Physically active individuals tend to eat relatively healthy, but they often fail to integrate exercise and nutrition into a cohesive fueling program. A nutrition program has to supply appropriate amounts of the right fuels at the right times of year. Your activity level changes during the year. Even if you're not following a structured training program, you're more active during some portions of the year than others. It could be seasonal; runners tend to increase weekly mileage during the spring and summer. When it's cold, they may still run, but fewer miles. For athletes who love winter outdoor sports, the opposite may be true.
For people preparing to participate in specific events, from charity runs to marathons or 100-mile bike rides, training typically follows cycles that progressively build upon each other. The length, frequency, and intensity of workouts increase as your fitness gradually improves and your event date approaches. Once the event is done, you reduce your training load, do some cross-training, and then start building to a new goal.
Lance Armstrong's entire training year was built around being as fast as possible for the Tour de France. Like most athletes preparing for an event, his training progressed and changed as the Tour approached. One of the additional strategies I used with Lance's training was to match his nutrition program to the changing demands of his training. The idea is simple and very effective, but it's not the way most active people eat. Often, caloric intake stays relatively stable while energy output changes dramatically.
When energy expenditure is lower than intake, you're consuming more fuel than you need and you gain weight. Then, during the height of your active season, energy output far exceeds intake, partially because you're actively trying to lose weight and perform at your best. As a result, your performance suffers because you're not supplying your body with enough fuel.
Weight gain is one of the biggest issues that results from mismatched energy intake and output. The goals of losing weight and gaining fitness often collide when an athlete has about 10 pounds to lose. The increased activity necessary for gaining fitness requires more food; the goal of losing weight requires eating fewer calories. By matching intake to output, my goal is to minimize unnecessary weight gain so you don't have to spend time losing weight later, when you should be concentrating on improving performance.
Nutrition and training programs should be balanced. Of course, there will be small and natural fluctuations in weight, but since they are typically only two or three pounds, they come off gradually as your training demands change. Different exercise intensities burn different fuel mixtures. During the Foundation Period, your training is moderate and primarily fueled by the aerobic engine. Since your aerobic system burns almost a 50-50 mixture of carbohydrate and fat (with a little protein thrown in), your nutrition program should be well balanced and relatively light in calories.
As your training intensifies through the spring (for summer athletes), you enter the Preparation Period. During harder workouts, your aerobic system can't always supply energy as fast as you need it, so you call upon the anaerobic system to make up the difference. Since the anaerobic system only burns carbohydrate, your caloric intake should increase by about 15% over the Foundation Period, mostly from additional carbohydrate. The Specialization Period is when you want to be at your best. It's also when you're the most active and performing the hardest or fastest workouts. You're relying on the anaerobic system for a lot of energy while your aerobic engine is working as hard as it can, so you need even more calories and a lot of carbohydrate. During this period, carbohydrate should represent 70% of your calories the rest should be evenly divided between protein and fat.
Following the Specialization Period, you should incorporate a Transition Period. This typically involves fewer training hours and a move away from structured workouts. This is cross-training and try-something-new time. It's also the period when your carbohydrate intake drops to 60% of calories and your total caloric intake drops to its lowest levels of the year. For summer athletes, this is often in October and part of November, and then you start building back up into Foundation Period again.
By creating an integrated fueling program that ensures you have the calories and nutrients necessary to support exercise, active individuals can transition a generally healthy diet into a functional and productive nutrition program as well.
Chris Carmichael is Lance Armstrong's personal coach and Founder of Carmichael Training Systems, Inc. (CTS). His latest book,"Chris Carmichael's Fitness Cookbook", is available now. To find out what CTS can do for you, visit www.trainright.com or call 1-866-355-0645.