Toolbox: Counting Calories During Race Season
Your race season is ramping up and your focus is on performance, which requires proper nourishment and carbohydrate intake. A key part of macronutrinet planning is doing the math to count calories you need to keep building, to recover and get stronger, during race season.
Don’t Cut Weight During Racing Season
During heavy racing and training blocks, creating a caloric deficit is not the way to get optimal gains in power and performance. Athletes eat to perform. Managing macronutrient intake becomes even more important the higher your volume of training and racing is. You need to make sure you have the glycogen stores to perform and train day after day. The more you are training and racing the more carbohydrates and calories you need.
The question now is how do you calculate carbohydrate, protein and fat needs for athletes? Do you need to do the math? My quick answer for any serious athlete is yes. Do the math. Once you do it a handful of times you will start to get a good idea of what your calorie and carbohydrate/protein requirements look like on a plate.
Build a Template
You can even create a few template days that you will always refer back to during pre-race day and race days. A routine race day nutrition plan so to speak. That’s ideal. Keep that plan simple and repeatable.
Let’s keep this as simple as possible and look at the basic steps to determining what your body needs.
1. First you need to determine your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate). This will help determine your basic resting caloric needs. You can determine this on your own from a quality body composition scale or a BMR calculator.
2. Add in energy expenditure from our activity. BMR is solely your basic resting requirements and does not include any activity, so you will need to add on your on-bike energy expenditure along with any other activity estimates. For those with a power meter, the on-bike activity is fairly straightforward, as it is roughly a 1:1 conversion between kilojoules of work performed and kilocalories.
3. Once you know how many calories you need, next determine your carbohydrate and protein needs. Fat is a bit more flexible and can fill in the remainder of your calories.
4. Calculate carbohydrate requirements based on activity level and hours. Each gram of carbohydrates has 4 calories. The range of grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight for endurance athletes is from 5-12 g depending on the duration and intensity of your training.
5. I often find a bit of trial and error is the best way to really dial in a system for an athlete. It takes a serious volume of training for an athlete to require 12 g/kg and it’s more typical to fall between 5-10 g. To determine your weight in kg simply divide your pounds by 2.2 (or multiply by 0.454 to be precise).
Calculating Carbohydrate Needs
Here is an example of how to calculate carbohydrates. I have a bit of overlap on the hours since hours for one athlete may be less intense than for another. This is where a bit of trial and error comes in on your part. Test your intake at 6-7 g/kg. Did you feel strong all week? If you are getting empty legs you may need to bump it up to 8 g/kg. This will give you a good guideline to start from.
• Lower end volume 5-6 hours of training per week @ 4-6 g/kg carbohydrates
• Moderate volume 7-10 hrs a week of training 6-8 g/kg.
• Moderate to high volume 10-15 hours a week, 7-9 g/kg
• High volume 15-20 hours per week 9-10 g/kg
• 20-25 hours per week 10-11 g/kg
• 25+ 11-12 g/kg
150 lbs (68 kg) x 7 g = 477 g of carbohydrates
477 g (4 calories/gram) = 1910 calories from carbohydrates
How Much Protein?
Calculating protein needs is quite simple. Each gram of protein also has 4 calories. The range for athletes is between 1.2-2 g/kg. For the purposes of this example let’s stay close to the low end at 1.2 g/kg which I find many athletes do well with.
During a really big stage race or training block you will notice that as you bump up your overall calorie intake your grams of protein will go up naturally just with the increased volume of food. During a big block of training, bumping the protein up is a good idea to avoid getting sick. Just remember that excess protein cannot be stored and will not make you faster or stronger. Stick within the recommended range, which is easier than you may think. Once you start to journal your diet you will notice how many quality grains and whole foods such as potatoes and quinoa have proteins in them.
150 lb/68 kg 68 kg x 1.2 g =82 g of protein (lower end),
150 lb/68 kg 68 kg x 1.6 g = 109 g protein (mid-range).
What About Fat?
Fats are the most flexible. I don’t have an exact number of g/kg for fat and I typically play around with the fat grams depending on how many calories an athlete needs. Keep in mind that unlike protein and carbohydrates which have 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram. All that means is that if you take 40 grams of fat it will be 360 calories of your day, vs 40 grams of protein or carbohydrates would be 160 calories of your day. It’s easier to add calories to reach your BMR with fat.
Fat is not bad or evil. It is important to have fat in the diet as it does help with intramuscular recovery. Good fats reduce inflammation and help to build healthy cell membranes, are important for hormones and store fat-soluble vitamins D, E, A, and K. During off season and easy weeks I typically up the fat and protein and reduce the carbohydrate intake as the energy for training is not required.
Find an App or Software
Know your BMR. Know your required carbohydrates and proteins. Some apps have a simple BMR calculator and you can enter your activity separately for each day which is more specific than a general activity equation. Start to journal and enter your food intake.
There are many easy simple apps available now to help you journal your food intake. A few of my favorites are Loseit.com, Myfitnesspal.com, DailyPlate.com and Livestrong.com. They are really intuitive and on your mobile device, which I find is a huge asset for convenience since you can enter foods as the day goes by. Alternatively, you can jot it down and enter it into your laptop at the end of the day.
Loseit.com for example will give you a nice snapshot of your daily calories, grams of each macronutrient and you can enter your exercise and calories burned. What you are left with is a clear view of whether you are under or over caloric needs for the day (important for weight maintenance) and if you are consuming enough carbohydrates and protein for your training cycle based on your calculations above.
The Macro View
This article is not touching on the types of foods to consume. Rather it’s more focused on how to determine your calorie and macronutrient needs. If you have followed my writing in the past you will know that I strongly believe in nutrient dense whole foods as a number one choice; nutrient dense meaning higher in nutrients and lower in calories.
When your volume is very high, foods high in both nutrients and calories can also serve a great purpose. Basically steer clear of empty calories like sodas, pastries and non-nourishing processed foods as a general rule when building your nutrition plan.
You don’t have to journal forever. But I do think it’s important to journal for a week or two up front and then again every once in a while to stay tuned into your nutrition. I also find athletes feel in control of their nutrition and it adds an element of confidence when you are not “guessing” as you head out into a big training weekend or race.
With all of the hard training you do, why take the risk of having improper fuel? It seems like it shouldn’t be an afterthought, rather it should be thought out. It’s often the missing link that requires attention from athletes. It can be the difference of good to great. Start now and make 2017 your best season yet!
Anne Guzman is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Sports Nutrition Consultant with a degree in Kinesiology. Her passion lies in Sports Nutrition for endurance athletes as well as general health and wellness. Anne raced full time on the women’s Professional circuit in North America with some bouts in Europe from 2008 until 2011 and previous to cycling was a Provincial and CIAU Champion and National Bronze medalist as a Varsity Freestyle Wrestler. Currently Anne works with athletes helping them reach their potential by combining their own training plans with her nutrition plans. Anne believes that many athletes undermine their intense detailed training regimes by not backing them with sound nutrition. Her personal experience as a cyclist and athlete is a great asset to her business as she understands the needs and nuances that come with the sport. Anne consulting business is Nutrition Solutions Anne Guzman. You can follow Anne on twitter or her facebook page.