Updated: Mar 3, 2022
Proper and consistent nutrition can be one of the most impactful competitive advantages an athlete implements in their days, weeks, months, and years of development.
An understanding of nutritional priorities is an essential first step in athletes and parents becoming proficient in shopping, preparing, and eating foods that lead to maximal athletic development.
The graph below illustrates 5 essential elements of performance nutrition and their respective priority.
When dealing with our nutrition, we highly prioritize calorie balance, macronutrient intake, and food quality because nutritional science indicates that these three areas significantly impact our overall body composition, health, and performance.
Priority 1 | Calorie Balance
Calorie balance refers to the incredibly complex relationship between our energy intake (the calories we eat and drink) and our total energy expenditure (the total calories we use). We know that a eucaloric (balanced) state will lead to weight maintenance over time. While a hypercaloric (surplus) or hypocaloric (deficit) state will lead to a respective net weight gain or loss over time.
Priority 2 | Macronutrients
Nutrients are environmental substances used for energy, growth, and bodily functions. Nutrients that are needed in large amounts are called macronutrients. There are three macronutrients required by humans: carbohydrates (sugar), lipids (fats), and proteins. Each of these macronutrients provides energy in the form of calories. Adjusting the blend of these macronutrients throughout a nutrition program, allows us to maximize an athlete's ability to retain and build lean muscle, decrease fat, utilize energy in training, or recover more effectively.
Priority 3 | Food Quality (micronutrients)
The quality of our food is of high priority for many reasons. Simply, the quality of our food (whole “real” foods) provides our body with maximum metabolic and micronutrient benefits per serving. Over time, high quality whole foods will have a lasting positive effect on our health and wellness, not to mention our physique and performance.
Priorities 4 & 5 | Nutrient Timing and Supplementation
While a slightly lower priority than calorie balance, macronutrients, and food quality, nutrient timing and nutritional supplementation are still essential nutritional priorities if we're looking to maximize athletic development and performance. We know that the intake of certain macronutrient blends before, during, and after intense training or periods of elevated activity can benefit us in a variety of ways. We also know that supplementation with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, creatine, etc. can add immense value over time. Always consult your physician prior to utilizing any supplementation.
"Now that we understand nutritional priorities, what's the next step?"
It depends on the individual athlete and their family dynamic (in the case of a youth athlete). Here are two essential best practices that will generate success:
Schedule bulk preparation of protein, carbohydrate, and fats. This can be once a week or more. Having steak, chicken, eggs, rice, fruit, and nuts (to mention a few) ready to grab and go will make hitting priorities 1-3 much more realistic.
Develop a food storage and transportation system. Generally, store meats, carbohydrates, and fats separately. This allows for ease of storage as well as flexibility in how the day's meals are organized. Make sure you have quality containers to pack food in for the day. There are many companies that provide quality containers and bags to transport your meal prep.
With the above two best practices in place, execution of a specific meal plan becomes plug and play. Without them, maintaining consistency in a plan becomes very difficult. Preparing, storing, and transporting quality food must become second nature in order to generate the consistency needed to get long-term results.