LEXINGTON -- January means New Year's Resolutions, and the two most popular resolutions are focused on dieting and exercising. If you've set an exercise-related goal this year, your diet may vary to help you achieve it. Although working one-on-one with a professional with reputable credentials is your best option, here are some general guidelines for fueling your body for your performance goals.
Goal: lose a few pounds, improve fitness
Adopt healthy strategies to expend more energy (calories) than you consume. This should be a gradual process that incorporates both increased physical activity and dietary changes that minimizes fatigue and deprivation. Creating a small calorie deficit of 250 to 500 calories per day is enough to initially produce a weight loss rate one-half to one pound per week.
Avoid sugar-sweetened and alcoholic beverages and replace highly processed foods with minimally processed foods to create a deficit and initiate weight loss. Many diet trends (e.g. fasting, keto, etc.) produce weight loss because of the energy deficit they create, not because there is anything magical about the eating plan.
Daily exercise and/or general physical activity (e.g., scheduled walking breaks) is another great way to increase energy expenditure. Whatever strategies you choose, they must be sustainable and combined with long-term commitment to exercise to maintain weight.
Goal: participate in an endurance sport (e.g., half-marathon, triathlon)
Training to compete or simply complete an endurance event is a great way to improve your aerobic fitness and overall health. With this type of goal in mind, it is important to map out a slow and steady training progression to avoid injury.
The endurance training diet should match increased calorie expenditure with increased calorie intake, particularly on training days. Carbohydrates are key for training at high intensity and enjoying long training runs.
During early stages of training when intensity and duration is often limited, 4-6 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per day is generally recommended. This increases to approximately 6-10 grams per kilogram with more advanced training. Diet quality is also important: choose more whole grains, enriched refined grains, dairy, fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Goal: Build muscle/strength
The benefits of increasing muscle strength and size are numerous, including reduced risk for chronic disease and preserving physical function as we age. To build muscle, the most important factor is to stay committed to a well-designed resistance training program.
Focus on training each major muscle group 2-3 days per week, allowing for approximately 48 hours of rest between training days. From a nutrition standpoint, many already consume enough calories to support exercise-induced muscle growth and should instead conduct a self-assessment of their protein intake.
Depending on body size, consuming 15 to 30 grams of protein per meal from a diverse list of protein-dense foods, equally spread between 3-4 meals, will maximally support muscle growth. Lifestyle factors should also be considered -- smoking, frequent alcohol consumption and limited sleep can sabotage your training program.
Travis Thomas, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Clinical and Sports Nutrition with the UK Sports Medicine Research Institute.