Athletes have special nutritional requirements. Professional sports people usually seek advice from nutritionists, who analyse their specific needs. You however – practising sports on a regular basis – are interested in learning which foods are the best in order to achieve optimal performance. Today we’ll be taking a look at diets for athletes.

Sports nutrition

Each sport requires a different diet and a specific input of nutrients. Running twice a week is not the same as being an elite athlete. Right?

And it doesn’t only depend on the type of exercise you do or your calorie expenditure, but also on your goals:  losing weight, gaining muscle mass, boosting your strength, etc.

  • An athlete’s staple diet should not be based exclusively on proteins for muscle mass. In fact, the ratio should be the same as a normal balanced In other words, 50-60% carbs, 25-30% fats and 10-15% protein.
  • For comprehensive strength training, you must boost your aminoacids as part of a revised diet.
  • For a competition, follow a prep diet involving higher energy intake, to prevent deficiencies.
  • During a trial or competition, keep your energy expenditure in mind and increase your fluid intake.
  • Recovery diets must include all of the nutrients lost as a result of strenuous effort.

Breakfast for athletes

Heading out to practice sport following an 8 hour fast is not the best idea. After exercising you’ll be hungry, but that doesn’t mean you can just eat anything. A good breakfast for athletes will include:

  • Fruit
  • Milk or derivatives
  • Whole grains: wholegrain bread, wholegrain cereal, etc.

You can include some lean protein, such as turkey or egg, if your sport is demanding on your muscles. Look at these examples:

1: Milk with cocoa and cereal, bread with tomato and oil, fruit

2: Fruit salad, yoghurt with muesli, and a herbal tea.

3: Berry smoothie, wholegrain cheese and turkey sandwich.

Lunch for athletes

A healthy balanced diet for athletes, just as for the rest of us mere mortals, should be complete and varied in order to pack in the widest range of ingredients and prevent nutritional deficiencies. However athletes need to pay special attention to fuelling their muscles, and thus obtaining their energy quickly, meaning that they should look to complex carbohydrates which help to maintain power levels, as well as protein which the muscles use as food.

So if you’re an athlete, your diet should include:

  • Whole grains, such as rice, pasta, bread or breakfast cereal, which contain fibre to flush out toxins and regulate bowel transit, as well as providing complex carbs as the main energy source. These should be consumed on a daily basis.
  • Proteins in the form of lean meat such as chicken, turkey or rabbit; white fish that contains no fat and is easy to digest, such as sole or hake; oily fish that provide essential fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines, which also help to recover after expending effort; and eggs, which are packed with protein of a high biological value and accelerate the metabolism. Two portions, every day.
  • Low fat dairy products, which not only provide protein and few fats, but are also a vital source of calcium and vitamins, essential for the strengthening and recovery of the bone and muscle systems. Milk, yoghurt and cheese should all feature in your daily diet. Two or three portions per day.
  • Fruit and vegetables, which provide the water, vitamins and minerals required for the correct functioning of all bodily processes. They contain antioxidants that protect your skin and tissues, and fibre which makes you feel full despite the limited calorie intake. 5 servings per day.
  • Nuts such as almonds and hazelnuts provide energy and Omega 3 and 6, and can be consumed with breakfast or as a mid-morning or afternoon snack. Several times a week.
  • At least a litre and a half or two litres of water a day. This is the go-to drink for athletes, essential to keep your organs hydrated so that all bodily functions can be carried out correctly. It also prevents fatigue and the reduction in performance associated with dehydration. Isotonic drinks should be left alone, and only used for periods of intense training – not in everyday life, where besides water, it’s best to stick to juice, herbal teas, or even soups. Avoid sugary, fizzy drinks.


Nutrition and sports

As you can see, nutrition and sports go hand in hand. Inadequate nutrition:

  • Drains your energy.
  • Affects your goals.
  • Decreases performance.
  • Increases the risk of injury.
  • Interferes in recovery.

It’s no joke. Ask a professional if you need a personalised plan, because whether you succeed or fail in a competition can depend on a complete, balanced nutrition.

Never use supplements without consulting a doctor. With a balanced diet it is most likely that you don’t need them. Never try a gel or an energy bar or drink on the day of the competition. It might make you feel sick and waste all of your efforts.

In addition to diet, rest is essential to regenerate muscles and regain energy.