The Importance of Sports Nutrition for Athletes

June 14, 2018

Why every athlete needs a personalized sports nutrition plan?

No matter which sport an athlete plays, they need food and drinks to fuel their bodies.

Athletes are not like everyone else and therefore cannot consume just anything. 

Also, I can’t believe that there is any athlete in this world that believes that having a good nutrition plan is something optional. That comes without a question.

That’s not, however, the purpose of this article.

It’s about telling you that you are unique and therefore a personalized sports nutrition plan is the most vital element for your success.

We all know that recovery is key in order to come back to the gym or the court/ field the next day and strive again. 

You need the right fuel in order to be ready to give your 100% and get closer to your goals.

It’s all about repetitive massive action and pushing your limits day after day to the maximum.

You can’t do that if you are not properly fed right?

In fact, having a good sports nutrition plan in today’s world of athletes is more important than ever. The food an athlete consumes could be the difference between a good performance and a poor one.

It can also be the difference in getting a scholarship to play sports at a university, or it could prevent an athlete’s dream of being a professional come true.

Food plays a major part in a person’s life. Making the wrong food decisions can alter an athlete’s progress and development.

Just as training hard is important, so is eating the rights foods.

A well-chosen diet offers many benefits to all athletes, irrespective of the event, sex, age or level of competition:

  • Optimal gains from the training programme
  • Enhanced recovery within and between workouts and events
  • Achievement and maintenance of an ideal body weight and physique
  • A reduced risk of injury and illness if done consistently
  • Confidence in being well-prepared for competition
  • Consistency in achieving high-level performances both in training and during competition
  • Enjoyment of food and social eating occasions

At the same time, despite the importance of special nutrition for Athletes, there are millions who are not meeting their individual goals for several reasons. 

The most common reasons why athletes are not meeting their nutrition goals:

  • Poor knowledge of foods and drinks and inadequate cooking skills.
  • Poor choices when shopping or dining out.
  • Poor or outdated knowledge of sports nutrition. Many athletes don’t reach out to experts for a personalized meal plan.
  • Inadequate finances. Proper nutrition for Athletes can be really pricey.
  • Busy lifestyle leading to inadequate time to obtain or consume appropriate foods
  • Poor availability of good food and drink choices.
  • Frequent travel that leads to lack of meal planning and preparation.
  • Excessive use of supplements and sports foods full of sugar and artificial.

nutrition for athletes

What about Calories?

The average human needs 2,000 calories per day, although it is said men can have up to 2,500. These are figures people shouldn’t exceed as it will cause weight gain; especially if the person consuming the calories is not doing exercise.

An athlete is not like the average human. Their calorie consumption should be greater than a normal person and many athletes will take on between 2,000 and 5,000 calories each day. Sports dictate the number of calories needed. Some will have much lower amounts than other sports. For example, golfers will have less need for calories than a soccer player.

Depending on the sport, an athlete could consume more calories than 5,000 per day. American Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Phelps famously ate 12,000 calories a day during training. His need for calories and energy was greater than other athletes. However, the physical toll he put on his body was far different than many other sportspersons.

Sports that involve a hearty amount of running and physical strain can see athletes who need more calories.

However, it isn’t just the calories an athlete consumes that is important. They must eat the right foods to get the correct fuel needed.

What about weight?

Weight is a major issue for athletes.

Having extra pounds can cause poor performance in training or games. It can also cause injuries to occur in sports players as their bodies must compensate for the added mass.

Eating the wrong foods can cause weight gain in athletes, especially if the physical conditioning isn’t at a high level.

A great example of eating and conditioning is the difference between top-level cricket players and Major League Baseball players. On the whole, the two sports are very similar.

There are batters, a pitcher (bowler), a catcher (wicketkeeper) and fielders.

But looking at the way they are conditioned – and fed – is incredibly different.

Cricket players put a focus on running and staying slim while baseball players are heavier and more muscled – some might say overweight.

Of course, there are differences in the sports, but an argument can be made that the extra weight carried by baseball players causes more injuries over a long-term career.

Having a nutrition plan in place helps athletes count calories.

It also means they can have the right foods in place and overeating isn’t taking place. In addition, athletes can then consume the right foods post-sports activity to give them fuel to recover.

What types of foods should I eat?

Whether an athlete or not, there is a focus today on consuming protein.

The narrative of a high protein diet says that people will lose weight and keep it off long-term by eating more high protein foods. Of course, athletes need carbs as well, but protein builds muscle.

Any athlete that has spent years playing their sport will know what types of foods enable good performances; at least they should. Conversely, they will also know what items make them slow and sluggish.

Carbohydrates are often talked about as the most important foods one can eat in preparation for an event. While carbs are important, proteins and healthy fats are equally vital in preparing the body.

According to LiveStrong, healthy fats can give endurance athletes up to 75 percent of their energy. So, athletes shouldn’t focus solely on carbs.

A nutrition plan will allow athletes to monitor their food intake throughout a day.

Meals can be altered and adjusted to fit the desired need of the person eating them.

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Food and the athlete

Not all former sports stars and athletes have had a nutrition plan in place. A number of top sports players from all over the world have struggled with their weight during their careers. Some had obvious problems, while other athletes’ issues may not have surfaced until they retired from playing.

New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia is a great example of a sports star with a poor diet. At one time, Sabathia said he would eat a whole box of sugary Captain Crunch cereal for breakfast. That’s over 2,100 calories. Sabathia was consuming more than his entire day’s calorie allowance in one meal. If he was doing that, how many calories was he having for lunch, dinner, and snacks?

If an athlete can learn to eat healthy at an early age, their diet can carry over into later life. Creating a good food relationship is important as it will prevent weight cycles.

Often times, athletes gain weight during the offseason and need to shed it in the preseason. A good diet and nutrition plan means this cycle is broken and losing weight in the preseason is a thing of the past.

Sports, season and food

The sport a person plays has a direct effect on diet. Not all sports need the same amount of energy to be played. In addition, the number of calories and foods an athlete consumes during a sports season can change. Once again, a nutrition plan can help an athlete throughout a sports year. Plans are tailored to fit an athlete’s lifestyle and the sports they play.

No matter what sport, age or level, an athlete that wants to become the best should be eating the right foods. Fueling and refueling with the wrong meals can cause an assortment of problems. Nutrition plans are the ideal way to stay in the game and to keep weight away.

Next Steps for you

sports nutrition for athletes (1)

STEP 1: Understand your personal caloric needs.

How much energy do you need every day?

If you want to be as accurate as possible you need to start by weighing yourself and calculating your body fat.

Following that, you can use this very sophisticated calculator in order to find your macros

STEP 2: Calculate your Weekly activity

Ηow many training sessions you have within a single week? How long are your trainings? How many of them involve weight training?

If you have sessions lasting 3 or more hours, count them as 2 training sessions. If you have sessions lasting 5 or more hours, count them as 3 sessions. If you have sessions lasting 8 or more hours, just STOP! 

Diet for endurance athletes

 STEP 3: Calculate your Macros

Calculating your caloric needs is not everything. You have to know exactly how much Protein, Carbs and Fat you need in order to reach your goals (lose weight, have more energy, gain muscles etc)

Carbs and protein have 4 Calories per gram, fat has 9 Calories per gram, and alcohol has 7 Calories per gram. Write that down.

You can check your macros here.

A typical macronutrients split for people playing sports vs people not playing sports and just working out, looks like this:

The average adult’s total calorie breakdown should look like this:
45-65% calories from carbohydrates
10-15% calories from lean proteins
20-30% calories from healthy fats

Endurance athletes, your macros might skew heavy on the carbs:
55-70% calories from carbohydrates
15-20% calories from lean proteins
20-35% calories from healthy fats

Trying to put on more muscle? Your body will benefit from increased protein intake:
40-50% calories from carbs
25-30% calories from lean proteins
20-30% calories from healthy fats

STEP 4: Follow your personalized meal plan and Adjust bi-weekly

If you want, or you must do it alone without a nutritionist supporting you, you have to be able to monitor what you are eating on a daily basis.

Otherwise, there is no point in calculating everything mentioned above.

There are several apps and online tools that help you track that info correctly, so do your research. If you don’t want to do so, hire a nutritionist.

Get yourself a food scale and try to stay consistent for at least 3 weeks. That’s how much a habit formation needs to be established according to the 21-day-theory, right?

Plan your meals ahead instead of having to wear your “Chef hat” for every single meal.

  • Portion your Carbs, Proteins, and Fats out into 3-4 meals throughout the day. This way you know you need to eat 3 or 4 times and you know exactly what you have to eat in order to stay within your macros. Try to plan your meals though in a way that allows you to train with an empty stomach.
  • Eating like a champion doesn’t just mean staying within your macros, but keeping an overall healthy nutritional plan. Avoid cheap meat, processed food like bacon, zero sugar products. Try organic and be creative!
  • Pure sources of fat are oils, butter, and lard. Foods like nuts, egg yolks, and bone marrow are also predominantly fat. Try eating some of these if your fat intake is too low.

  • Don’t skip eating your veggies and whole grains! As a rule of thumb go for 14g of fiber per 1000 Calories.

The above info and guidance are for athletic purposes only. It is for people who are training to achieve their sports goals and perform at their best.

Regarding tracking and weight management, choose one morning every single week (i.e every Monday Morning) and weigh yourself.

Athletes, in general, shouldn’t vary week by week. Your weight should not be changing (at least if you are already at your ideal weight).

If you are gaining weight or losing weight despite your target, you have to adjust your calories accordingly.

Ask for guidance if you are not sure about anything.

We are here to help you succeed and chase your sports dreams.

I am going straight to the kitchen as we speak :)

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