The answers to the poll were pretty much as expected, confused! Looking at a lot of the information I read and hear on social media I'm really not surprised people are confused.. Hopefully I can put a few myths to bed in this blog and begin to clear the muddy waters on the basics of nutrition. An area with so much uneducated and misinformed information it is difficult to know what is right and what is wrong.
So let us get straight to it. What is the THE most important area of performance nutrition? The Amount. Not the supplements you may take, the quality of your intake, the type or the timing, simply put, the amount. Let me give you an example as to why, one I've already put to a few people who voted for type (I can fully understand why you did btw). Imagine if you need around 3000 kcals a day for your body to function correctly after it takes what it needs for your brain, your organs, after exercise etc, you plan and prepare a great diet with all of the right foods, eat it at the right time but you only eat 2000 kcals. Starting to see where I'm going with this? Imagine if this is a weekly occurrence, you are 7000 kcals a week down on where you should be and if this carries on we're going too see a few issues appear, fatigue, injury, poor sleep, missing menstruation, maybe you keep training as you are not losing weight (we'll come on to this), so maybe you're not training enough as your eat the right things at the right time?
I see this all of the time because that is the message you get continually, not that you need to cover your energy expenditure in the first instance, unless of course you want to lose weight, but thats for another day. So first things first, eat to your needs, then you can look at the percentage of macronutrients (Carb/protein/fats), the quality of your intake, the timing of when you eat and then, IF you need any supplementation to your diet on top of this.
If we look at NHS guidelines, the recommended daily intake for men and women is 2500 and 2000 kcals respectively. It is not too often you see further advice to include calories to cover your daily steps and your daily exercise too. Therefore, if you walk 10,000 steps, you could burn around 400 kcals or a 2 hour 15mph bike ride could burn up to 1500 kcals. This is a very rough example, but it might make you think what additional calories you may need within your own diet.
Check out the pyramid below, it shows where we want to be. Think of a house and it's foundations, could you build a mansion on the foundations for a shed? You could, but it might not last very long before it comes crashing down. The first thing people say when I tell them to eat a certain amount, generally more than they have been eating, is a question about the quality. 'So eating 3000 kcals of junk is better than 2000 kcals of health?' In a way yes, maybe not in the long run, but by hitting your daily energy needs, your body will repair and recovery as it needs and provide you with enough energy to get through the day and with that you will be avoiding the possible symptoms we mentioned above, fatigue, injury, menstruation issues, all signs of low energy availability and RED-S (another blog coming soon).
So this is how we come to find that the amount of calories you ingest is the most important. A qualified nutritionist will be able to work this out for via a number of ways, and you can be confident that you you can start work on your nutritional foundations. An emphasis on start! Working with your nutritionist you will progress through the pyramid to find out what works best for you, your lifestyle, your health, your sport and so on. For me, ensuring you have an understanding of why we do what we do along the way, will create a really healthy relationship with food. You will understand that you can eat what you want but know how to get back on track, lose the anxiety about what you eat and what you think you shouldn't eat, generally it's incorrect anyway.
So to go back to the poll, for amount read calories, for type read macro and micronutrients, timing read meal timing and frequency and finally, supplements.... check the pyramid and you'll see what I'm getting at and their order of importance.
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