Although active men and women have a number of nutrition and energy issues in common, there are some nutrition issues that are more common in active men. Our last column (Part III) addressed nutrition and food issues common to active women and men. This column will focus on the nutrition issues of active men, especially areas of nutrition that are often neglected, such as eating fruits and vegetables and managing alcohol intake. Encourage the active males you work with to pay attention to some of the nutrition recommendations given in this column. They will notice an improvement in their ability to perform intense physical activity, recover from exercise more quickly, manage weight better, and have an overall improvement in their health and well-being.
Common Nutrition Issues
Eating Fruits and Vegetables
It is not uncommon to look at the diet of an active male and see that few fruits and vegetables are consumed during a week. Why are these two food groups so "ignored" by male athletes? Based on the 2003 Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, only 18% of male respondents reported consuming five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day(1). This is a disappointing response given the effort that has gone into the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) 5-A-Day program, especially when a serving usually represents one-half cup of vegetables or fruit juice or one small piece of fruit. Many male athletes know that fruits and vegetables are "good" for them, but they do not know the immediate benefit of eating these foods, how to prepare them, or do not want to spend the money on a food they may not like. One study that illustrates the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables high in B vitamins on exercise performance was done by E.J.van der Beek, Ph.D, et al.(2). They fed 24 male athletes a diet high in processed foods and found that they could deplete them in the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6) in 11 weeks. When they exercised these athletes in their depleted state, they found that V̇O2max decreased by 12%, onset of blood lactate accumulation decreased by 7%, and both peak and mean power decreased by 9% and 7%, respectively. Inasmuch as the B vitamins are so important for energy production, if the diet is not adequate in these nutrients, the ability to exercise at high intensities is reduced, thus, encouraging your athletes to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are high in micronutrients, which can dramatically impact their ability to exercise when provided in adequate amounts.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Many male athletes are obsessed with getting adequate intakes of protein; yet for most male athletes, protein is the nutrient that is usually more than adequate in their diet. Yes, protein is important for building and maintaining muscle tissues, but total energy intake also is important. If energy intake is not adequate, then the protein consumed will be used for energy. Thus, if an athlete wants to maintain or increase muscle tissue, they need to eat adequate energy and protein intake will usually be more than adequate. For example, if a male athlete (230 pounds; 104.5 kg) consumes 4,500 Kcal/d and 15% of energy is from protein, their protein intake is 169 g/day. Although the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 g/kg per day (0.36 g/pound) (3), we typically recommend that active individuals consume 1.4 to 1.8 g/kg (0.64-0.82 g/pound) per day (4). Using the male athlete above, this would equal 1.6 g/kg (0.72 g/pound) body weight, more than enough to meet his protein needs. Male athletes need to focus more on other nutrition issues in their diet and less on their protein needs. One way to illustrate how easy it is to meet our protein needs on the typical American diet is to calculate an athlete's protein needs and show them how quickly they can reach their goals. Table 1 shows the typical amount of protein in foods commonly consumed by male athletes.
Athletes often forget that the alcoholic beverages they consume also contain energy (Kcal). This is especially important for the active male who is trying to lose or maintain weight. All the careful eating during the week can be quickly erased by an alcohol binge on the weekend. In addition, the body uses alcohol preferentially over other energy sources (5). This means that the calories consumed in alcohol will be used for energy, whereas the calories consumed in fat (e.g., the chips and chicken wings eaten with the alcohol) will be stored as fat if extra calories are consumed. There is no doubt about it-alcohol calories add up. Each standard drink (1.5 oz hard liquor, 12 oz beer, 4 oz wine) contain approximately 100 to 150 Kcal/each. Thus, adding an extra 1,000 Kcal/wk in alcohol can quickly ruin a weight loss diet, especially because it is easy to overeat when you are drinking. Help your male athlete manage their alcohol intake, by limiting their intake and budgeting the extra calories into their weight loss or maintenance plan. Tell them not to go to a party that is focused around alcohol when they are too hungry and thirsty. Eating a good meal and drinking lots of nonalcoholic fluids before they go will help them limit their alcohol intake. They also need to pay attention to the amount of food and alcohol consumed-don't ruin a week of healthy eating in one night.
Energy bars are part of most athletes' diets. They can be travel easily, provide a quick snack, and are readily available in most stores. However, they should not be routinely used as meal replacements or as an excuse not to develop good eating habits. Energy bars should be used between meals and before training/competition when quick energy is needed and other foods are not available. When selecting an energy bar look for a mix of protein, carbohydrates, and fats (low-to-moderate amounts). Don't focus just on energy bars that provide protein, which are typically more expensive. The same amount of protein provided in these bars can be found much cheaper in other food forms such as a glass of milk. Energy bars do not need to be highly fortified with lots of vitamins and minerals. If an athlete needs a supplement, it is cheaper to use a one-a-day multivitamin/mineral supplement. So what type of energy bar should you buy? Find a bar that tastes good, is reasonably priced, and provides a mix of protein, carbohydrate, and fat.
Putting It All Together
If your male clients are serious about improving in their sport and training at a higher level, then good nutrition habits are a must. In our last column, we talked about the timing of meals and snacks around the exercise schedule, how to eat out wisely, the importance of not skipping meals, getting adequate fluid intake for one's sport, shopping wisely and learning to cook, and carrying snacks with them. Add to this list, the items discussed in this column. Help your male athletes understand the importance of eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to provide the many micronutrients necessary for maintaining good health and performing well. Remind them that good nutrition is more than just getting adequate protein in their diet. Help them select energy bars that meet their needs while not breaking the bank. Finally, remind the athlete that if alcohol is part of their diet, then it needs to be planned into the diet and not considered a "free" food. Encourage them to experiment with their diet until they find what "works" for them.
2. van der Beek, E.J., W. van Dookkum, M. Wedel, et al. Thiamin, riboflavin and vitamin B-6: impact of restricted intake on physical performance in man. J Am Coll Nutr
3. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences. Dietary Reference Intakes: Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids.
Washington: National Academy Press, 2002.
4. Manore, M.M., and J.A. Thompson. Sport Nutrition for Health and Performance.
Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2000.
5. Siler, S.Q., R.A. Neese, and M.K. Hellerstein. De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. Am J Clin Nutr