Food Fitness

Summer Throwdown Week 1: Food Fitness

Posted on by Julia Marnadi. This entry was posted in Being Active and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Welcome to the first week of The Whole U’s Summer Throwdown fitness challenge! During the next six weeks, you’ll learn fitness tips, experience intense workouts, receive free gym passes, and perform fitness tests to check your progress. It’s not too late to register, so sign up and commit to a summer of health and fitness today!

During week one of the challenge, we will be focusing on food fitness. Julia Marnadi , a registered dietician with UW Medicine, will explain nutrition’s role in performance and weight loss.

Athletes are naturally result-driven. How do you get faster? Train more. How do you get stronger? Train more.

But have you ever thought of using nutrition as a method of running faster, lifting more, or getting those extra inches on the high jump? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, as it turns out, nutrition is a much bigger part of fitness and physical ability than we think. By understanding how these nutrients work, you will not only be able to go faster or run longer, but feel good and live a holistic life.


Carbs are the main source of energy for our bodies.  Each gram provides important fuel which must be replenished every day. Muscles store a complex carbohydrate called glycogen, making it readily available to use during exercise. By getting 60% of your calories from carbohydrates, you fill your muscle glycogen stores, preparing your body for the next workout. For elite athletes who train twice a day, carbohydrate intake is encouraged almost right after workouts. For more recreational athletes who train once a day, high-carb foods should be spread out. Reap more benefits by choosing nutrient-rich sources of carbs such as whole grains and fruits which will help with recovery and performance.

Carbohydrate needs based on activity level:

  • Light: Low intensity or skill-based activities: 3-5 grams/kilogram of athlete’s body weight daily. A 150- pound (68 kg) athlete would need 204 to 340 grams per day.
  • Moderate: Medium intensity: (1 hour per day of moderate exercise): 5-7 grams/kilogram of athlete’s body weight daily. If the athlete is 150 pounds (68 kg), he or she would need 340 to 476 grams per day.
  • Very high: Extreme commitment (over 4-5 hours per day of moderate to high-intensity exercise): 8-12 grams/kilogram of the athlete’s body weight daily. If the athlete is 150 pounds (68 kg), he or she would need 544 to 816 grams per day.


Protein is another key nutrient necessary in an athlete’s diet. This magic macronutrient aids growth in one’s body by repairing damaged tissue, aiding in the recovery of injuries, and playing a role as a minor energy source. When you work out, your muscles micro-tear, and then grow back — stronger and adapted. Protein speeds up and may even enhance this effect. To get the maximum yield, 20-25g of protein must be ingested after a workout. Try to combine this post-workout protein with a complex carbohydrate to refuel those glycogen stores.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend the following protein goals for power and endurance athletes, based on body weight.

Protein needs based on body weight:

  • Power athletes (strength or speed): 1.2 to 1.7 grams/kilogram of athlete’s body weight a day. If the athlete is 150 pounds (68 kg), he or she would need 81.6 to 115.6 grams per day.
  • Endurance athletes: (distance or time) 1.2 to 1.4 grams/kilogram of athlete’s body weight a day. If the athlete is 150 pounds (68 kg), he or she would need 81.6 to 95.2 grams per day.


For decades, fat has taken the brunt of the blame for our problems — from heart disease to obesity. However, fat is necessary in our diets. This nutrient provides vital metabolic fuel during endurance events as well as a source of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. But fat does have a drawback: It cannot be used without carbohydrates. While carbohydrates generate higher power and speed, it’s the fuel from fats that help keep you performing well during prolonged exercise.

Athletes should aim to acquire about 20-30% of calories from fat. Current dietary guidelines recommend that 10% of fat intake should come from monounsaturated sources, 10% from polyunsaturated sources, and no more than 10% from saturated fat. Research does not show any beneficial effects from a diet that includes excessive fat intake (>70% of total energy).


In addition to the above macronutrients, micronutrients also play a huge part in how you train, how you recover, and most importantly, how you perform and live.

Iron is the main component in hemoglobin, the substance in our blood which carries oxygen. Without iron, oxygen intake and transportation would be almost impossible. Your iron needs depend on the intensity of your training, the frequency which you donate blood, and if you train at high altitude (higher altitudes have less oxygen which requires more hemoglobin in your blood). Those at a higher risk for iron deficiency are distance runners and vegetarian athletes. An iron deficiency, while decreasing hemoglobin, can impair muscle function and limit work capacity, which leads to decreased athletic performance, and as quick as this deficiency may have taken place, can take about 3 to 6 months to reverse. Athletes can help aid iron absorption by combining iron-rich foods (such as meats, legumes, dark green vegetables, and prunes) with a food containing vitamin C such as tomatoes, citrus fruits, and peppers.

Vitamin D, a surprisingly easy nutrient to acquire, can give you almost superhuman abilities. This vitamin plays a key role in maintaining bone health and density. There has been an emerging interest between this vitamin and its positive effects on skeletal muscle, leading to better athletic performance. Vitamin D can aide injury prevention and neuromuscular function, while leading to reduced inflammation and decreased risk for stress fracture. Some specific athletes are at risk for this deficiency: those who train primarily inside, train in the early morning or night, or live in “dim” conditions. Vitamin D regulates calcium and phosphorus, other important micronutrients. Without this vitamin, symptoms such as stress fracture, muscle pain or weakness, and signs of overtraining may present themselves much more frequently. All in all, vitamin D is a vital micronutrient, especially for those looking to increase athletic performance.

Calcium is especially important for athletes. This micronutrient is vital for growth and, together with vitamin D, maintenance and repair of bone tissue. Calcium also is important for the regulation of muscle contraction (a process necessary in any athlete), nerve conduction, and blood clotting. Without enough calcium, stress fractures can also take place. Calcium can be found in milk, cheese, yogurt, fortified beverages, as well as greens such broccoli, kale, and collards. If you have a low dietary intake of calcium, a supplement should be taken to avoid problems such as stress fractures, osteoporosis, and brittle bones.

B vitamins are necessary for converting sugar, fats, and protein into energy and are used for the production and repair of cells. B vitamins include Thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamins B6 and B12. Vegetarian athletes might be at risk for B12 deficiency due to their diet. B12 can be found in seafood, milk, cheese, egg, meat, and fortified foods. Other B vitamins are found in nuts, dairy, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables.

As you can see, adequate intake of micronutrients is just as important as macronutrients for sports performance. All of these nutrients can be acquired by following a diet that provides adequate energy intake from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, protein (whether from animal sources or plant sources such as nuts and legumes) and foods high in monounsaturated and omega-3 fats such as vegetable oils, nuts, avocados and fish. By making sure you have an all-encompassing diet that meets your nutritional needs, you will not only increase your athletic ability, but the overall quality of your life.

Slow Weight Loss

If you are increasing your physical activity to lose weight, it is important to keep in mind that slow weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week is advisable. This can be attained by reducing calorie intake by 500 kcals/day. Recent studies have shown that individuals who were involved with increased work out and depriving themselves of calories were able to lose weight fast. However, in the long run, most of them gained all the weight back. This is because their resting metabolic rate decreased after their quick weight loss where the individuals needed to consume way less calories than recommended to keep their weight loss stable and this was not possible.

Here are a few tips for slow weight loss. Work towards making small changes and carry this as a lifestyle change that you can follow:

  • Added sugar foods and juice: Limit any foods that contain refined grains and added sugar. Sugar only adds up calories without providing any real nutrition benefit and will be stored as fat when consumed in excess.
  • Include protein foods: Include high-protein foods with all meals and snacks. This will help with satiety. Pairing fat and fiber rich foods goes a long way.
  • Include fiber-rich foods: Include a variety of fiber-rich foods to help with feeling of satiety. Women should aim for 25 grams/day and men should have a goal of 38 grams/day. Hydrate well to have the fiber move through out your digestive system.
  • Include good fats such as olive oil, nuts, avocados, and fatty fish. This will also help with satiety and decrease the urge for sugar cravings during the mid-day.
  • Keep a log of food intake: You’ve probably heard this many times — logging your eating habits can help tremendously. These logs help you keep yourself on track.

Julia Marnadi RD, CD is an inpatient dietitian for hematology oncology and bone marrow transplant population. In her spare time, she likes cooking, trying new recipes, spending time with her family, and running with her friends.