The Sad Truth The majority of athletes believe their nutrition is above average when in truth they are well below normal standards (4). So the first step is believing that food, hydration and recovery does matter.
Testing To assess your personal requirements you need to do some testing. If possible I highly recommend at least these five tests.
Metabolism Testing: Know how many calories you burn at rest. That means how many calories you burn if you just slept for 24 hours. This measurement allows you to customize a more accurate menu plan to meet the health and performance goals throughout the year. Some of the biggest error athletes make is not increasing their energy (calorie) needs as their training increases or others overeat or eat whatever they want because they burn a lot. BIG MISTAKES!
2. Body Composition Testing: Know how much lean weight to fat weight you have. Total weight on a scale cannot even come close to setting accurate health and performance goals for the short and long term. It also helps guide your performance team on what needs to be worked on (6, 7).
3. MuscleSound®: This measures how many carbohydrates (glycogen) you currently have within the muscles. You will be surprised how many athletes are chronically low. This device has been a game changer in my office, especially for monthly follow ups. This guides me if my athletes need more fuel or what we are currently doing is optimal. Also I have been doing pre and post competition readings so we know how much fuel they are using and how to replace optimally. Like I said…..GAME CHANGER!
4. Nutrition Assessment: This is a detailed nutrition consult to see what you are currently eating, when you are eating it and how much. It can also include food allergies, intolerances, sensitivities, any gut issues, fluid intake, sodium intake, stress, sleep, family and medical history, reviewing any blood work, supplements and medicines and any past or current injuries and pains (8).
5. Blood Work: Most athletes should do a minimum of yearly blood work ups. Just because they are young doesn’t mean they are in optimal standings. You will need to work with a Sports Dietitian or medical professional who is up to date on optimal lab values for athletes. One of my many pet peeves is…”Everything is normal” I have no idea what that means. Always get a copy of your labs. Normal does not always equal optimal! I want optimal! Here is an online resource known as www.athletebloodtest.com. (Use code: SportsNutrition2Go if you would like a 15% discount). They are very thorough on the tests and explanations. I have found it very useful for my client base.
There are definitely more tests that can be done, but I believe these are the main ones for everyone in sports to do.
In Closing As you set goals for your next season or Olympic Dreams, make sure you have a sports nutritional road map as part of your success. Just training hard lacks the vision and goal setting needed to optimize growth, health and performance!
Burkhart SJ, Pelly FE. Dietary Intake of Athletes Seeking Nutrition Advice at a Major International Competition. Nutrients. 2016;8(10):638.
Hinton, P, Sanford, T, Davidson, MM, Yakushko,O, and Beck, N. Nutrient intake and dietary behaviors of male and female collegiate athletes. Inter J of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 14: 389 – 390. (2004).
Von Rosen P, Frohm A, Kottorp A, Fridén C, Heijne A. Too little sleep and an unhealthy diet could increase the risk of sustaining a new injury in adolescent elite athletes. Scand J Med Sci Sport. 2017;27(11):1364‐1371.
Andrews A, Wojcik JR, Boyd JM, Bowers CJ. Sports Nutrition Knowledge among Mid-Major Division I University Student-Athletes. J Nutr Metab. 2016.
Having a certain body fat to muscle mass ratio is related to athletic performance. Research has shown that correct portion of muscle mass increases strength, power, and agility (8,9). Table 1 (see next page) provides recommend body fat percentages for both men and women. However, to gain lean muscle it is not just about the exercise protocol but nutritional intake and timing (2,7).
Research shows three out of four student athletes may not be getting enough to eat. It also shows that 70% of the women and 73% of the men are not getting enough total calories, only 81% of the women and 90% of the men are consuming enough carbohydrates, and just 68% of the women and 81% of the men are eating enough protein based on USDA guidelines. Intakes of salt, total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol often exceed recommendations, even in diets deficient in major components (4).
To help you achieve your goals, you should know your body composition. But body composition is much more than a body fat percentage number. Below are different ways the measurement can be utilized.
1. Knowing what percent body fat assists in the type of fuel mixture an athlete needs. If an athlete has a higher body fat they usually need fewer calories and fewer carbohydrates. The opposite is true if the athlete has a low body fat. They usually need more calories and carbohydrates due to more lean weight.
2. In any strength and conditioning or specialized nutrition program there needs to be a way to measure its effectiveness. Body composition testing is an important measurement tool since most athletes want to gain muscle, lose fat, or do both.
3. When you are evaluating body fat percentages the challenge is not to just evaluate the percent body fat number but to also evaluate the lean weight number. Even though you may have the appropriate body fat percentage for your sport, you may still have room for improvement if you continue to gain lean mass.
4. When an athlete has encountered a severe injury where rehabilitation will take several months, measuring body composition on a monthly basis can be a tool to minimize a gain in body fat. Athletes can gain body fat quickly when activity has been limited and eating habits are poor. It is difficult to get an athlete back to “full go” if they have lost muscle and gained body fat.
5. Body Composition testing can be a reassurance test. Many female athletes believe when they gain weight, they are gaining fat. Also an athlete can exchange fat at the same rate they gain muscle so the scale is not displaying the positive exchange.
6. Because female athletes are more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder (5), having biyearly body composition tests can detect any significant changes. These changes could shed light on an unhealthy behavior with food.
The best ways to measure body composition are by hydrostatic weighing, Dexa Scan or Bod Pod testing. However many people do not have access or the funds to use these methods. The next best step is to use Lange skinfold calipers. They are easy to use, easy to learn, and very affordable. However you want to make sure you take the time and follow strict protocols to ensure accuracy (3). Take a minimum of three tests at each site and have at least two numbers that are within a millimeter. If you do not, then keep retesting the site until you do. The last thing you want is the body fat percentage to increase due to poor measuring techniques. Lastly you want to avoid going the easy route and buy a bioempedance device. These devices can be anywhere from 6 – 10% off because these techniques depend on the athletes hydration status(6). These tools start off by measuring how fast the current runs through the body. The more hydrated the athlete the lower the body fat will register. The more dehydrated the athlete is the higher the body fat will measure. There are two bioempedance devices that are an exception that I am personally aware of. Tanita Ironman scale and InBody. They are closer to 3-5% off.
Body Composition testing is not just about measuring fat weight and lean weight. It can be a very effective tool for menu planning, monitoring progress, improving current athletic status, part of a rehabilitation protocol, offering encouragement, and finding irregularities in behavior. Now that is a tool.
References 1. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing Prescription. American College of Sports Medicine,7th Edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. (2005). 2. Biolo, G, Williams, BD, Fleming, RY, and Wolfe,RR. Insulin action on muscle protein kinetics and amino acid transport during recovery after resistance exercise. Diabetes, 48:949 – 957. (1999). 3. Heyward, VH, Wagner, DR. Applied Body Composition Assessment. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. (2004). 4. Hinton, P, Sanford, T, Davidson, MM, Yakushko,O, and Beck, N. Nutrient intake and dietary behaviors of male and female collegiate athletes. Inter J of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 14: 389 – 390. (2004). 5. Kirk, G, Singh, K, and Getz H. Risk of Eating Disorders among female college athletes and nonathletes. Journal of College Counseling, 4(2): 122 – 132. (2001). 6. McArdle, W, Katch, F, Katch, V. Exercise Physiology. (4th Edition). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. (2006). 7. Rasmussen B, Tipton, KD, Miller, SL, Wolf, SE, and Wolfe, RR. An oral essential amino acidcarbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise. J. Appl. Physiol, 88:386 – 392. (2000). 8. Spaniol FJ. Physiological predictors of bat speed and throwing velocity in adolescent baseball players (Abstract). Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 16(4): 1 – 18. (2002). 9. Spaniol FJ. Predicting throwing velocity in college baseball players (Abstract). Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 11(4): 286. (1997).
Author Dawn Weatherwax RD,CSSD,LD,ATC, CSCS, MET I
Dawn Weatherwax is a Registered/Licensed Dietitian with a specialty in Sports Nutrition and Founder of Sports Nutrition 2Go. She is also a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, which is the premier professional sports nutrition credential in the United States. In addition, she is an Athletic Trainer with a Certification in Strength and Conditioning from The National Strength and Conditioning Association. Therefore, she brings a comprehensive and unique understanding of the athlete's body, and its nutritional needs, to those interested in achieving specific performance goals and optimal health. Weatherwax is also the author of The Official Snack Guide for Beleaguered Sports Parents, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sports Nutrition and The Sports Nutrition Guide for Young Athletes. She is an Official Speaker for the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and She has also been featured on television and magazines including: Good Morning America, MSNBC, Oxygen, Spark and Shape.