Protein, Carbs, & Fats: Understanding How Macros Fuel Athletic Performance

Author: Susan Bowerman
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Our body needs The Big Three macronutrients – protein, carbs, and fats to carry out the day-to-day physical activities. While attaining a perfect balance between these macros is crucial to ensure your body receives wholesome nutrition, the intake proportion of the macronutrients varies depending on the type and intensity of the activity level that you are engaging in. The macro percentages for strength training, for example, differ somewhat from those for endurance runners. Hence, for athletes and active individuals, calculating the right balance of macronutrients is crucial as it can impact their training and sports performance.


So, let’s understand how macros help fuel athletic performance and how much of it athletes need in their daily diet.


Recommended Protein Intake for Athletes:

•                 Protein plays a crucial role during high-intensity workouts of athletes as it helps promote muscle repair and growth. Athletes require more protein than sedentary people since they generally have more muscle mass. Sports nutritionists prefer to calculate protein needs for athletes according to body weight instead of expressing it as a percentage of total calories.


•                 The standard recommended protein intake for endurance athletes is 1 – 1.3 grams per kilogram of body weight, and strength athletes need a bit more about 1.5 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight. So, an 82-kilogram athlete will need in the range of about 82 to 106 grams or 123 to 164 grams of protein per day to support endurance or strength training, respectively.

Recommended Carbohydrate Intake for Athletes:

•                 Carbohydrates serve as the ultimate source of fuel during exercise. For most moderately active people, a well-balanced diet that supplies about half (45 to 55%) of the calories from carbohydrates should be adequate, but those who need a lot of endurance and stamina to sustain training and exercise require a high-carb diet. Sports nutritionists prefer to calculate carbohydrate needs for athletes according to body weight instead of expressing it as a percentage of total calories.


•                 The standard recommended carbohydrate intake for general training is about 5.5 to 7 grams per kilogram, and endurance athletes like runners, cyclists, or swimmers, require more: about 7 to 10 grams per kilogram. Ultra-endurance athletes who engage in competitions that last for four hours or more may need about 11 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram or more.

Recommended Fat Intake for Athletes:

Dietary fats supply the body with essential fatty acids, serving as a valuable energy source during activity. While carbohydrates are considered the body’s primary fuel source, the body uses both carbohydrates and fat as fuel, depending on the intensity and duration of the activity.

•                 After jogging for more than 20 minutes at a moderate pace, fat becomes increasingly more important than carbohydrates for sustenance. Rather than suggesting a precise amount of fat for athletes, sports nutritionists usually recommend an intake of around 25 to 30% of their total calories.


•                 Unsaturated fats from foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish, olive oil, and seed oils (like canola, safflower, or sunflower) are a good source of fats for athletes.


What to Eat Before and After a Workout?



Dr. Dana Ryan

Ph.D., MBA, M.A. – Director, Sports Performance and Education, Herbalife Nutrition


Now that we know the importance of macros for performance, here’s what to take before, during, and after exercise to ensure adequate fuel for athletic activities, improve muscle recovery, boost performance, and help maintain healthy body composition.


A cup of coffee or tea around 45–60 minutes before a workout allows the caffeine to reach its peak effectiveness and gives your exercise routine a welcome boost. Caffeine stimulates your body’s metabolism, helps maintain focus, and reduces fatigue. A pre-workout supplement with nitric oxide precursors helps with healthy blood flow. Wider blood vessels support the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to working muscles during exercise, which then helps maintain your performance.

During a Workout

Stay hydrated and fuel your workouts with sports drinks containing a good amount of carbohydrates and electrolytes. Electrolytes can replace valuable nutrients lost due to sweating, like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The combination of carbohydrates and electrolytes will also continuously supply your muscles with the glucose required to maintain your performance.


After a heavy workout, your body requires both protein and carbohydrates to refuel and rebuild. Protein repairs and rebuilds muscles, while the glucose from carbs provides energy for the muscles to repair themselves using protein. So, make sure you take your post-workout shake right after your training to help replenish your energy stores and gear up for your next workout.

A post-workout shake from dairy-based protein like whey or casein protein, or plant-based sources like soy, is a great way to fuel up after a high-intensity workout.

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