Balanced nutrition is essential to achieving results, whether they be performance based, health related, or simply changes in body composition. Regardless of the intended result, it is important to be leery of any diet, supplement, or training method that claims to be a quick solution to achieving results. As the old adage goes, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” After all, nothing worth having comes easy. On the other hand, self-deprivation is not necessary. Rather, balance is the key to success. In nutrition, “balance” can be thought of as minding your P’s and Q’s; where P representing portions and Q’s being quality.
When minding ones portions you aim to strike a balance between the energy consumed (kcals) and the energy expended, thus the energy-balance equation. Portions are frequently the greatest culprits in allowing for over-doing it with energy intake, thus a positive energy balance. Over time, maintaining a positive energy balance (consuming more than that being expended) will result in an accumulation of fat in adipose tissue, therefore undesired weight gain. To keep the energy-balance equation in tune with the goal, it is important to match energy intake with output, throughout all phases of the training cycle. Therefore, energy needs vary as the training cycle progress - as training volume (frequency or duration) and intensity increase there is an increased need for fuel (food). Likewise, as the level of training decreases, so should energy intake. Finally, minding one’s portions also allows for some wiggle room in occasionally choosing those foods that might be lesser in quality without deprivation while still achieving energy balance.
While monitoring portions helps in achieving a balanced energy-balance equation, if those portions are of poor quality foods, over time the optimal results are harder to achieve. Think of it this way, calories are king, but the quality of calories ultimately determines fate of those calories…cue up the Q for quality.
Sport, nutrition, and medical experts agree that a balanced, high quality diet is essential for fueling peak performance, achieving a healthy weight, and managing disease. A high quality diet can be achieved by choosing nutrient-rich foods that provide the most vitamins, minerals and other nutrients for the fewest calories…get more bang for your bite. These foods include:
- Vibrantly colored vegetables such as dark green & red-orange vegetables, and starchy vegetables
- Variety of colorful fruits
- Whole, enriched, and fiber-rich grain foods
- Low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans & legumes, nuts and seeds
In addition to choosing nutrient-rich foods, balance within the macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) is also important in building a quality diet. For example, carbohydrates are a critical fuel during hard training & recovery, but a meal of fettuccini alfredo (carbohydrates & fat) is a lesser quality meal of angel hair pasta with broccoli, shrimp, garlic & olive oil (carbs, protein, fiber, fat). Another direction to consider the quality of the diet is, fueling for the kind of demands placed on the body or the intended goal. During periods of lighter intensity and shorter duration, or the goal of improving body composition, carbohydrate-rich breads, cereals, grains, and starchy vegetables could be scaled back upon; whereas lean protein is essential for muscle repair and maintaining metabolic health and healthy fats supporting overall health and immunity. That said, imagine if one were to build a meal with the intended said goals. Envision a plate with bright, colorful fruits & vegetables comprising half, lean protein foods making up a 1/3 of the plate, while grains, starchy vegetables, and/or legumes filling in to complete the remainder of the plate. Adequate lean protein is essential for achieving most performance and health goals. The daily target for protein, for both the athlete and one seeking to improve their body composition should be 1.2-1.4 gm/kg (weight in pounds divided by 2.2 = kg). This should be dispersed in all feedings throughout the day, filling 1/4-1/3 of the plate at each meal. Consuming amounts greater than that which has been recommended has no beneficial effect, rather can result in unwanted weight gain.
Ultimately, the key to optimal meal planning for optimal performance and achieving health is minding your P’s and Q’s. Adjustments to these general recommendations should be individualized to each person based on intensity, level of training, body size, gender, and end goal. Have your diet and nutrition training plan assessed by a Registered Dietitian.
In addition to being VQ's Dietician and Swim Coach, Andrea Rudser-Rusin is a registered dietitian, board certified as a sports dietitian, and is a certified athletic trainer.