Adjusting Your Fueling Based on Activity

By Lauren Trocchio, RD, LD, CSSD

Barring certain medical conditions, the basic tenants of nutrition apply to everyone: we need macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, protein, and water) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), along with less well categorized nutrients like antioxidants.  How much, from what types of foods, and when we have them is where things start to vary, and the recommended variance is largely based on activity.

For many, it’s a different perspective to adjust diet based on activity. Quite often it’s the other way around – we try to stay active and work out to be able to eat what we want. But what happens when we get injured, or take vacations, or go through the holiday season?  Our diet doesn’t change, or in some cases we eat more. But our change in activity without adapting diet can lead to unwanted weight gain and eventual development of medical conditions, like type II diabetes or hypertension. And of course, there are also performance detriments for someone not fueling appropriately for activity.

Not sure where your nutrition should fall based on your activity? Let’s start with some basics on energy production. All pathways lead to ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the high energy molecule which delivers energy throughout the body.  The activity required (walking vs running vs lifting) determines the energy system used. The energy system used helps determine how we fuel.  Check out this chart for a visual explanation.



Once we understand our energy needs, we can work on translating that into food. Here are some basic guidelines using a plate visual to get you started.

The Active Adult



The Power Warrior or Team Player



The Endurance Athlete


These visuals are meant to depict general proportion guidelines only. Things like exact calorie needs and recommended grams of protein can be individually tailored. Stay tuned for follow-on posts discussing the various “plates” and needs of different active individuals in more detail!

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