When you're 20, the demands of school, work and social life can make it hard to keep tabs on your diet. But a healthy diet is key to having enough energy to thrive and succeed. For a diet to be "balanced" it needs to include the right amounts of macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). It also needs to include enough calories to provide energy, but not so many that it leads to weight gain and slows you down.
Calories for a 20-Year-Old Male
Calories for a 20-year-old male are based on activity level. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a moderately active 20-year-old male needs 2,800 calories per day. Moderately active means you get an amount of daily exercise equivalent to walking 1.5 to 3 miles at a brisk pace.
Many at age 20 are involved in sports or other athletic activities. Frequent training sessions of a moderate to high intensity would likely mean you need more calories. The recommended calorie intake for an active male at this age is 3,000 calories daily.
Being sedentary isn't good for you. Exercise is important for weight management and for staying healthy and preventing disease. However, if you're currently sedentary, the recommendation is 2,600 calories per day.
Your Carbohydrate Needs
Getting the right balance of macronutrients will help you take advantage of the health benefits each provides. Carbohydrates are your body's primary source of energy. They give you energy to perform your daily activities and to do well in athletic activities.
According to the National Academy of Medicine, carbohydrates should comprise 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories. For a diet of 2,800 calories, that's 315 to 455 grams of carbohydrate each day, since carbs have 4 calories per gram. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are rich sources of healthy, complex carbohydrates.
These foods are also rich in dietary fiber — a type of carbohydrate that is minimally digested. Fiber adds bulk to foods to fill you up and it also improves digestion. The recommended daily fiber intake for 20-year-old males is 38 grams per day.
Getting Enough Protein
Protein is critical for growth and development. The amino acids in protein are responsible for building and repairing muscle tissue, and protein also supports your immune system. The recommended daily range for protein intakes is 10 to 35 percent of calories, or 70 to 245 grams of protein.
How much protein you need depends on how active you are. If you strength train, you'll need more protein to support muscle growth. Healthy sources of protein include:
- Lean meat (a 3-ounce chicken breast = 19 grams)
- Fish (3 ounces of salmon = 17 grams)
- Beans (1 cup of black beans = 15 grams)
- Yogurt (7 ounces of plain nonfat Greek yogurt = 20 grams)
Healthy Fats Are Important
Fats don't deserve the bad rep they get. Some fats, including polyunsaturated fats, are essential for good health. Fats store and transport micronutrients and act as a secondary source of energy after carbohydrate. It's important to note that fats have 9 calories per gram — more than double the calories of carbs and protein.
Total fat should make up around 20 to 35 percent of your diet. That's 62 to 108 grams per day. The majority of your fat intake should come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. These are the good-for-you fats that help improve your cholesterol profile when eaten in place of saturated fats. While you're probably not too concerned about cholesterol now, it will become more important as you age. Polyunsaturated fats are abundant in fish, soybeans and walnuts; and monounsaturated fats are found in avocados, almonds and cashews.
Saturated fat is primarily found in animal foods, such as meat and dairy. Saturated fats play no role in health, and they've been linked to heart disease and stroke. To lower your saturated fat intake, choose low-fat dairy products and lean meats and eat more plant foods.
Finally, trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are found in processed junk foods, fried foods, store-bought baked goods and margarine. Eating a lot of trans fats can significantly increase your risk for a host of diseases, including heart attack, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. It's recommended that you avoid trans fats entirely, so be sure to read the labels of packaged and processed foods.
Vitamins and Minerals in Your Food
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, young men should focus on getting enough iron, calcium and vitamin D, nutrients necessary for bone health and energy production. Low-fat dairy and fish are your best sources of calcium and vitamin D, and iron is found in animal meats, beans, enriched cereals and pumpkin seeds.
Beyond that, it's not really necessary to keep track of exactly how much you get of each nutrient if you're eating a balanced diet. The definition of a balanced diet is one that provides all the vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Choosing healthy sources of the macronutrients, making sure to eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and other protein foods and low-fat dairy will ensure you get all the nutrients you need.
- USDA: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 - 2020
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Nutrition for Young Men
- National Academy of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- WebMD: How Fiber Helps Your Digestive Health
- WebMD: The Benefits of Protein
- Harvard Health Publishing: The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between
- Cleveland Clinic: Fat and Calories
- American Heart Association: Saturated Fat
- USDA: Basic Report: 05062, Chicken, broiler or fryers, breast, skinless, boneless, meat only, raw
- USDA: Basic Report: 15076, Fish, salmon, Atlantic, wild, raw
- USDA: Basic Report: 01287, Yogurt, Greek, plain, lowfat
- USDA: Basic Report: 16315, Beans, black, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, with salt