What is the best fats/carbs/protein ratio for training cyclists?

Ratio of Fats/Carbs/Proteins

William’s Question:

For a healthy adult male masters racer, spending 8-15 hours per week on the bike. When looking at daily nutrition and training nutrition combined, what would be your recommended ratio of fats/carbs/proteins, to a person who is not trying to lose weight, but just get the most from his training, and perform his best in races?

Would your answer depend on the age of the person?

Kelli’s Response:

Thanks for your question!  I actually don’t really work with ratios or percentages for nutrients for 3 reasons (although I realize that many other nutritionists do use this method).  First, they depend on the total calories being correct and adequate.  For example, if I told you to aim for 50% of your calories from carbs, and 30% from protein, but you only eat 1500 calories per day and not the 2500 you need (hypothetically), your intake of these important nutrients would be deficient.  This can negatively affect your training. However, if I told you to eat 200 grams of carbs and 100 grams of protein, because your body needs these based on my calculations, you could hit your mark regardless of your total intake.  Secondly, your intake should vary on days you train vs. days you don’t.  When you train, you need a lot more carbs due to need before, during, and after training (these should all be carb-based, with added protein for recovery).  So, the ratio would be a lot higher on a training day than a non-training day.  And, since your training fuel largely depends on the duration and intensity of training, there are differences within training days, with a much higher percentage of carbs for long training as I recommend training fuel per hour.  Third, most clients find it too inflexible to stick to ratio in the long-term…sounds good on paper, but is difficult with real life.

My philosophy, then, is to first separate Daily and Training Nutrition.  Then, I help clients consume goal amounts of protein and carbs each day from whole foods for Daily nutrition, and add the Training Fuel needed on days they train.   In addition to daily carb and protein goals, endurance athletes need healthy fats, so the remainder of calories comes from healthy fats.  My recommendations for daily amounts of carbs vary from client to client as some people gain weight easily from too many carbs, some want a vegetarian diet (which usually ends up being higher in carbs), and some have found they have great energy with a higher protein and fat, and lower carb diet (such as Paleo).  Daily nutrition is all about promoting steady energy and health, so there is room for flexibility as long as it’s based on healthy, whole foods.  For most clients who are not trying to lose weight, it works well to have 1-2 whole food carb sources (such as a whole fruits, intact or whole grains, milk/yogurt, or starchy vegetables such as yams) at meals and 1 source at snacks (usually comes out to ~200-250 grams of carbs for most).  Then, make sure to add a protein source either vegetarian or animal source at every meal and snack.  I recommend that endurance athletes shoot for 75+ grams (women) and 100+ grams (men) of protein each day (this is increased with recovery fuel).  Then, lastly, each meal is rounded out with a healthy fat (very important for lasting energy and hormone balance) such as avocados, organic coconut oil, olive oil, nuts, nut butters, etc.  Very loosely, this might come out to 40% carb, 20% protein, 40% fat diet for Daily Nutrition when no weight loss is needed, and closer to 30%, 30%, 40% for fat loss, excluding any needed Training Nutrition…but again, this is variable and if I do provide percentages is individual-based and formulated after working with a client for a while.

I can more easily give specific recommendations for training nutrition.  Most athletes need carbs before any long training (120+ minutes).  Depending on the amount of time you have, try an easy to digest meal with carbs (45-60 grams) and protein (10-15 grams) 3 hours out, a smoothie 1-2 hours out, or a fast-digesting fuel (such as an energy bar or organic honey) 15 minutes out.   Then during intense training >90 minutes, it’s 200-300 calories per hour, 60+ grams carbs per hour, 16-24 oz. fluid per hour, and adequate lytes per hour.  After intense training, 40+ grams of carbs and ~20 grams of protein will make for a good recovery.  Then, as needed for intense training, add extra protein to your dinner meal and a muscle sparing protein shake before bed (your body continues to burn calories and muscles for many hours after intense training).

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