising Caloric Efficiency - A complete anabolic study

Athlete Diets

A smooth running engine requires good motor oil and fuel in order to maintain top running condition. An athlete’s body is no different. The food and beverages that are put into an athlete’s body determine the level of performance that an athlete can expect. Those that eat right and drink proper fluids will see increased results from their training and will also see better performances during competition.


Keeping the body hydrated is a must for athletes who want to be at the top of their games. It is recommended that two cups of water be consumed before training and that athletes continue to drink water periodically during their exercise routines and strength training sessions. After a workout, an athlete should drink at least 16 ounces of water to ensure that the body is hydrated during the recovery period. Other beverage options that are available to athletes, such as Powerade and Gatorade, can also be used to keep the body hydrated and even offer performance enhancing benefits as they contain additives such as electrolytes that can be beneficial to an athlete.


Staying away from greasy foods that contain high levels of fats and sugars is of prime concern for athletes. Carbohydrates can be found in foods such as bread or pasta. Carbohydrates are essential to an athlete’s performance but should be eaten in appropriate proportions. Athletes should multiply their body weight by 3.6 in order to determine the grams of carbohydrates that should be eaten during a day. Generally, most athletes require anywhere from 500 to 600 grams of carbohydrates to achieve maximum performance levels.


Protein is used to build muscle mass. About 15 to 25 percent of an athlete’s diet should be made up of protein in order to provide fuel for strength training. Protein is more beneficial to the athlete concerned with building strength than the athlete focused on cardiovascular activities.


Supplements can be beneficial to athletes if taken in moderation. It is important that athletes consult a physician before taking any supplement as a doctor will be able to help in determining whether the supplement is correct for the individual. Athletes should steer clear of taking any performance enhancing supplements that may contain steroids or other banned substances as they could hurt themselves physically or suffer repercussions, such as being banned from competition.


I am asked more questions about diet than any other subject. Whether it be for weight loss, weight gain, performance enhancement or any other purpose it seems people are very confused about what their food intake should be and how it should be structured. I have already provided an article regarding how you can determine your basic calorie, protein and carbohydrate needs as a basis from which to begin experimentation with diet. In this article I will show you that macronutrient ratios and total calories are just the beginning of an integrated diet strategy. Once you have a basic understanding of how many grams of protein, carbohydrate and fat you require it is time to look at maximising the efficiency of each and every gram that you consume. This is the concept of caloric efficiency.

By this I mean that you have to make choices about what foods to consume and when in order to ensure that you make the best use available nutrients. For example, say you know you need 300 grams of carbohydrates a day to fuel your body. The foods from which you choose to obtain those 300 grams of carbs will have a huge bearing on your success with any diet. For example you could eat several packets of chocolate biscuits and get all the carbohydrate you need, but the chances are good that you would have greater success with your diet if you obtained those 300 grams of carbs from a variety of whole grains, fruits and vegetables. As you know this is due to the differences in GI (glycemic index) between different carbs. (If your scratching your head here, have a look at out Glossary).

A similar idea can be applied to protein consumption. Proteins are assigned a Biological Value (BV) based on how well they are assimilated by your body. The arguments about which measurement of protein quality is most accurate are moot here. Proteins with high BV's typically also score highly on the Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) and other scoring systems. In truth the arguments over which measurement of protein quality is best are usually put forward by supplement companies to stir up confusion and increase sales of their product. Anyway, I will use BV as my measure of protein quality here as the higher the BV, the more efficiently a given protein can be converted in to tissue in your body. High BV protein sources are those which contain a full compliment of amino acids, but these are somewhat rare. Most protein foods are lacking in one or more amino acids which leads to a lower BV and therefore less efficient assimilation. The amino acid that a given protein is lacking in is referred to as a "rate limiting" amino as its non-presence is what lowers the rate of assimilation. So if you can bring the rate limiting amino in to the meal somehow you will up the BV of the protein. For this reason it is better to combine protein sources whenever possible. Your body will hold out for the limiting AA to come in from another meal but that just isn't good enough! We are athletes we must optimise all processes if we are to maximise gains in strength and muscle tissue.

If you can afford I would suggest combining foods to get full AA profiles (rice +beans etc and btw eating potato with whole eggs actually gives a similar BV to whey, even though eggs alone are already a "complete protein" they can be improved!) and also taking a small amount of a very high BV product with each feeding. For example using 10 grams of a whey isolate with a high BCAA content and high glutamine peptide content with every feeding will help maximise protein assimilation. In this way it is possible to actually eat less protein than most strength athletes and bodybuilders do but get better utilisation. This equates to better calorific efficiency, which I believe should be one of an athletes key goals.

If we could consume 10,000Kcals a day and actually USE all of it for tissue growth and repair that would be great, but most of us will get fat as a house on that kind of intake so it is better to find what your maximal intake is (the level at which you gain strength / muscle but don't get fat) and then maximise efficiency within that limit. Say you are a heavy weight strength athlete or bodybuilder following a popular high protein type diet to gain muscle mass and can take in 4,000 kcals a day without gaining fat, 2 approaches might look like this...

Diet 1.

Average protein BV = 50.

Average GI of carbs = 80

Fat intake = 120g.

120g Fat = 1080 Kcal. This leaves 2920 Kcals from Protein and carbs. Lets say protein intake is 350g / day for 1400Kcals. This leaves 1520 Kcals to come from carbs which is 380g.

350g Protein at a BV of 50 means 50% of the protein intake actually gets utilised by the body, so actual utilised protein = 125g.

Carbs at a GI of 80 means a high insulin response at every meal, which means we are more likely to lay down fat from these carbs.

Let us assume the fats are primarily saturates and trans fats from cooking oils, low grade meats etc. So of this fat intake only a small amount of the fat intake goes towards supplying Essential fatty acids for prostaglandin / hormone production.. That means that a large amount of the fat intake serves only to bump up the calories worthlessly.

This is pretty typical of the Standard American Diet (SAD). That's not a dig at Americans by the way, the SAD is simply a standardised diet based on the intake of the average American citizen. It is a good indicator of typical food intake in the UK as well, we are more similar than different!

Diet 2 uses the same calorie total (4,000), the same fat intake, the same amount of protein and the same amount of carbs, so in terms of macronutrients it is essentially the "same diet" as the one above. However, diet number 2 involves protein combining, low GI carbs and the fat sources are cold pressed unfiltered unheated flax and olive oils, fatty fish and avacados.

Diet 2 looks like this...

Average Protein BV = 90

Average GI of carbs = 55

Fat intake = 120g.

350g Protein at a BV of 90 equates to 315g utilised by the body. (Assuming the athlete can actually utilise so much protein in the first place).

A GI of 55 for carb intake means low insulin response resulting in steady energy levels, more satiety (fullness) after meals and less body fat deposition.

As fat intake comes primarily from sources high in EFA's we can say that most of the fat intake will be useful in supporting prostaglandin and hormone production, as well as increasing brown fat utilisation during cardiovascular exercise (EFA's have been shown to do this folks!).

Let's compare the two diets directly...

Diet 1

Diet 2

125g Protein used.

315g Protein used.

High GI carbs = bf increase

Low GI carbs= no bf

Few Fats utilised.

Most Fats Utilised.

Most fat kcals fats wasted. Few fat Kcals wasted.

50% of Protein kcals wasted. 10% Pro Kcals wasted

And yet in terms of macronutrients these two diets are identical!

The take home lessons here are as follows:

1. Combine protein sources in order to maximise the Biological Value of your protein consumption.

2. Stick to low GI carbohydrate sources for the vast majority of your carbohydrates.

3. Get most of your fat intake from fats that are high in EFA's, for example Flax seed oil, GLA and Olive oil. All your fats should be cold pressed, unfiltered and uncooked. Use a low calorie spray like Pam for cooking, then add raw oils to your foods. Cooking denatures all oils and destroys EFA's like nothing else.

In summary; within a fixed macronutrient profile there can be a huge difference in how well you make use of your nutrients. Part 2 of this article will discuss further ways in which you can better utilise the nutrients you consume, as well as providing specific examples of some food combinations.

- The