What should I eat?
February 26, 2011 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm 22, male, 184 centimeters (~6ft), 70kg (161 pounds), 11% body fat (as judged by one of those imprecise electrical gadgets), and, until recently, fairly sedentary. I'm now running three times a week and plan to start lifting weights another three days a week. For the past two weeks I've been assiduously tracking everything I eat with this software (note: I'm not at all interested in "caloric restriction") and a gram-precise food scale. I'm trying to become generally fit - increase cardiovascular endurance, gain muscle, start fencing again. With all that in mind, how do I decide on nutritional targets?

I first configured the software to judge me against the USDA recommended values for a sedentary 6ft male and found that I didn't eat anywhere close to that number of calories, even when I was doing fairly strenuous activity (moving furniture and running 2+ miles). They recommended between 2160 and 2700 calories and I'm averaging 1600-1800 or so (without making any attempt to adhere to a diet, just eating when I feel like it).

I know very little about nutrition. I'm looking for scientifically well supported guidelines for carbohydrate, protein, and lipid intake. For water, minerals, a vitamins the USDA values should still be fine.

What other nutritional needs might not be well accounted for with these particular measurements?

Would it make sense for me to consult a nutritionist? How much would such a one time consult cost?
posted by elektrotechnicus to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A nutritionist can't hurt but make sure that it's someone who has experience with athletes of your general age and gender. The nutritional needs of a 22 year old male athlete are going to be very different than those of a 60 year old diabetic, for example.
posted by dfriedman at 11:04 AM on February 26, 2011

Your medical insurance might cover the cost of a nutritionist -- mine once did.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:01 PM on February 26, 2011

Muscle gain, especially in an already-lean individual, requires sufficient protein intake and caloric surplus. "Sufficient protein" for muscle-building is generally set at 1g/lb of bodyweight as a minimum. If I were you I'd aim for no less than 200g protein/day. Caloric surplus means taking in more than you're burning.

Total number of calories should be set at a level that supports your athletic goals. Exercise, and more importantly, recovery from exercise, requires energy. The more activity you do, the greater your intake has to be in order to support your gains. If your intake is insufficient, you will not recover from your workouts and you will not make progress. If you over-eat, you might put on a little more fat than you like. Either of these things is easy enough to correct for if you pay attention to your body and your performance.

I'd say you should eating no less than 3000 cal/day if you hope to gain muscle mass, and that's probably a low estimate. You'll go nowhere fast on 1800/day. The proportion of carbs and fats is less important than sufficient protein intake.

You stand to gain a significant amount of muscle and strength in a short period of time, but it will require effort in terms of both training and diet. Many a would-be bodybuilder has remained perpetually skinny in spite of his effort in the gym because of insufficient eating. Here's an article which addresses this phenomenon.

You may also be interested in this answer about how to gain muscle which I wrote to someone in a similar situation.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 12:13 PM on February 26, 2011

Also, here are some sites where you can read about nutrition for athletes: strengthvillain.com, bodyrecomposition.com, leangains.com.

And here is a pretty decent article on "Nutrition for newbies:" part 1, part 2.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 12:19 PM on February 26, 2011

Anatoly: I'll take a look at those, thank you.

As protein goes this study (found on wikipedia) seems to indicate that 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass is the maximum needed for "strength athletes". For me that would correspond to ~131 grams (max), so call it 100 grams even. You and many others reccomend twice that, but the literature doesn't really back that up, as far as I can tell.
posted by elektrotechnicus at 1:59 PM on February 26, 2011

Unfortunately there are a lot of things about exercise, training, and nutrition that are not crystal clear based on laboratory research. Relying on studies as the last word is not always the most efficient procedure -- sometimes anecdotal evidence is the best quality evidence that's available.

Here is an article that sums up some of the conflicting research and ultimately recommends 1.5g/lb.

There is no potential harm from consuming that amount of protein assuming an otherwise healthy individual, so if you're trying to build muscle it makes sense to err on the high side. I can damn near guarantee you that 100g/day is insufficient for significant muscle/strength progress in a 6' 160# male.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 3:13 PM on February 26, 2011

I'm pretty sure that most of those recommendation about grams of protein per pound or kilo of body weight are based on LEAN body weight, not total. So find out your body fat percentage and multiply your body weight by 100-bf% to get lean mass first. Then figure out your protein needs.
posted by lollusc at 8:54 PM on February 26, 2011

This is going to come out nasty, but it's my advice: Get rid of all that crap and listen to your body.

Read, get advice, make informed decisions but seek out what your body is saying and listen to it first. If it's tired, don't work out. If you're full, stop eating. You're not training for the Olympics (yet?) and you're not a machine, so don't upkeep yourself like one. Learn to listen to yourself.

You're freakin' 22 - you can probably live off a 2 hours a sleep a night and a packet of Ramen. Don't micromanage yourself. Nutrition? Don't eat junk food. Done. Moving on...

Go look at a mountain and say, "I'm going to climb that!" and like, pack lunch, put on some comfy shoes and see how far you can get. One day, get up, and attempt a marathon. Again, sensible shoes. What's the harm? What happens if you fail? Who cares? Remember that movie, "Rocky"? He was all like, "I"m gonna pound frozen meat!" Boom! Pound some meat!

You used to fence? Remember what your training regiment was, then? Use it as a basis for your new one.

I'm currently training for an endurance event, that's 16 hours/a day for 3-4 weeks. Nothing is written about how to do something like this - it's (almost) impossible to research. The only thing that works is to learn this mind <> body communication ESP shit. I promise you, you will go far. Lose all control to gain everything.
posted by alex_skazat at 12:23 AM on February 27, 2011

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