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One way of improving your workouts is by maximizing your energy production according to your needs. You have the ability to increase your stamina and the amount of energy that your body produces in order to get better results. Meal timing and the right foods can catapult you into new levels.

Where Does Your Energy Come From?

Every part in your body (cells, brain, muscles, heart, and other organs) needs the energy to function properly and your body’s performance is directly affected by your energy levels.

ATP, adenosine triphosphate, is the fountain of energy that maintains human life. However, not much of this amazing energy source is stored in the body. Most of our energy comes from the food we eat and ATP production takes place through three different systems: ATP-PC, anaerobic glycolysis, and aerobic phosphorylation. Each system uses different starting fuels and results in different energy levels being produced.

  • ATP-PC: provides ATP at a very fast rate but your body only holds limited stores of it. The breakdown of creatine phosphate (CP), a stored molecule in the muscle, releases energy to synthesize ATP. However, this immediate energy can only last up to about 10-12 seconds. It’s available for short bouts of high-intensity exercises, such as in high jumps, short sprints, or bat swings.
  • Anaerobic Glycolysis: provides ATP fast, but not as fast as ATP-PC. Glycogen, glucose stored in the muscle and liver, is taken and transported from the blood via the liver to produce ATP. This system can power heavy exercise for 2-3 minutes, depending on glucose and enzyme availability, and levels of lactic acid. Eventually, lactic acid build-up fatigues the muscles and shuts down glycolysis.
  • Aerobic (Oxidative) Phosphorylation: provides ATP at a slower rate but lasts longer. ATP is yielded from fats and carbohydrates delivered to the mitochondria (a cell structure that manufactures energy). The generation of energy depends on enzymes, oxygen availability to the mitochondria, and available carbohydrates and fats. This system provides energy for high-intensity training that lasts for long periods. Endurance activities from low-to-moderate–intensity, such as walking, jogging, running, hiking and swimming, are fueled via this system.

 

Energize Your Training

Now that you know that energy is produced in different ways and provides diverse results, you can tailor the energy that your body produces based on your individual requirements.

SHORT HIGH-INTENSITY TRAINING

Those involved in short bouts of high-intensity training, such as sprinters, high jumpers, and others engaging in plyometrics, use energy from the ATP-PC system. They can use up most, if not all, of their glycogen stored in the body. 

Diets need to be balanced to provide all the macronutrients that the body needs to perform at maximum intensity. 

  • Nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources are essential. Consume around 50% of your diet from carbohydrates, including multigrain bread, pasta, beans, legumes, cereals, fruits, vegetables, and raw dairy products when available.
  • Consume at least 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass. Lean meats, chicken, wild fish, eggs, should be on the menu.
  • Energy-dense foods such as those high in fats shouldn’t drop below 15%. Coconut and olive oils, avocados, raw butter, nuts, and seeds are exemplary fats.
  • **Aim to consume foods from organic sources**

When performing short high-intensity training, you should emphasize protein intake throughout their day to allow for muscles repair, development and recovery, unlike endurance athletes who need much carb-loading. Within two hours of training or competition, you should have at least 30 grams of protein and 50-60 grams of carbohydrates. Being hungry should be avoided, as well as eating huge meals, high-fiber grains or vegetables, and/or fatty foods in order to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort.

Glycogen stores can be restored before training or competition with 24-36 hours of rest or light training. You should maintain blood glucose levels stable and your body fully hydrated at all times to maximize performance.

WEIGHT TRAINING

Those involved in weight training use energy generated through anaerobic glycolysis and have slightly different needs. Individualized calorie needs should be established when starting a program. Then, the macronutrient ratio (the distribution of protein, carbohydrate and fat intake) should be adjusted. It is always helpful to get a certified fitness coach or nutritionist for an individualized plan. As a rule of thumb, protein intake is essential to build and repair muscle tissue.

If the goal is to gain muscle size, it’s recommended to increase your calorie intake by 15%. When cutting weight, you should decrease your maintenance calories by 15%. For example, if your maintenance calories are 2,500 per day, you should eat 2,875 calories per day during the bulking phase and around 2,125 calories to lean out.

You should adjust your calorie intake monthly as you progress and your body weight changes. Body changes shouldn’t be too drastic to avoid muscle loss. You shouldn’t lose or gain more than 0.5–1% of your body weight per week.

The macronutrient ratio should fall within the following ranges:

  • 30–35% of calories from the diet should come from protein to help reduce lean mass loss during energy restriction and provide a thermic effect that can aid in body fat reduction. Consume 2.3 – 3.1 g/kg of lean body mass per day of protein.
  • 50–60% of calories from carbs to help maintain training intensity.
  • 15–20% of calories from fat to help joint fluidity. This fat ratio can be increased to 35-40% along while carbs are decreased to bring about a ketogenic state – at some point.

Aim to eat three to six meals per day. Consume 0.4-0.5 g/kg body weight of protein prior to and subsequent to resistance training. Ingest high glycemic carbohydrates post-workout – around 1.2 g/kg/hour at 30-minute intervals for 4 hours. The consumption of protein and carbohydrate immediately before and after training sessions is essential to augment protein synthesis, muscle glycogen resynthesis and reduce protein degradation.

MODERATE CARDIO / ENDURANCE TRAINING

 

Endurance athletes, those engaging in running, biking, swimming, and marathons, use the energy produced from aerobic phosphorylation. The most critical macronutrient to consume is carbohydrates.

The macronutrient ratio should be as follows:

  • At least 60% of their diet should be carbs. Carbohydrates are not used structurally in the body, but strictly for fuel. The harder and longer the training, the more carbohydrate you need to perform optimally. Carb needs vary from 5 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight per day when training 1 to 5+ hours per day (1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds). Yet, it is possible to have a very low carb intake as when following a ketogenic diet (a 4:1 ratio by weight of fat to combined protein and carbohydrate combined) but energy levels may drop. 
  • Protein should be 20-25% of the diet. It’s recommended to consume 1 gram of protein per body weight daily for recreational endurance athletes increasing to 1.5 grams per kilogram per day for serious competitors.
  • Fat intake seems less sensitive to fluctuations in training volume. 15-20% of the diet should come from fats.

If you engage in endurance training, meal timing is also important. Two hours pre-workout time, consume a meal with fast-acting and medium-acting carbs (oatmeal, whole grain pasta or bread, banana), moderate in protein and low in fat for great performance. Immediately post-workout, eat a meal high in fast-acting carbohydrates and some protein to replenish muscle glycogen stores and muscle recovery.

During workouts, you can consume 8-12 ounces of coconut water or a sports drink to keep hydrated. Be also mindful that carbs not only should be consumed hours prior to running but days beforehand. You should slowly increase your carbohydrate intake 2-3 days before long workouts to amplify your energy reserves.

As you can see, you can really have a direct impact on your energy levels and subsequently on your training. The fuel you provide your body and the appropriate timing can exponentially improve your performance and your physique.

To a Healthier Fitter You,

Adriana Albritton

The Fitness Wellness Mentor

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