Basics Series: Let's Talk Nutrition- Calories
Okay folks, we're starting this series big and we're starting strong with nutrition!
There is so much information out on social media about what to eat, when to eat, how to eat,
and it is overwhelming. Fad diets are left and right telling you this food is bad, this is a superfood, and convenience foods are the devil. Intermittent fasting, keto, paleo, low fat, this supplement, that supplement, how are we supposed to know what is right, and what will be right for you?
Here's the deal: none of this matters if we are not eating enough.
We need to start there, just eating enough. Once we are getting enough calories, then we can worry about our macro and micronutrients. Let's go, starting from the top:
Myth: Around 1200 calories is enough for an athlete in a day
Reality: Absolutely not!
Toddlers can function off about 1200 calories. Adults, let alone adult athletes, generally need about 2000 to 2500 calories as a baseline. Keep in mind that we are focusing here on performance and function, not considering weight loss or disease management.
When deciding how many calories we need in a day, we are looking to get around 40-45 calories per kilogram of lean mass per day, or 19-21 calories per pound of lean mass per day.
Let's take an example of an 130lb person who has 22% body fat percentage. That means that 78% perfect of their weight is lean mass. 78% of 130 is 101.4. If we are aiming for 19-21 calories per pound of lean mass per day, we are aiming to get between (101.4 x 19=) 1927 and (101.4 x 21=) 2130 calories per day. This number will increase if we are in a season of heavy training or competition.
When we are consistently eating below our needs, and I'm going to be specifically speaking here about people with female physiology, our bodies' start to down regulate, and we can enter a state of LEA, or low energy availability.
Imagine this as we are operating on low battery mode. Our body turns down the function of some systems to be able to conserve energy for other more important systems.
Myth: It is normal for an athlete to lose their period
Reality: Disruption in the menstrual cycle is indicative of a disease or low energy state in the body
When we enter this LEA state, our endocrine (hormone) systems are especially effected, causing downregulation of our menstrual cycles and thyroid. This means that in a state of LEA, we may experience things like loss of or irregular periods, and therefore decreased bone density, leading to a higher risk of stress injuries.
Other symptoms LEA can include fatigue, mood disruption, constipation, decreased heart rate, decreased athletic performance, chronic illness, and increased injury rate. We may also see this present as hitting a plateau in our training, being unable to progress our skills, or make gains in strength or endurance.
So, what do we do?
Start by tracking your food for a few days, especially on training days. Take a look at how many calories you're approximately eating. If you see that you need to eat more to reach that 2000-2500 range, try adding in an extra snack, and bonus points if its around your training time. See how you feel with that extra bit of energy and decide if you need to add more or less.
If tracking your food may be triggering for you, no problem. If any of the symptoms of LEA resonate with you, do the same and try adding in an extra snack or two each day. See how you feel in and around your training, and in your daily life.
This is a packed topic, and stay tuned, next up we'll get into our macronutrients. Any questions, leave a comment or message me here.
Indirli, R., Lanzi, V., Mantovani, G., Arosio, M., & Ferrante, E. (2022). Bone health in functional hypothalamic amenorrhea: What the endocrinologist needs to know. Frontiers in endocrinology, 13, 946695. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2022.946695
Logue, D., Madigan, S.M., Delahunt, E. et al. Low Energy Availability in Athletes: A Review of Prevalence, Dietary Patterns, Physiological Health, and Sports Performance. Sports Med 48, 73–96 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0790-3
Sims, S., Yeager, S. (2016). ROAR: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life. United States: Harmony/Rodale.
Navarro, V.M. Metabolic regulation of kisspeptin — the link between energy balance and reproduction. Nat Rev Endocrinol16, 407–420 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41574-020-0363-7