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Recognising The Nutrients

When eating those less processed, wholesome food types, you should also try to maintain a balance in the types of nutrients. The nutrients we eat and drink can be split into six categories. Each nutrient containing a set amount of Kcal per gram:

  1. Carbohydrate (4 Kcal per gram)

  2. Fat (9 Kcal per gram)

  3. Protein (4 Kcal per gram)

  4. Vitamins (no Kcal)

  5. Minerals (no Kcal)

  6. Alcohol (7 Kcal per gram)


Recognising, more or less, what kind of macronutrient a food type is mainly, will help you keep a good balance in your diet. Although the above are the exact measures of Kcal in nutrients, I'm not suggesting Kcal counting and precision, just informed choices.

I just want to help you identify the nutrient a given food type is dense in. We can get to the exact figure in a moment. To categorise athletes for dietary intake we are going to use the well-known system of moderate (M), heavy (H) and severe (S) intensity domains. M refers to exercise below the lactate threshold, no harder than zone two. H refers to hard intervals as well as hard sustained longer efforts, zone 3 and low zone 4. S refers to absolute eyeballs-out efforts over short repeated bouts, high zone 4 and above.

If you would like to check your zones go to our ZONES CALCULATOR.

For the purposes of estimating go much given nutrients you need we will throw all the H and S into one high-intensity (HIIT) bucket with three athlete categories:

  1. The moderate athlete (training around one hour M every day no harder than zone two).

  2. The endurance athlete (training around one to three hours of M-HIIT per day).

  3. The ultra athlete (training around four or five hours of M-HIIT per day).

Going back to Kcal balance, the Kcal within the food you eat is measured through the breakdown of each nutrient. Most foods will contain some or all the macronutrients and most healthy, close-to-source foods will also contain many vitamins, minerals and fibre which is good for you. But recognising the main nutrient of a food type allows you to keep your meals packed with a good mix of the nutrients (1-5) listed above - alcohol is another thing we will also look at separately.

Firstly, vitamins:  There are 13 vitamins in total. Eight of these come from the B-group of vitamins. Vitamins and minerals are essential for bodily functions such as helping to fight infection, wound healing, making our bones strong and regulating hormones.  Whilst vitamins don't directly provide fuel (being zero Kcal), they can be poisonous if too much is consumed. Vitamins are either fat-soluble or water-soluble which goes to show how important it is to stay adequately hydrated and to eat enough healthy fat every day, otherwise, these vitamins simply can't be absorbed into your body. Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and dairy will give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs, at the right level and in the right balance.

Minerals: There are heaps of different minerals. Minerals are split once more into either major or trace. The dose required in a healthy diet depends on the mineral in question. Generally speaking, major minerals are needed in large amounts. Some well-known major minerals are calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, sodium, chloride and magnesium but there are more. Trace minerals are just as important to keep in a healthy diet but are required in smaller amounts. Trace minerals are things like iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine and selenium.

Carbohydrate: The overall sports science literature recommends that moderate athletes require five to seven grams per kilogram of body weight per day (g/kg/day) of carbohydrate. But endurance athletes who also include high-intensity exercise and train for one to three hours most days should consume six to ten g/kg/day. Men and women who are doing an extremely high amount of exercise and Kcal burning, such as ultra athletes, training and exercising four hours every day could need as much as eight to twelve g/kg/day. However, women should also consider the menstrual cycle when deciding where on the range to aim for.

Protein: In recent years sports science has changed in recomendation of protein intake. Not only has it increased, doubled in fact, but also it is recommended in shorter intervals than by the day. This is because the protein ingested is metabolised and either used or excreated right away. So one meal of high protein a day can only help you recover shortly after eating that meal. Whilst non-athletes are recommended 0.8g/kg/day, it is now recommended for athletes to consume 1.4g-2.0g/kg/day of protein for men and women alike. This should be spread through the day to consume a minimum of 0.3g/kg every three to five hours, to be put to best use. Athletes should use this guideline as a minimum and increase their target intake when following a strength or muscle-building phase. Women should consider the menstrual cycle when choosing how much to consume and aim for high in the range particularly if pre or post menopausal, in this case aim for 2g/kg/BW.

Fat: The advice is to first and foremost, keep consuming healthy, close-to-source choices so the fats you eat are plentiful but healthy carriers of vitamins and minerals too. Firstly be guided by the above information, to ensure you consume enough carbohydrates and protein throughout the day. Top up the remaining Kcal needed for balance with fat. There are times when choosing to restrict fat could be helpful (which we will come on to next). As a rule, don't restrict fat to less than 20% of total Kcal intake as this is likely to cause a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

So to take myself as an example. In a hydrated and rested state, I currently weigh 70kg. I currently fall into the moderately exercising athlete so I require ~6g of carbohydrate per kg, 1.4 protein and unrestricted fat based on Kcal balance. That is about:

420g carbohydrate (multiplied by 4 = 1680Kcal per day)

98g protein (multiplied by 4 = 392Kcal per day)

And no less than 518Kcal fat (divided by 9 = 58g per day)

A total daily minimum Kcal intake of 2590Kcal

In the image below you can see examples of healthy options of high carbohydrate foods (left), high protein foods (middle) and high in healthy fat foods (right). Try to keep your diet balanced...


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