The Effect of Macronutrients on Athletic Performance
- July , 2021
- Zach Janczak
Following a simple nutrition guide can help increase an athlete’s strength, a critical component in many sports. In the nutrition realm, there are three types of macronutrients to focus on: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Let’s take a look to see how each of the three macronutrients play a role in physical performance.
Consuming carbohydrates before, during, or after exercise has been shown to help with glycogen synthesis, hormonal modification, and net muscle protein balance. Although most research involving carbs usually focuses on before or after exercise, it is critical to consider ingesting this macronutrient during as well. This is especially important for athletes who exercise for long or frequent bouts throughout a day. Taking in the proper amount of carbs can also help modify hormone balance to enhance performance. The hormones, insulin and cortisol, are most affected by carbs in a positive way to help shift the body into an anabolic stage (muscle building state) and increase protein turnover rate. Taking in carbohydrates before, during, and after exercise can all benefit the net muscle protein balance. However, some research suggests that taking in carbs along with protein may give the greatest increase in net muscle protein balance.
Protein is a vital macronutrient used to help rebuild damaged muscular tissue after exercise. Looking into the protein turnover rate is key to understanding how nutrition can benefit an athlete. When more protein is being synthesized than degraded, more lean muscle mass will be generated, resulting in an athlete’s exercise performance to be enhanced.
Supplementing amino acids (protein) is becoming a common way to increase exercise performance. More specifically, taking in branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) are an ideal supplement to help keep the body from catabolizing (breaking down). Not only will this increase muscle protein synthesis, but also inhibit intracellular proteolytic pathway activity. In simple terms, this means the BCAA’s will modify enzyme activity and thus increase protein turnover. Therefore, with more protein being synthesized and less being broken down, an individual will be able to recover faster and compete for a longer period of time. Experts have found that the main BCAA, Leucine, is the most important amino acid for protein. With an increased amount of muscle mass from a higher protein turnover rate, strength gains will allow the athlete to compete at a higher level during their sport.
It is known that hormone testosterone plays a role in muscle development as well as performance. Fat is arguably the most important macronutrient to affect testosterone levels in either a positive or negative way. Since fats are harder to digest, it’s recommended that fats are not consumed before or during exercise. Recent research has found that when fat levels are too low, the shifted hormone balance will begin to negatively impact the athlete. Some studies have found that optimal fat percentages range between 20-30% of daily caloric intake. The athlete must also try to limit their saturated fats below 10% of their caloric intake. By staying within these optimal ranges the athlete will be able to compete at a higher level due to their body’s ability to stay in a more anabolic state because of the increased testosterone levels.
Following these nutrition guidelines will help enhance exercise performance because of the increased amount of muscle mass brought on by the body in its anabolic state. In order to maximize performance nutrient quantity, quality, and timing are all valuable variables to consider when putting together a nutrition plan for an athlete.