Dietary Staples of Athletes


The diet of an athlete does not vary much from the diet recommended for any healthy individual. Our bodies need the same nutrients to function properly as an athlete’s. However, an athlete needs these nutrients delivered in specific quantities at specific times in order to perform at a world class level. Often, they will also take specific supplements to gain the benefits of certain vitamins or minerals they are not getting enough of from their diet alone. What exactly an athlete should consume and when depends largely on the sport they participate in as well as their individual dietary needs. The following nutritional guidelines are a good start into better understanding the diet of an athlete but in no way are meant to be universal. If you are looking to make significant changes to your diet or training regimen, it is best to seek out guidance from an experienced specialist who can help tailor a plan that is unique to you.


Carbs are the lifeline of any athlete, and most would agree that an athlete benefits most from the amount of carbohydrates in the body. This is because in the early stages of moderate exercise carbs provide roughly half energy needed for the exercise. As the intensity increases the amount of energy used from carbohydrates increases as well, provided they are available. Athletes’ bodies who do not receive enough carbs prior to activity will need to use energy from other sources (fats and protein) to complete the activity. This depletion of protein can lead to unwanted physical results and decreased athletic results.


While it is no secret your body needs to be adequately hydrated in order to compete, it is surprising how many people look to sports drinks or mixtures when training as opposed to water. Regardless of the athletic activity, athletes are as fully hydrated as possible, and the best results come from water. You will also want to continue to rehydrate at regular intervals during the athletic competition in order to remain at your peak physical performance levels. Chilled fluids are absorbed faster and are recommended to lower your body temperature during intense physical activity. Adults should be drinking 2-3 liters of water at a minimum each day, but if you are planning to compete you’ll want to increase your consumption a fair amount. Just remember to not force it: like anything else, too much water can be a bad thing.


While it seems counter productive for an athlete to need to consume fats in order to compete, it is recommended that 15% of their intake should consist of fats to maintain peak levels. Fats are used as an energy source and for activity lasting longer than one hour, the majority of energy needed will come from fat. For prolonged activity, fat can provide up to 75% of the energy and not having enough can hinder your progress as the body looks to other sources to make up for shortages.


When the body has exhausted all energy available from carbs and fats, it looks to protein to get to the finish line. For most Americans, their normal diet consists of more than the recommended levels 10-12 percent of calories taken in by protein. This does not mean that if you eat slightly more protein you will not see desired results but that protein supplements are generally not recommended. Extra protein will be stored as fat and make reaching your peak physical form difficult. Exercise usually will increase your need for protein after activity but don’t overdo it.

Vitamins & Minerals

Not to be overlooked, athletes need a diet that is rich in many vitamins and minerals because most of these cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed. A varied diet will provide the best way to take in necessary vitamins and minerals. Athletes will want to consume an appropriate amount of foods rich in iron, calcium, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin, and B vitamins. Supplements are not recommended unless dietary restrictions limit your ability to eat foods that are rich in specific vitamins and minerals needed to compete. Athletes looking to avoid traditional supplements to make up for dietary shortcomings should look to health supplements instead. Products that originate from all natural and organic materials should be selected over synthetic products. To learn more about foods/products rich in essential vitamins and minerals you should consult a physician or dietician in order to design a meal plan to reach your athletic goals.

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