“Calories in versus calories expended” is a simple equation to help you to determine ideal nutrition for an ideal weight. In other words, anyone wanting to lose weight, whether it is an athlete or a couch potato, needs to reduce caloric intake and/or increase energy expenditure. However, losing body fat is no easy task. An athlete wanting to lose weight while in training has to be smart about their choices, in order to prevent hunger and fulfill calorie requirements for their particular training intensity. Nutrient density and energy density are both nutrition concepts that once understood, could provide some great guidelines for weight loss while training.
Nutrient density simply means the proportion of nutrients provided in relationship to the calorie content of a specific food. For example, a low nutrient dense food would have few, if any, nutrients for the number of calories. Nutrient dense foods tend to provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals and relatively fewer calories. This means that calorie for calorie some foods make one feel fuller than others. Protein has been shown to make one feel fuller than carbohydrates and fats. In other words, a good source of lean protein can help cut calories, increase a feeling of satiety and control hunger.
Be wary however, of protein products marketed for improvement of athletic performance. Consumption of excess protein (greater than 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight) may contribute to kidney problems. Protein for an athlete should be between 12 and 15 percent of total calories consumed. Endurance athletes require slightly more protein than power athletes. Athletes in general require minimum of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for protein, which is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. The estimation for an endurance athlete is 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, and for a power athlete is 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight.
Fiber intake during your training
Fiber is considered highly nutrient dense. Eating high-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can prevent hunger while reducing caloric intake. Furthermore these high fiber foods are also nutrient dense. It has been shown that by meeting the dietary recommendations of fiber (12.5 grams per 1000 calories) per day is associated with a 10 percent decrease in calorie intake and a loss of body weight. One particular research study showed an average of a four pounds weight loss in a four month period on 14 grams of fiber per day. Note: increase fiber gradually to avoid stomach upset, gas and diarrhea.
The energy density of food also affects our satiety levels. In other words, gram for gram, some foods make one feel fuller than others. Energy density is defined as the amount of calories in a gram of food. The relationship between the weight of food and its calories content is determined by the water content in the food. This is logical, because water adds weight but water has no calories, so the more water there is in a particular food, the lower the energy density.
Athletes who consistently eat the same amount of food in grams per day, but lower the calories by eating more water-based foods, will consume fewer calories. Furthermore, research has shown that subjects feel just as full on the lower calorie foods as the higher calorie foods.
Low Energy Density and High Nutrient Density Eating Tips
In summary, eating higher nutrient dense foods, and lower energy dense foods, as well as an appropriate amount of lean protein, will aid in weight loss during training season. The closer to the earth your diet remains, the more successful your weight loss attempts will be. In other words, less processed food, with the bulk of your diet made up of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Vegetable soup is a great example of low energy, nutrient dense food due to its “earthy” nature and high water content.
- A bran cereal (lots of fiber/nutrient dense) with skim milk (high water content) and fruit, is a great way to start the day.
- Smoothies, made with whey protein powder, fruit, ground flaxseed (fiber and essential fats), ice and water, is an excellent recovery meal or snack.
- A great dinner option is stir fried vegetables. Some nutrient dense sides with that are whole wheat pasta or brown rice (appropriate portions).
- Add a tossed salad to lunch and dinner.
- Limit intake of processed and dry foods. For example, pretzels and crackers, are dense in calories, low in nutrient density and are very easy to over eat.
- Stay well hydrated throughout the day. Drink water, low-calorie or calorie-free beverages, such as seltzers, unsweetened tea, and caffeine-free diet sodas (in moderation).
- For snacks, liquid foods such as vegetable cocktails (high in water content), protein shakes and low fat fruit/yogurt smoothies (nutrient dense), assist in increasing the feeling of fullness.