USDA National guidelines specify that your daily caloric intake should consist of 45-65% carbs, 20-35% fat and 10-35% protein. The trick is making sure that those percentages consist of the right types of carbs, fats, and protein.
The fad diets of the late 90's and early 2000's had us all believing that carbs were our worst enemy. Fact is your body runs on carbs. Without carbs your brain couldn't function properly. As with most things, however, there's a good side and bad side to carbs. Unfortunately most Americans consume far too many of the bad or simple carbs (refined and processed grains and sugar). Cakes, doughnuts, pastries, white bread, candy, yada, yada, yada. More than likely if it's packaged and the first ingredient is sugar, it's not going to be good for you. There are several reasons these foods are bad. First simple carbs usually have a high GI (glycemic index) and can spike your blood sugar levels. You'll have that burst of energy and then soon after crash. Not only will it leave you feeling tired and fatigued, you'll soon feel hungry again and you'll be grabbing for something else to eat. Also, unless you're going to be active soon after eating those simple carbs, those calories will more than likely not be burned and will turn into fat. Foods consisting of simple carbs also often pack a double-whammy of being loaded with saturated fat or even trans fats both of which can lead to high cholesterol. Increased fat and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity and for some to Type 2 diabetes. See a vicious cycle here?
The good or complex carbs that are found in whole grain foods take longer for your body to process. Because it takes longer, it leaves you more satisfied and it also allows your body to make use of those calories as energy. Foods high in complex carbs tend not to be loaded with extra sugar and/or fat. Being active is also important even if you're eating complex carbs. If you're sedentary, even those good carbs can turn to fat. But if you're active, those carbs will be the fuel to sustain that active lifestyle.
Simple carbs aren't all bad. If you need a little pick-me-up, the sugar fructose, found in fruits, vegetables, and honey can provide an immediate source of energy. This type of simple carb is much better for you than that candy bar, because the fruits and veggies also are nutrient dense. So along with that fructose, you're also getting a lot of vitamins and minerals as well as fiber. Speaking of fiber, eating a diet rich in fiber will help decrease your chance of colon cancer as well as help keep you "regular." A "clean" system will also help keep you from feeling sluggish. Who wants to run with an extra "load" anyway?
A diet high in fatty foods can also make you feel sluggish. That's why it's not recommended to eat much fat before a run...it can literally slow you down. Just like with carbs, there are "good guys" and "bad guys" for fats. Good fats are comprised of the liquid or soft monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and Omega 3 fatty acids. These types of fats play an important role in your overall good health. Monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados, nuts, seeds. Polyunsaturated fats include vegetable oils (i.e., safflower, corn, sunflower, soy and cottonseed oils), nuts, and a variety of seeds. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in foods such as salmon, mackerel, herring, flaxseeds, flax oil, and walnuts.
Saturated fats and trans fats are the bad guys. Both of these types of fats increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood and a high level of cholesterol in your blood is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease. Saturated fats are found in animal products (i.e., meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy products, lard, butter), and coconut, palm and other tropical oils. Trans fats need to be avoided altogether. Now your body actually does need some saturated fat. Choosing leaner cuts of meat, turkey, and chicken will help keep the amount of saturated fat to a minimum. As a rule of thumb, try to limit your daily intake of saturated fats to about 7% of your total daily calories.
Trans fats include partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, commercial baked goods (i.e., crackers, cakes, cookies), fried foods (i.e., doughnuts, French fries), shortening, many types of margarine. Your daily intake of trans fats should be less than 1% (preferably 0%!). The remaining fat in your diet should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Protein is important because it provides the amino acids needed for building and maintaining your body tissue. There are 20 amino acids. Eleven of these amino acids (dispensable) can be made by the body. Nine of them however (indispensable amino acids), come from a variety of food sources. Foods that are high quality or complete protein sources have all nine of the indispensable amino acids. Animal food sources are complete proteins. Soy and quinoa (pronounced keen-wa)are the only plant food sources containing complete proteins. Other plant food sources are considered incomplete proteins because they are missing one or more of the indispensable amino acids. Combining plant food sources can create a complete protein such as combining beans and rice or peanut butter and bread.
Food really is the fuel on which our bodies run. If you're putting in premium food, then your engine will purr like a kitten. Put in the low-grade stuff and you're engine might just stall. Making sure you fuel your body throughout the day is key as well. Many people skip breakfast or eat very little for breakfast and then wonder why they poop out before lunch. Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. It's your first fueling.
Eating 5 or 6 mini-meals is a great way to provide the energy you need throughout the day. Think about it. You skip breakfast and so you're starving by lunch. If you skimp on lunch, then you're more than likely going to stop by the convenient store on the way home and load up on simple carbs (which won't satisfy you). So by dinner time you're so ravenous that you lose all control and before you know it you've eaten dinner plus that half gallon of Rocky Road!
If you eat each meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) and have a midmorning, midafternoon, and post dinner snack, you'll keep that engine (your metabolism) firing all day long which actually will have you burning more calories. Lowfat traditional or Greek yogurt, peanut butter on whole wheat bread, a handful of almonds, fruit, raw veggies, granola bars...all of these make great snacks. Now, keep in mind that eating more frequently doesn't mean eating more calories. You're still eating the same amount of calories, just spread out over smaller meals throughout the entire day.