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Healthy Food

Food For Fuel

To complete our look at how the body uses fuel for energy, let’s take a few minutes for a quick survey on the foods it uses. We’ll get into much more detail on all of them in the Dawn Weatherwax's Nutrition Sports Academy

Ice Hockey Player


As you now know, carbohydrates are vital for optimal performance. It is important to have enough carbohydrates, but it is also important to properly time your intake of them. The body can only store approximately 400 to 600 grams of carbohydrates in the liver and muscle. Since we use carbohydrates for fuel, the body will also recover faster if you eat some within two hours after your training or competition. Also, if you mix carbohydrates with a little protein after a meal, your body will absorb even more carbohydrates. 


Carbohydrates are found in the following foods. All measurements are in grams. The amounts given are based on one serving of each food.

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You should consume anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of carbohydrates a day, depending on how many calories you take in a day and on your sport.


Protein does not like to be used as fuel. Instead, it likes to be used to build, maintain, and repair tissues. If you fuel yourself properly, the maximum amount of energy from protein that your body will use is 5 percent. If you are running low on carbs and your exercise is long in duration, your body will use up to 10 percent protein for energy. 


If your intake of calories on a daily basis is low, well below the energy you need for maintenance, your body will use even more protein. 


When you train, your body increases the amount of epinephrine in your system and decreases insulin levels. This may be the reason why during exercise there is more protein breakdown instead of protein building. Many supplements claim they can help minimize protein breakdown. However, the positive outweighs the negative here, as exercise also increases the efficiency of protein building that happens after a workout and during recovery. 


Protein intake should not exceed 20 to 30 percent of total daily calories. Protein, as you now know, is not a main source of energy. High-protein diets will use up your glycogen stores over time and make you feel tired and sluggish. Using protein as the main fuel for energy can result in injuries, decreased muscle mass and poor performance.


Fat supplies anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of total intake a day, depending on your sport and if it is a training or competition day.  Eating more than these levels can impair your intake of other important nutrients, and it won’t improve your performance, even if you compete in sports that require some fat for energy. Most athletes store enough fat anyway, so additional fat intake above these levels isn’t needed. 

Healthy Woman

The Least You Need to Know

  • The energy exchange process in both plants and animals is called metabolism. 

  • ATP is also the primary energy-producing molecule that your body uses for muscle contraction.  

  • The body has three different energy systems that kick in at different times and produce ATP in different ways. 

  • The body can absorb only a certain amount of protein every 3 to 4 hours 

  • Eating more protein will not boost your energy or increase muscle gain. In fact, it can do exactly the opposite. 

  • It does matter what type of carbohydrates, fats and proteins you eat.  It is not just about macros and percentages.

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