Regulation of energy balance is an important goal for athletes. Energy balance occurs when total energy intake from food is matched with daily activity and energy expenditure. Energy is provided by carbohydrates, proteins, fats and alcohol found in foods and fluids. Energy requirements are affected by factors such as an individual’s body size, body composition goals, and energy expenditure in training.

Carbohydrates are an important source of nutrients for athletes. It is the main fuel in exercise, especially during prolonged continuous exercise or intense work. The body has a limited capacity to store carbohydrates (muscle and liver glycogen) and its stores must be replenished regularly to support training. Low-carb stores can cause fatigue, poor performance during training or competition, and a negative impact on the immune system.

Carbohydrate requirements are greatly influenced by training load (frequency, duration and intensity) and competition types. Given this, daily carbohydrate intake should reflect daily exercise level. On high-activity days, the amount of carbohydrate intake should be calculated to facilitate exercise performance and improve recovery time between exercise sessions.

On the other hand, low activity days may also need to reduce carbohydrate intake (especially from nutrient-poor sources such as liquor, soft drinks, candy and cake, etc.) to reflect the lower training load. Carbohydrate needs should be taken care of when meeting other nutritional goals. Fortunately, very few foods contain only one nutrient.

Protein is required to support the repair of damaged body tissues and the production of new proteins in response to the training stimulus. Endurance athletes under heavy training may need to take extra protein to replace the energy spent in training and to provide post-workout regeneration and repair. Strength training athletes seek additional protein to increase muscle size and strength in response to resistance training. Negative energy balance and insufficient carbohydrate intake during heavy training may increase the need for protein.

There is evidence that the greatest increases in protein requirements are suggested early in a new exercise program or when exercise stress occurs at a new level (for example, changing the type, unit, or intensity of training). However, once the body adapts to this stress, the levels of protein requirements can often be reduced in close proximity to active people. Therefore, guidelines for the protein intake offered can best be adopted to represent the maximal protein needs for athletes. Current sports nutrition guidelines do not support a high protein diet or special protein supplementation. Dietary surveys show that athletes only target protein intake following the extra energy expenditure needed to support high training loads.

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