FUEL YOUR BODY FOR THE FIELD OF BATTLE, IN AND OUT OF THE GYM.
Written by George Briones III, founder of Crossfit Double Barrel
1. PROTEIN INTAKE
What’s the optimal amount of protein a SOFlete athlete should be eating each day to become stronger, faster, and smarter while training? That’s a complicated question, but here’s the simple answer: most athletes who are pretty lean already should be consuming 1g per pound of bodyweight. A 200-lb athlete should eat 200g protein per day. This fuels the body for performance, not for looks. There are going to be days when you aren't able to hit your goal of protein intake for the day, and that’s ok! But it’s important to consistently eat enough protein. Protein is the building block for muscle growth. Without enough protein, the muscle that is broken down during training won’t be repaired or recovered as well as it would otherwise be with adequate protein intake.
On days when you’re in the field, on a mission, or just busy with life, you might miss a meal, and that’s ok, as long as you’re getting the minimum amount necessary to maintain lean mass. The absolute minimum amount of protein you need is 0.4g per pound of bodyweight per day. For our 200-lb athlete, that’s 80g of protein. That’s not enough for muscle growth and recovery, but it is enough to sustain muscle as long as it’s the exception to the rule and not standard practice.
At the end of each day you should be meeting at least 80% of your daily protein requirement, regardless of circumstances. Spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day. Break your total protein per day down into 5 or 6 meals. This ends up being 30-40g protein per meal, which is about 5-6oz of lean meat, or an extra scoop of protein.
Let’s talk a little bit about consuming protein during training, and how much you need while training. As mentioned above, it's imperative to fuel your body so that it can rebuild and repair muscle tissue after training. This is the essence of recovery. Consuming carbs and protein during training help with muscle repair. We’ll talk more about carbs later, but since protein is the building block for muscle growth, you should have 30-40 g of protein (one meal’s worth) during and immediately after your training session. Whey protein is the most effective for this muscle repair.
The bottom line for protein: Make sure you are getting enough protein to achieve your goal. If you need to, divide your daily protein intake evenly across 5-6 meals. This doesn’t always have to be solid food, just make sure you’re getting it in.
1. CARB INTAKE
Most of you don’t need to be convinced that carbs are important, so let’s just talk about how much you need to fuel performance as a SOFlete athlete. For most of you, a typical training day includes warm up, strength, and the workout. But are you properly fueling these training sessions with carbs? If you have to think about this, the answer is no. A general breakdown of daily carb intake should look something like this: 15% of total daily intake 1-2 hours prior to training; 40% during training; and 35% about 1-2 hours after training. This is an easy-to-follow guideline I learned from Renaissance Periodization (RP), and something I’ve used successfully with all my athletes in training. Another useful tool I learned from RP is to vary carb intake based on training volume. For example:
Rest day: 0.5g carbs per pound bodyweight
Light Day: 1.0g carbs per pound bodyweight
Moderate Day: 1.5g carbs per pound bodyweight
Heavy Day: 2.0g carbs per pound bodyweight
Every training day as a SOFlete athlete is a moderate or heavy day. This is because you’re expending more energy than most athletes who are bodybuilders, weightlifters, or fast exercisers. You need to be fueled to recover faster. You’re running with a ruck on your back, lifting weights, doing some kind of conditioning, and maybe doing a pool workout as well. You need all the carbs you can get to become stronger, faster, and recover better.
On a rest day, you need less carbs. Carbs are you body’s super fuel, so you need to lower them when you’re not working out at all. Carbs are used during training to restore glycogen stores, which helps with recovery and keeps you going during training. On a non-training day, carbs are less important. By lowering carbs on rest days, your body learns to use them more effectively during training sessions. You’re probably thinking, “How the hell am I going to make it through a day with low carbs?” But the term “low carb day” means you’re eating 0.5g per pound bodyweight as listed above. Our 200-lb athlete will have 100g carbs on a rest day, which is still a lot.
Now let’s look at which carbs are best to take before, during, and after training:
BEFORE & AFTER TRAINING: LOW-GI CARBS
Whole Wheat Pasta
DURING TRAINING: HIGH-GI CARBS
People will debate this, but I consider fruits to be high-GI carbs, because of their high sugar content. The bottom line for carbs: Have high-GI carbs during training, based on training volume. These carbs can be combined with your whey protein to make it easier to get down. You should have little to no fats during and immediately before/after training. The main purpose of training carbs is to help with muscle recovery, and fats will slow down this process.
The next topic is fats, which are amazing, and you’ll get to eat a lot of those on rest days to make up for the lack of carbs.
3. FAT INTAKE
Fats are delicious, but when is the right time to eat them? You see it all the time – guys eating spoons of peanut butter right before training or during. Especially during training, but also immediately before and after, you should be eating zero fats. Fats are one of the main sources of energy during the day and they help keep hormones balanced. Without enough fats, you’re not going to get stronger. Fats are important for many reasons (your brain is about 60% fat), but the two that follow are the most important to you as a SOFlete athlete.
1) Calorie Density. When you’re hungry but have already met your protein and carb requirements, this is a good time to eat fats. Fats are very calorie-dense. Every 1 gram has 9 calories. This means a little bit goes a long way. Most of you are looking to become as strong as possible and maintain mass. Increasing fat intake is an easy way to increase total calories.
2) Ease of Consumption. Fats are easier to eat than any other macronutrient in terms of total calorie intake. Oils, butter, avocado, nuts, peanut butter…they’re all delicious and easy to eat. If you’re a fan of peanut butter, and who isn’t, keep in mind this option does have some extra carbs which need to be taken into account. If you’re just concerned about getting and staying strong, you don’t need to worry much about it.
At the end of the day, you don’t need to count fats by the gram. You should be eating as much or as little as needed to maintain weight. If your protein and carb intake are on point and you’re losing weight, eat more fats. If your protein and carb intake are on point and you’re gaining weight, cut the fats down. If your goal is to gain weight, aim for no more than 1.5-2 lbs per week. The same goes for losing weight. Gaining at a rate faster than this will likely lead to increased fat tissue. Losing at a rate faster than this will lead to muscle loss.
With proper protein, carb, and fat intake, you can fuel your body for performance in the field and in the gym. You’ll see strength gains, and you’ll start to recover better. This article is just an outline of what you need to know to better understand your nutrition and fuel your performance as a SOFlete Athlete.
The Renaissance Diet
A Scientific Approach to Getting Leaner and Building Muscle
By Dr. Mike Istraetel, with Dr. Jen Case and Dr. James Hoffmann