Nutrients & their Functions
Most of the nutrients serve more than one function, and all are essential and available from foods of the major food groups. We can list their functions under the following categories:
Nutrients That Build and Maintain Body Cells
- Mineral elements
Nutrients That Regulate Body Functions
- Mineral Elements
- Carbohydrates, including fiber
Nutrients That Provide Energy
- Carbohydrates (starches and sugars)
The number of calories you consume each day is the most important factor in determining whether you put on or lose weight – even more important than the composition (fats vs. carbohydrates vs. protein) of those calories. Your body will begin burning muscle tissue – taking amino acids from the bloodstream and muscle for energy – if you enter a catabolic state. Consuming adequate calories and protein while working out regularly will ensure an anti-catabolic (anabolic) state – the preferred environment for muscle growth.
As an athlete, carbohydrates are the major nutrients that give you energy. Everything you do in life requires a certain amount of carbohydrates, sleeping, studying, breathing, and training. Athletes who truly desire to become the top dog will stop at nothing to get the most out of the foods they consume and thus make wise choices as to what type of carbohydrates they eat.
All carbohydrates are not created equal. Carbohydrate is merely the scientific name for sugar. Sugar is not just the crystalline white stuff you put in your tea or coffee in the morning. A piece of fruit, an apple, is sugar, too. The sugar you buy at the grocery store, table sugar, is a simple form of sugar, and an apple is a complex form of sugar. White crystalline table sugar is a small chain made up of two molecules (a simple carbohydrate). Because it has only two chemical links to break, table sugar is broken down and absorbed rapidly. The apple, however, is a bit more complicated - it's composed of more chemical links - and therefore your body takes longer to break it down. Sugars with more links in their chain are called complex carbohydrates.
Forego simple carbohydrates in favor of complex carbs; in fact, nutritionists recommend you get five times more complex carbs in your diet than simple carbs, even though most Americans consume nearly equal amounts.
Eat a candy bar and you’ll experience a "sugar rush", only to feel sluggish 30-45 minutes later. Eat an apple or a sweet potato and you’ll feel evenly energized for hours. The difference in these snacks is the candy bar contains refined processed simple sugars and the apple and sweet potato contain natural unprocessed carbohydrates. When simple sugars enter your blood stream they enter rapidly and in great numbers, they are already similar to glucose – the form of carbohydrate used for energy. Your pancreas releases insulin and quickly absorbs the sugar into storage; so quickly that there is less carbohydrates available than before you ate the candy bar. This is called a sugar crash or insulin reaction. Complex carbohydrates are slowly converted to glucose and are therefore absorbed slowly, allowing a more constant supply of energy to be used.
However, carbohydrates aren’t "free foods", as many believe. It’s true that carbohydrates contain fewer calories than fat, but they can easily be stored as fat if they’re over consumed.
Proteins received their name from the Greek and mean "to take first place." As nutrients, they actively build living nitrogenous tissue, they are the building blocks for all human tissue; if you do not eat them, you do not recover and rebuild after tough workouts. Plain and simple. However this does not mean the more you eat the more you rebuild/grow. Balance is the key to proper sports nutrition. Your body can only assimilate and absorb between 30-40 grams of quality protein per meal. If you consume more protein, or any macronutrient, than your body can use, it will place unnecessary strain on your digestive system as well as end up being stored as excess energy/fat. For protein to work properly it must be complete, all the essential amino acids must be present.
Consuming more protein than your body can utilize can result in an increase in fat storage. Your liver virtually converts the excess protein into fat. Over-consumption of protein for a prolonged period of time can also increase the formation of a highly toxic ammonia called urea. Since the urea in your body must be excreted, an overabundance of urea places a strain on your liver and kidneys and is oftentimes responsible for a form of arthritis known as gout.
Fats should make up a very small percentage of your whole diet, 15 percent or less. But nevertheless fats are needed, and you should not eat a fat-free diet, rather eat a low fat diet. Avoid saturated fats like they were cancer (because these are the fats that are attributed to causing cancer and cardiovascular disease). The best fats are plant based uncooked oils (olive, canola, safflower and flaxseed).