Nutrients needed for exercise and performance

There are six classes of nutrients that everyone needs. They are: carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. Three of these nutrients provide energy in the form of calories to fuel activity, as well as providing raw materials for other bodily processes. Carbohydrate has 4 calories per gram, (there are 4 grams in a teaspoon), protein also contains 4 calories per gram, and fats and oils contain a whopping 9 calories per gram.

There is one other substance that provides energy in the body but no one could justifiably call is a nutrient. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. This means that for a tablespoon of alcohol (15 grams) you consume about 105 calories — and no nutrition. Energy consumption must always be considered in the framework of energy expenditure.

For the highly active athlete making sure that enough high quality calories are consumed is imperative. Also the proper ratio of carbohydrate to protein to essential fats is an imperative. Alcohol as an energy source is never considered.

An adequate amount of carbohydrates is needed daily to re-synthesize glycogen in the muscles and liver for daily activities. With athletes, the amount and timing of carbohydrate intake is important. Carbohydrate consumed during prolonged exercise can be beneficial to performance and a high glycemic index carbohydrate is considered to be beneficial during recovery.

The amount and timing can be tricky however, and a lot depends on if the athlete is predominately endurance training or strength training. Athletes also need more protein than non-athletes but not usually as much as they think they do. The carbohydrate and protein intakes determine the amount of fat that is required. Fat intake for most athletes is lower than for the general population who may not be thinking of losing weight or making a specific weight class for competition.

Without over-consuming, athletes must eat enough carbohydrate, protein and adequate fat to provide fuel for performance and optimal body fat/lean ratio.

Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that must be consumed in the proper ratios and the proper form in order to optimize health and performance. I (and the American Medical Association) advocate taking a quality vitamin and mineral supplement because in this day and age trying to depend on getting all you need from food is a crap-shoot.

Who knows what is left or vital in the food we consume, even if it was produced organically and on good soil. A good multi-vitamin, multi- mineral will provide the essential nutrients that are required for optimal health and activity. Deficiency of minerals and vitamins lead to diseases and sub-optimal health and performance.

Water is an essential nutrient. In fact, the lack of water is one of the first deficiencies to be felt, and the first one to lead to death. Preventing hypo-hydration is critical for training and performance in athletes but also in non-athletes, just in order to function well on a daily basis.

Water consumption, especially here in a warm climate, is pivotal to good health. The formula to ensure that you are adequately hydrated is take your weight in pounds and divide by two to get the number of ounces of water that you need daily. For example if you weigh 200 pounds, divide that by two and get 100.

That’s the number of ounces of water you need to be properly hydrated. If you want that in 8-ounce glasses it equals about 12 1/2, 8-ounce glasses. Juicy foods count toward your water consumption goal, as do watery drinks such as green tea and even coffee.

Soda with sugar and artificial sweeteners are not good choices because they are nutrient deplete and full of chemicals that disrupt essential bodily processes. There are some very good electrolyte and carbohydrate replacement drinks on the market but they are not found in variety stores.

The essentials of proper nutrition are the same for us all whether we are a world-class athlete or someone who just wants to live healthily. Avoid processed commercialized “foods” but use properly formulated nutrients coupled with sensible eating focusing on quality lean protein and complex carbohydrates.

Make sure your water intake is adequate to replace water lost throughout the day and eat for nutrition first, considering everything else about your food as secondary. Simple.


Jane Riley is a certified trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reached at, (808) 212-8119 and


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