Nutrition for the Male Athlete
Nutrition for the Male Athlete
Recovery is a requirement if you want to improve your athletic performance and results. The act of recovering can be broken down into two categories: rest and nutrition.
Rest requires sleeping no less than seven hours each night, meditation, and spending quality time with friends and family.
Nutrition, on the other hand, can be a bit more complicated, especially for the male athlete whose body requires far more quality nutrition than the average person.
Let’s take a look at what makes for an ideal diet for the male athlete along with tips and tricks to ensure proper recovery and optimized results.
Optimized Meals for the Male Athlete: Here’s What to Eat
In general, daily nutrients are divided into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients.
Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that you consume from whole foods or extract-based supplements.
Macronutrients, on the other hand, are where you get your calories from. Macronutrients are made up of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
Protein is especially important for the male athlete as it contains the very building blocks of muscle tissue: amino acids. Higher protein diets are required of male athletes especially in a strength-based sport such as bodybuilding or powerlifting.
Studies suggest that the male athlete will need between 0.55 to 0.82 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. The more you train, the more intense your sport, the more protein you’ll need. If you are involved in bodybuilding or physique-based sports, you may want to consider increasing this amount to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Any more than this has not shown to provide any additional benefit.
Best Sources of Protein for the Male Athlete
The best sources of protein for the male athlete should focus on whole food and natural choices. Supplements are okay to use as well, but the foundation of your diet should come from real food. We recommend the following animal-based protein sources the next time you are at the store:
- Chicken breasts
- Turkey breasts
- Grass-fed beef
- Wild caught salmon
- Plant-based yogurt (with limited or no added sugars or flavorings)
Two supplements to consider are a whey protein powder and BCAAs or branched-chain amino acids. Protein can be used as a meal replacement or post-workout recovery drink. Whey protein isolate is especially useful for spiking protein synthesis before bed. BCAAs can be used as an intra-workout supplement to support performance and reduce the risk of protein breakdown.
While carbohydrates have received bad publicity over the last few years, they can be an essential part of the male athlete’s diet. Carbohydrates can support energy production and facilitate faster recovery when combined with protein sources.
While the traditional thought was that a typical diet should be made up of 40% to 65% carbohydrates, these numbers may not reflect what is truly needed for all athletes. An endurance athlete, for example, will require the upper limit of this carbohydrate recommendation. While a bodybuilder may be able to use a high-fat, low-carb diet in order to build muscle and get shredded before a competition.
Regardless of your carbohydrate needs, you should stay away from simple sugar-based carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread, and anything with processed sugars. Complex carbohydrates digest at a slower rate and provide longer-lasting energy without the crash.
Should an Athlete Go Low-Carb?
Before we provide the best sources of carbohydrates for the male athlete, there is one question we need to address that has been coming up more and more over the last decade: is it beneficial for a male athlete to adopt a low-carbohydrate diet such as the low-carb paleo or ketogenic diet?
The answer is that it depends. If you are an athlete that focuses on endurance, or your goal is to alter your physique for a competition, then you should consider a low-carb, high-fat, moderate-protein diet. Studies show that after the initial adjustment period, male athletes on a low-carb diet respond better than female athletes utilizing this style of nutritional protocol.
Moreover, if you are an athlete who’s sport primarily relies on anaerobic capacity (i.e. exercise for high-intensity and short duration as in activities such as weight lifting or sprinting), Studies show that a low carb, high fat diet may not be the best for you.
Best Sources of Carbohydrates for the Male Athlete
Let’s take a look at the best sources of carbohydrates for the male athlete based on a normal or higher-carbohydrate diet and a low-carbohydrate diet:
Normal / Higher Carbohydrate
- Sweet potatoes
- Wild or brown rice
- 100% whole wheat or whole grain bread
- 100% whole wheat or whole grain pasta
- High-carbohydrate nuts (e.g., pistachios)
Low Carb (e.g., ketogenic diet)
- Dark leafy greens (e.g., kale, spinach)
- Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower)
- Macadamia nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Keto-friendly / low-carb alternatives (e.g., almond flour, not whole wheat flour)
Dietary fats are finally breaking away from the misplaced bad publicity they’ve been receiving for the last 40 to 50 years.
Healthy forms of dietary fats are essential in everyday health as well as athletic recovery. For example, dietary fats ensure other nutrients such as vitamin A and CoQ10 can be efficiently absorbed and utilized in the body. Fats are also responsible for hormonal balance, supporting cognitive health, and many more things.
One of the biggest misconceptions with fats relates to saturated fats, primarily those from animal products. While these sources of fats should not be consumed in excess, this does not warrant the complete removal from one’s diet. If you are vegetarian, vegan, or simply wanting to reduce your intake of animal sources, consider a plant-based source of saturated fat such as coconut oil.
Believe it or not, one of the best fuels for athletic performance is fat. Providing nine calories per gram – compared to only four calories with protein and carbs – dietary fats are the most nutrient-dense option in our diets. Once your body adapts to using fat as fuel, you while begin to notice changes in exercise and activity
With that said, if you adopt a high-fat diet, be sure to eat plenty of protein as well to support muscle growth and recovery..
Best Sources of Fats for the Male Athlete
Here are some of the best sources of fat for you to incorporate into your diet:
- Fatty cuts of meat (e.g., chicken thighs)
- Fatty fish (e.g., salmon)
- Healthy oils (e.g., grape seed oil, olive oil, and coconut oil)
- Grass-fed-based butter
- Coconut butter
- Nuts (e.g., cashews, almonds, pecans, walnuts, brazil nuts)
- Nut butters
Role of Proper Hydration
Did you know that in athletes, even 4% dehydration can result in a 20 to 30% decrease in work performance? You know that staying hydrated is important during training and events, but what you may not realize is that not all forms of hydration are created equal.
In order to properly hydrate your body, you need more than just plain water. Electrolytes, the electrical super highway between cells, are essential to stay properly hydrated. A few examples of electrolytes include sodium, magnesium, and potassium. When hydrating, you want to focus on drinking a mineral or electrolyte-based beverage.
Physical signs of dehydration include the following symptoms:
- Muscle cramps
- Decreased athletic performance
- Difficulty with focus
- Reduced urine output
- Darker urine
How Much Water Should You Drink?
We recommend that you drink water before you begin to feel thirst in order to keep performance levels high without worrying about dehydration. Our general recommendations are 1 quart per every 50 pounds of body weight, but do not exceed 3 quarts a day. You can break up your hydration into the following schedule:
- Drink 16-24 ounces of clean mineral or electrolyte-based water 2 hours before exercise
- 3 to 6 ounces of water 15 minutes before exercise
- During exercise, drink 4 to 6 ounces for every 20 minutes
For additional discussion on hydration sports drinks and the science behind hydration, check out our hydration guide.
Consistency is Key
Recovery, like training, requires consistency and dedication. If you have any questions or concerns about the recommendations above and you’d like to speak with a professional, give us a call at 773-878-7330 to set up a consultation with a sports-focused expert.
Meet Shannon Ford, a functional medicine expert passionate about helping people achieve optimal health and wellness. With over ten years of experience in the field, Shannon has dedicated her career to understanding the underlying causes of chronic diseases and finding personalized solutions for her patients. Her approach focuses on treating the whole person rather than just the symptoms, using a combination of nutrition, lifestyle changes, and cutting-edge medical technologies. Through her work, Shannon has helped countless individuals regain their health and vitality, and she is committed to continuing her mission to empower people to live their best lives.