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Energy - Food - Calories

GAA players eat food to provide them with the energy their body needs to function. This energy comes from four different components in food, carbohydrate, fat, protein and alcohol. Each of these provides a different amount of energy.

Carbohydrate 4 kcal, protein 4 kcal, fat 9 kcal, alcohol 7 kcal.

Our body breaks down these macro nutrients via many different mechanisms into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is the fuel that drives muscle contraction. When we sprint, jump, break a tackle and catch the ball, the most basic energy source in the body fueling the muscles is ATP. ATP can be produced in many different ways and it's production will depend on fuels available in the body and intensity of the particular exercise.

We are all aware that we must eat food to provide us with energy to live. The balance between the energy that comes into the body and the energy that leaves the body is referred to as the energy balance equation.

Energy balance is determined by:

Calories in (carbohydrate, protein and fat) vs Calories out (resting metabolic rate (RMR), thermic effect of food (TEF), and physical activity).

If calories in exceeds calories out: we lose weight.

If calories in is less than calories out: we increase weight.

If calories in equal calories out: weight stays the same.

How can energy balance impact GAA players?

GAA players like all athletes must consume enough calories to provide energy to provide fuel for training and matches, for muscle recovery, to promote training adaptations and for all bodily functions. A negative energy balance can lead to muscle/weight loss and in extreme circumstances; under-performance, under-recovery and a higher susceptibility to sickness. A positive energy balance will mean fat gain and the many negative performance consequences that may bring.

How do we expend energy?

  • Resting metabolic rate: This is the energy we use to keep the body alive without movement or digestive activity. This can account for about 70% of the energy we use on a daily basis.

  • Physical activity: this includes any purposeful exercise activity and non exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT= any other activity that a person does such as walking, gardening, general activity).

  • Thermic effect of food: the digestion and metabolism of food. Protein has a high thermic effect meaning that the body uses up a lot of energy to break it down. Carbohydrate and fat have lower thermic response.

So how can we gauge how much calories we need to consume?

Our energy needs vary from person to person. Energy needs can vary according to our age, gender, weight, genetics, goals (weight gain/loss) and activity levels

It is quite difficult to measure calorie needs accurately without using high tech equipment but we can estimate needs using various methods.

1. Inbuilt body signals (this is what most people do!): Humans have inbuilt mechanisms that are designed to inform whether we are consuming too much energy or too little energy. Depending on energy balance, different hormones can make us hungry, while others can tell us we are full. People who maintain the same weight for years without every counting calories have learned to eat based on these body messages. Unfortunately over consumption of hyper palatable and calorie laden foods (too many cakes, junk and pints) tends to distort these signals and leads to an increase in food intake and fat gain over time. When the majority of your diet is composed of whole, natural unprocessed foods you will better equipped to maintain a healthy body weight based on these signals.

Once calorie needs have been roughly established, we can use a free user friendly mobile app such as MyFitnessPal to record food on an average day and see whether we are hitting suitable targets. If a player needs to gain or lose weight, this app can be helpful to give them an idea of how much calories they should be consuming. An app like this can also be really handy to check whether suitable levels of carbohydrates and protein are being consumed.


The purpose of this article to to highlight the concept of energy balance and how it can be altered. Most GAA players will never count calories and will just eat intuitively. It is important to be aware that everyone has different caloric needs based on a myriad of different factors. For players who are concerned about whether they are consuming adequate amounts of energy for performance, muscle gain or fat loss, it may be a good idea to use a measure and track intake for a period of time. This could mean using an online calculator and tracking food intake using My Fitness Pal for a day or two. It may seem like a tedious exercise but is well worth doing and is a good educational experience!

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