Nutrition can be a complicated art, especially when you first begin to increase your level of activity and physical training. PCG nutritionist Namrita Kumar answers some important questions for active women.
How much protein do I really need and what's the best way to get it?You should get 1.0 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day OR 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, you need 65 to 104 grams of protein each day. For the best maintenance of your lean body mass, take 20 grams of protein at a time, especially when you’re in a negative energy balance (meaning you burn more calories than you consume, also called a hypocaloric diet). An easy way to do this would be to take 20 grams in the morning, 20 grams after your workout, and 20 grams with your evening meal.
Be sure to choose high quality proteins. Good animal sources for protein are grass-fed beef, wild salmon, organic poultry, tuna, eggs, shellfish, and Greek yogurt.
There are also many great vegetarian sources of protein. Here are some of the best:
- Apricots (dried)
- Brussels sprouts
- Cottage cheese
- Feta cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Hemp seed
- Navy beans
- Nut butter
- Oats (whole, rolled, old fashioned, steel cut)
- Pasta (whole wheat or egg noodles)
- PB2 or PBFit peanut butter powder
- Peaches (dried)
- Pumpkin seeds
- Rice (long grain brown)
- Ricotta cheese
- Soy milk
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Veggie burgers
If you’re looking for protein supplements, here are a few I recommend:
- Whey protein isolate
- Vega sport (or other brand that has a blend of hemp, rice, and pea protein)
- Core Warrior Meal Replacement Bar
- Organic Food Protein Bar
- ProBar Core Protein Bar
- Rise Protein Bar
- Clif Builder Bar
- PowerBar Protein Plus 20-gram Bar
- ProMax Low-sugar Protein Bar
People tell me to eat fewer carbs, but am I compromising my workouts?The answer to this question depends on the purpose of your workouts. If your goal is to burn fat or lose weight, you should have 0-25 grams of carbohydrates per hour during exercise that lasts longer than one hour. Overall you probably need 2-3 grams of carbs per kilogram (.9-1.4 grams per pound) of body weight per day, and mostly from low-GI (glycemic index) sources. So the 130-pound athlete mentioned above would need 117-182 grams of carbs each day if she is exercising to burn fat.
If your exercise goal is to increase your performance, speed, and power, you need 30-60 grams of carbs per hour during exercise, and 3-4 grams per kilogram (1.4-1.8 grams per pound) of body weight per day, again mostly from low-GI sources. This means that our 130-pound woman exercising to increase performance should get 182-234 grams of carbs per day.
Why don't I lose weight when I train for an endurance event?There are several possible problems that could explain why you’re not losing weight when training for an endurance event. Let’s look at them one at a time.
Possible problem 1: You’re not getting enough protein.
Solution: Make sure you’re getting between 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound per day. Whenever possible, get this protein in 20-gram portions throughout the day.
Possible problem 2: You’re getting too many calories.
Solution: Keep an honest, detailed log of what you eat and drink on a typical day and determine your total calorie intake. To calculate the recommended average calorie intake for a recreationally active female, multiply your body weight in pounds by 10 and then multiply that by 1.5. Our 130-pound active female’s ideal average calorie intake would be 1,950 calories (130 x 10 x 1.5 = 1,950).
Possible problem 3: You’re not getting the right breakdown of calories.
Solution: Once you know your ideal calorie intake (calculated in problem 2 above), you can break it down into the types of calories you need. Your calorie intake each day should generally consist of:
21% protein (100 grams for our 130-pound athlete, or 400 calories)
48% carbohydrates (235 grams for our 130-pound athlete, or 940 calories)
31% fat (68 grams for our 130-pound athlete, or 612 calories)
Note: Typical fat intake is usually around 1 gram of fat per kilogram of body weight.
Possible problem 4: You’re not getting calories at the right time.
1. Eat breakfast.
2. Eat higher carbs before and during workouts.
3. Eat protein and carbs after workouts.
4. Eat protein, low-glycemic index carbs (veggies!), and fat the rest of the day.
5. Choose the least processed foods possible.
6. Follow the guidelines above for energy intake during exercise.
Possible problem 5: You’re too sedentary outside of your workouts.
Solution: Get up often and move around: walk, stretch, climb stairs, ride your bike, walk to work. Use a pedometer to keep you honest!
How do I eat clean and find balance?1. Focus on being active instead of too restrictive.
2. Match your energy intake to your energy output. And be honest with yourself. Track your intake and expenditure if needed.
3. Get your required nutrients first. Think of food as fuel for exercise and recovery, and focus on hitting your protein and carbohydrate targets first before adding “extra” calories.
4. Be mindful of alcohol calories and fat calories (especially in nuts, trail mix, bars, nut butters), as well as sugars that can be consumed quickly and mindlessly. These calories add up fast, even when you get them in very small amounts over the course of the day.
5. Always lean toward real foods that are minimally processed. Use dressings and sauces sparingly; use spices for flavor.
6. Don’t be hyper-focused on specific foods or elimination of specific foods. Don’t diet; instead, change how you think about food and pay attention to the way the foods you eat (and when you eat them) make you feel.
It's a good life! You’re already making it even better by staying active, and good nutrition habits can add new momentum. For more nutrition tips and support, contact us or check out our coaching and meal plan options.
Namrita Kumar's racing background is primarily in endurance mountain biking and, more recently, some XC distance racing and XTERRA off-road triathlon. She works with triathletes, ultra-endurance mountain bike racers, self-supported ultra racers, marathon runners, and more. She is an active member of the American College of Sports Medicine, Professionals in Nutrition for Exercise & Sport (PINES), and the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) Honorary Board, and she is a founding member of the Georgia High School Cycling League. Namrita can be contacted directly via email@example.com or PeaksCoachingGroup.com.