Athlete's Nutrition

Athletes achieve peak performance when they eat a variety of foods.

An athlete's performance is directly related to the amount of carbohydrate stored in the body.

Fat also provides the body with fuel but the use of fat as fuel is dependent on time or the duration of exercise.

The longer the duration, the bigger role played by fat. 

Carbohydrates yield more energy per unit of oxygen consumed, compared to fats. That makes carbohydrates, the preferred source of fuel for exercise lasting a short time.

Exercise also increases an athlete's need for protein.

Water is the most critical nutrient for athletes.

Hydration techniques abound but water alone or with minerals is the best method to live by.

Dehydration causes muscle spasms, cramping and fatigue.

Becoming an elite athlete requires the right genes, good training, peak conditioning and a colorful diet. 


Optimal nutrition is essential for peak performance.

Nutritional misinformation can do as much harm to an elite athlete as good nutrition can help them.

 The following information is intended for those athletes who want to know about burning fuel.


Athletes, In the early stages of a moderate type exercise burn carbohydrates for 50 percent of their energy. 

Because oxygen often, is the limiting factor in long duration events, athletes need to burn fat.

The earlier they burn fat, the more they conserve oxygen. Oxygen needed later on.

Complex carbohydrates come from foods like pasta, potatoes, cereals and other grains. They also makeup the fibers of fruits and vegetables

Simple carbohydrates are found in fruit, milk, and honey.

During digestion, carbohydrates are converted to glucose and stored in the muscles as glycogen.

During exercise, glycogen is converted back to glucose and then used as energy in the form of ATP.

Some facts:

The ability to sustain prolonged vigorous exercise is directly related to initial levels of muscle glycogen.

 Only a limited amount of carbohydrate is stored as glycogen in muscles and the liver.

For a healthy athlete, any event that lasts less than 90 minutes can be fueled by the glycogen stored in muscle.

Replenishment with sugary drinks during this time is not advised.

Additional carbohydrates are of no value just as more fuel won't make increase the speed of a car

For those events that last more than  90 minutes, a high-carbohydrate diet provides enough glycogen to refill the storage spaces of muscles and allow the liver to deliver enough glycogen to keep the engine running.

Endurance athletes like long distance runners, cyclists, cross-country skiers, canoe racers, swimmers and soccer players perform at the highrest level when 70 percent of their calories are derived from carbohydrates.

Endurance athletes on high-carbohydrate diets are thus able to exercise longer than those athletes who eat a low-carbohydrate, high-fat/protein diet.

Carbohydrate drinks often contain 6 to 8 percent glucose and include sodium or salt for marathon runners.

Electrolyte beverages are best used after the event when they replenish depleted stores of minerals

Sugar and honey are often taken before an event to provide extra energy.

Not a good idea.

It takes time for sugar to enter the blood and when it does, causes dehydration since water is needed for sugar to enter cells. It also triggers an insulin response, which is not desirable during exercise.

Insulin causes a sharp sharp decrease in blood sugar after 30 minutes.

Low blood sugar leads to fatigue, nausea and dehydration.

Water retention is associated with carbohydrate loading and causes stiffness in muscles and overall sluggishness


Water is the most important nutrient for athletes.

Athletes should start hydrated and replace as much lost fluid as possible.

Chilled liquids are absorbed faster and lower body temperatures better than beverages at room temperature..


Fat provides the body with another source of fuel.

For moderate exercise, about half of the total energy expenditure is derived from free fatty acid metabolism.

Events that last longer than an hour depend mostly on fats for energy.

Fat as fuel is dependent on the duration of the exercise and the condition of the athlete.

Better conditioned athletes use fat more quickly than less conditioned athletes.

Consuming caffeine also allows athletes to utilize fat much earlier in the workout but caffeine acts as a diuretic and increases the need to urinate.

Consumption of fat should never drop below 15 percent of total energy intake since low fat levels can limit performance.

Fats can contribute up to 75 percent of the energy needed during prolonged aerobic exercise. 


After carbohydrates and fats, protein provides energy for the body. Exercise may increase an athlete's need for protein, depending on the type and frequency of exercise. Extra protein consumed is stored as fat. In the fully grown athlete, it is training that builds muscle, not protein per se. The ADA reports that a protein intake of 10 to 12 percent of total calories is sufficient. Most authorities recommend that endurance athletes eat between 1.2-1.4 grams protein per kg of body weight per day; resistance and strength-trained athletes may need as much as 1.6-1.7 grams protein per kg of body weight. (A kilogram equals 2.2 pounds.)

Japanese researchers demonstrated that "sports anemia" may appear in the early stages of training with intakes of less than 1 gram/kg of body weight per day of high quality protein. To calculate your protein needs, divide your ideal weight by 2.2 pounds to obtain your weight in kilograms. Then multiply kilograms by the grams of protein recommended.

A varied diet will provide more than enough protein as caloric intake increases. Furthermore, Americans tend to eat more than the recommended amounts of protein. Excess protein can deprive the athlete of more efficient fuel and can lead to dehydration. High-protein diets increase the water requirement necessary to eliminate the nitrogen through the urine. Also, an increase in metabolic rate can occur and, therefore, increased oxygen consumption. Protein supplements are unnecessary and not recommended.

Vitamins and Minerals

Increased caloric intake through a varied diet ensures a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals for the athlete. There is no evidence that taking more vitamins than is obtained by eating a variety of foods will improve performance. Thiamin, riboflavin and niacin (B vitamins) are needed to produce energy from the fuel sources in the diet. However, plenty of these vitamins will be obtained from eating a variety of foods. Carbohydrate and protein foods are excellent sources of these vitamins. Furthermore, the B vitamins are water soluble and are not stored in the body, so toxicity if not an issue. Some female athletes may lack riboflavin, so ensuring adquate consumption of riboflavin-rich food is important, like milk. Milk products not only increase the riboflavin level but also provide protein and calcium. The body stores excess fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Excessive amounts of fat-soluble vitamins may have toxic effects.

Minerals play an important role in performance. Heavy exercise affects the body's supply of sodium, potassium, iron and calcium. Sweating during exercise increases the concentration of salt in the body. Consuming salt tablets after competition and workouts is not advised as this will remove water from your cells, causing weak muscles. Good sodium guidelines are to: 1) avoid excessive amounts of sodium in the diet and 2) beverages containing sodium after endurance events may be helpful.

Eating potassium-rich foods such as oranges, bananas and potatoes throughout training and after competition supplies necessary potassium.

Iron carries oxygen via blood to all cells in the body and is another important mineral for athletes. Female athletes and athletes between 13 and 19 years old may have inadequate supplies of iron due to menstruation and strenuous exercise. Female athletes who train heavily have a high incidence of amenorrhea, the absence of regular, monthly periods, and thus conserve iron stores. Iron supplements may be prescribed by a physician if laboratory tests indicate an iron deficiency. Excess iron can cause constipation. To avoid this problem, eat fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals..

Calcium is an important nutrient for everyone as it is important in bone health and muscle function. Female athletes should have an adequate supply of calcium to avoid calcium loss from bones. Calcium loss may lead to osteoporosis later in life. Choosing low-fat dairy products, provide the best source of calcium.

The Pre-Game Meal

A pre-game meal three to four hours before the event allows for optimal digestion and energy supply. Most authorities recommend small pre-game meals that provide 500 to 1,000 calories.

The meal should be high in starch, which breaks down more easily than protein and fats. The starch should be in the form of complex carbohydrates (breads, cold cereal, pasta, fruits and vegetables). They are digested at a rate that provides consistent energy to the body and are emptied from the stomach in two to three hours.

High-sugar foods lead to a rapid rise in blood sugar, followed by a decline in blood sugar and less energy. In addition, concentrated sweets can draw fluid into the gastrointestinal tract and contribute to dehydration, cramping, nausea and diarrhea. Don't consume any carbohydrates one and a half to two hours before an event. This may lead to premature exhaustion of glycogen stores in endurance events.

Avoid a meal high in fats. Fat takes longer to digest as does fiber- and lactose-containing meals.

Take in adequate fluids during this pre-game time. Avoid caffeine (cola, coffee, tea) as it may lead to dehydration by increasing urine production.

Don't ignore the psychological aspect of eating foods you enjoy and tolerate well before an event.

Some athletes may prefer a liquid pre-game meal, especially if the event begins within two or three hours. A liquid meal will move out of the stomach by the time a meet, match or event begins. Water is essential.

The Post-Game Meal

Regardless of age, gender or sport, the post-game.competition meal recommendations are the same. 

Following a training session or competition, a small meal eaten within thirty minutes is recommended. The meal should contain carbohydrate, protein, and fat.

Protein synthesis is greatest during the window of time immediately following a workout and carbohydrates will replenish depleted glycogen stores.

Lifelong good nutrition habits must be emphasized. Combine good eating practices with a good training and conditioning program plus good genes, and a winning athlete can result!
More in this category: « The Athlete’s Principals