Sports nutrition is a specialized field of study that focuses on the relationship between nutrition and athletic performance and keeping Sports Diet. It is concerned with the type and quantity of fluids and food consumed by athletes to optimize their performance and recovery. In this article, we will explore the importance of sports nutrition, the role of macronutrients and micronutrients, the importance of hydration, pre- and post-workout nutrition, sports-specific nutrition, and common myths and misconceptions.
The special sports diet is intended for people who practice high-intensity physical activities. In athletes, the consequences of a poor diet can be multiple:
- decline in performance;
- lack of energy ;
- poor recovery;
- risk of injury and hypoglycaemia;
The athlete’s diet must therefore cover the needs related to major energy expenditure and provide all the nutrients the body needs to perform and recover.
The essential points of the sports regime are:
- Focus on carbohydrates;
- Consume lean proteins;
- Limit fats;
- Have good hydration;
- Choose foods according to your tolerance.
- Sports nutrition is aimed at athletes practicing sports sessions of more than 1 hour, at high intensity and more than 4 times a week.
For people who have moderate physical activity (sessions of less than an hour and less than 4 times a week), a balanced diet and good hydration are sufficient.
Furthermore, the exact amounts of water, carbohydrates, proteins and fats depend on the type of activity and many other factors (gender, age, weight, height, etc.). It is therefore preferable to call on a qualified dietician for personalized recommendations.
Table of Contents
Sports nutrition: what are its benefits?
The benefits of the sports diet are multiple, it allows to:
- Have enough energy;
- Cover energy needs according to expenses;
- Increase performance and endurance;
- Reduce recovery time;
- Avoid dizziness and hypoglycemia;
- Limit the risk of injury;
- Increase coordination;
- Avoid muscle wasting and anemia;
- Prevent premature aging due to oxidative stress.
Sports nutrition : our dietary recommendations
Food and sport are intimately linked. Indeed, diet is one of the keys to sports success, so it is important to follow a special sports diet.
Foods rich in carbohydrates
Carbohydrates have the first place in the athlete’s meal, but they must be accompanied by the right nutrients for optimal action. It will therefore be necessary to take care to integrate the right proteins, to have the right level of hydration at the right time and to integrate enough antioxidants.
In sports nutrition, it is necessary to consume a lot of proteins, because their storage is limited. They prevent hypoglycaemia and provide energy to the body throughout training.
Carbohydrates are an integral part of sports nutrition before, during and after exercise. They must represent 55 to 60% of the total calories ingested.
Care should be taken to promote complex carbohydrates which provide energy to the body over the long term. They also vary much less blood sugar levels.
The complex carbohydrates to be favored in the sports diet are:
- Wholemeal pasta, brown rice, bulgur, whole couscous;
- Whole wheat bread ;
- Whole grains ;
To obtain 15 g of carbohydrates, you will need to consume:
- 1 slice of bread;
- 1/2 bagel;
- 1/3 cup cooked pasta or rice;
- 1/2 cup cooked legumes;
- 1 fresh fruit;
- 1/2 cereal bar;
- 125 ml of fruit juice.
Dietary products for athletes can have a prominent place in the athlete’s diet, provided they are well chosen.
Foods that are sources of lean protein
Proteins must also be part of the athlete’s meals, they:
promote energy stability;
contribute to the maintenance of tissues and muscle fibres.
However, many protein foods contain fats that you want to avoid. It is therefore necessary to favor low-fat proteins in the sports diet such as:
- Poultry without the skin;
- Fish and seafood ;
- Lean meats;
- Low-fat cheeses and dairy products;
- Tofu ;
- Soy milk.
8g of protein are contained, on average, in:
- 250ml of milk;
- 1 yogurt;
- 30g of cheese;
- 30 g of meat, poultry, fish or seafood;
- 1 egg ;
- 1/2 cup of legumes.
|Types of sports||Protein requirements|
|Sedentary||0.8g/kg body weight|
|Aesthetic sports (gym, dance)||1.2 to 1.7g/kg body weight|
|Endurance sports (cycling, running, swimming)||1.2 to 1.6g/kg body weight|
|Power sports (weightlifting, sprints, boxing)||1.6 to 1.8g/kg body weight|
|Maintenance of muscle mass||1.2 to 1.6g/kg body weight|
|Development of muscle mass||1.6 to 1.8g/kg body weight|
Foods Rich in Antioxidants
High-intensity sport increases oxidative stress and premature aging of the body in the long term. As part of the diet for athletes, it is recommended to consume enough foods rich in antioxidants:
- Red fruits ;
- Goji berries and wild berries;
- Kiwi, grape, fig;
- Colorful vegetables (peppers, spinach, eggplant, celery, broccoli);
- Garlic, onion;
read more: Why pruning neglected olive trees
Dietary foods for athletes
To meet their carbohydrate needs, some athletes will take carbohydrate gels or bars during long-term exercise (eg mountain biking). Which can be quite suitable.
It is nevertheless important to have tried them before, intense exercise can decrease the taste for solid and very sweet foods. It is also necessary to make sure to drink a lot while consuming these concentrated foods.
Do not hesitate to seek advice from a dietician to be sure to choose your specialized foods as part of the sports diet.
Recovery drinks are also useful for great athletes to rebuild muscle glycogen reserves and repair tissues. Long-duration, high-intensity training depletes glycogen stores.
It is important to replenish them quickly within 30 minutes after stopping the activity. The muscles will then have what they need to rebuild their energy reserves. For people who engage in moderate physical activity, a recovery drink is not necessary. It would cancel the loss of calories caused by exercise.
A good full meal in a timely manner is more appropriate.
- Athlete’s diet: what to eat before and after your sports session?
Examples of sports meals, before exercise
|Time limit||Examples of meals|
|3 to 4 hours before exercise||Normal meal, without frying or fatty sauce|
|2 to 3 hours before||1 bowl of muesli with milk and 2 fruits|
|2 hours before||1 cottage cheese, 1 cereal bar and a piece of fruit|
|1 hour before||1 homemade cereal bar and 1 fruit|
|30 minutes before||1 homemade cereal bar or 1 piece of fruit|
What to eat and drink after intense exercise?
|Training time||Time to next workout||Dietary recommendations|
|1 intense hour||Less than 24 hours||WaterPost-exercise snack with 1 to 1.5g of carbohydrates per kg and more than 7g of protein|
|1 intense hour||More than 24 hours||WaterHealthy and varied diet|
|More than 1 intense hour||Less than 24 hours||WaterPost-exercise snack with 1 to 1.5g of carbohydrates per kg and more than 7g of protein every 2 hours and for 6 hoursMeal comprising 1 to 1.5g of carbohydrates per kg|
|More than 1 intense hour||More than 24 hours||WaterPost-exercise snack with 1 to 1.5g of carbohydrates per kg, every 2 hours for 4 to 6 hours, if needed only|
Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink, because exercise alters the thirst mechanism. The thirst reflex is often triggered when we are already 1% or 2% dehydrated. At this point, our performance has already decreased by 10%.
To know the quantity of water to take before and during the effort, it is first necessary to evaluate the expenses during the activity in question.
Weigh yourself before and after exercise (example: before 69 kg, after 67 kg);
Note the amount of water drunk during exercise (example 1 litre);
The weight lost during exercise corresponds to the quantity of water lost
(69 kg – 67 kg = 2 kg = a loss of 2 liters of water);
The quantity of water to drink corresponds to: the quantity of water drunk + the quantity equivalent to the loss (1 liter + 2 liters = 3 litres);
Divide the amount of water needed by 15 minutes of training, example. : duration 3 hours (12 x 15 minutes) so 3 l / 12 = 250 ml.
It will then be necessary to drink 250 ml of water every 15 minutes and during the 3 hours of training.
Here is the type of drink to include in the athlete’s diet before, during and after exercise
|Before the effort||During the effort||After the effort|
|prefer waterAvoid tea, coffee, carbonated and energy drinks||Activity lasting less than 1 hour: drinking water|
Activity lasting 1 to 3 hours: drink containing sugar (maximum 8g/100ml)
Activity lasting more than 3 hours: drink containing sugar and salt (300 ml of orange juice, 200 ml of water and 0.5 ml of salt)
If you choose a special sports drink already prepared, make sure that it does not contain more than 8% carbohydrates, otherwise dilute it with the water.
|Drink plenty of water to compensate for sweat losses.|
Recovery drink with 1-1.5 g carbohydrates per kg and at least 7 g protein.
Example: 500 ml of skimmed milk with 75 ml of concentrated orange juice
This recipe was developed as part of a master’s project at the Université de Montréal
Watch out for overhydration
Drinking too much can be just as detrimental to your health as not drinking enough.
Indeed, overhydration, more than 9.5 liters of water per day, can cause hyponatremia (a blood sodium level that is too low) which can lead to cerebral edema, even coma and death.
Overhydration mainly affects marathon runners, triathletes and those who cycle and swim for long periods of time. To avoid overhydration, consult the recommendations of the Sports Nutrition Advisory Committee.
Recipe ideas for athletes
The following menu is developed by SOSCuisine.com and satisfies all the recommendations above. To view a recipe, simply click on the name of the dish.
Sports meal for a woman, day without training at 2200 kcal
|Morning||“Amsterdam” breakfast (wholemeal bread, peanut butter, orange and skimmed milk)|
|Noon||Tuna and white bean salad, two slices of bread (whole wheat), orange wedges|
|Snack||yogurt and berries|
|Evening||Beet and mango salad, slice of bread (whole wheat), Cod with olives and fennel, Barley and Pineapple glazed with rum|
+ 2 liters of liquids
Sports meal for a woman, day with training at 2800 kcal
|Morning||“Calgary” breakfast (yogurt, muesli, cranberries, apple, wholemeal bread, peanut butter and skimmed milk)|
|Noon||Tuna and white bean salad, two slices of bread (whole wheat), apple compote|
|Snack||Apple, yogurt and dates|
|Evening||Roasted pepper and onion cream, A slice of crispy bread, Chicken curry with fruits, brown rice and rum-glazed pineapple|
+ 3.5 liters of liquids
These sample menus are suitable for a 35-year-old woman, approximately 1.70 m tall and weighing 70 kg who trains 3 times 2 hours per week, at high intensity.
Foods not recommended in a sports meal
In the overall diet of the athlete, no food is to be banned. However, around training sessions, we recommend adopting the right reflexes for a successful sports meal. Thus, all foods that are difficult to digest or that can cause stomach discomfort should be avoided:
- spices ;
- coffee ;
Whether they are good or bad fats, it is better to limit their consumption before and during training. Lipids require a long digestion work which promotes gastric discomfort during exercise.
However , in the hours following exercise, it is highly recommended to consume good fats such as olive, flaxseed, rapeseed or walnut oil. Oilseeds and fatty fish are also particularly indicated because of their high Omega-3 content.
Foods that stimulate peristalsis
Spices or foods that cause gas can lead to stomach discomfort during exercise. They should therefore not be part of the athlete’s meal just before training.
Before exercise, this is not the time to try new foods or choose foods that are used to causing discomfort such as legumes or crucifers, for example.
Also, spicy or caffeinated foods can stimulate peristalsis and make you want to have a bowel movement during a workout. Save new foods and foods that are harder to digest or irritating for after exercise.
Other foods not recommended for athletes
Foods that are not recommended as part of a dietary program suitable for athletes are:
- Industrial foods;
- Refined products;
- Sweet products ;
- For further
The roles of water in the body and as part of the sports regimen
- Water is a carrier of nutrients. It carries carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals to the sites of use. You have to drink often, because you can’t stock up.
- It also serves as a lubricant, notably ensuring smooth sliding between different tissues (eg synovial fluid in the knee).
- It acts as a radiator by dissipating the heat produced by the evaporation of sweat.
- Water helps prevent performance drops caused by dehydration. It maintains body temperature, provides electrolytes and carbohydrates when added to it, for example when taking a rehydration drink.
How to calculate your energy needs?
Energy Requirements (BE) = Basal Metabolism (MB) x Activity Factor (AF)
To calculate the energy needs of a 38-year-old woman, 1.71 m tall, weighing 69 kg and who trains 3 times 2 hours per week intensely, we used the following formula:
- MB=247-(2.67 X age) + (401.5 X height (m))+ (8.6 X weight kg)
- BE=MB x FAFA=1.75
- MB= 1425.51 kcal
- BE= 2495 kcal per day
Activity factor (AF)
- 1.35 = sedentary
- 1.55 = weakly active
- 1.75 = active
- 1.95 = very active
- In men: MB=293- (3.8 X age) + (456.4 X height m) + (10.12 X weight kg)
For more details on the benefits of physical activity, consult our files on Physical fitness and Being active: the new way of life!
Other practical tips
- Do not wait until you feel hungry or thirsty before drinking or eating during exercise;
- Plan food and hydration in advance, during and around training;
- Get help from a qualified dietitian to build an adapted and personalized food plan;
- As a snack, consider oilseeds to fill up with good fats (nuts, seeds, oilseed butter, soy products, etc.).
Benefits of sports nutrition
Sports nutrition has several benefits for athletes. It can improve their performance, reduce the risk of injuries, enhance endurance, and promote faster recovery. Athletes who consume a well-balanced diet can also maintain a healthy body weight and body composition, which can positively impact their overall health.
FAQ for sports nutrition
What is sports nutrition?
Sports nutrition is a specialized field that focuses on the dietary needs and practices of athletes and physically active individuals. It involves optimizing nutrient intake to improve performance, endurance, and recovery from exercise.
What should athletes eat before a workout or competition?
It is recommended that athletes consume a meal or snack containing carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat at least 3-4 hours before a workout or competition. For a pre-exercise snack, a banana, apple slices with nut butter, or a small serving of Greek yogurt are good options.
Do athletes need to consume more protein than non-athletes?
Yes, athletes typically require more protein than sedentary individuals to repair and rebuild muscle tissue that is damaged during exercise. However, excessive protein intake can also have negative effects on health, so it is important to consume protein in moderation.
What are some good sources of carbohydrates for athletes?
Some good sources of carbohydrates for athletes include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes . These foods provide energy for exercise and help to replenish glycogen stores in the muscles.
Should athletes consume sports drinks during exercise?
Sports drinks can be beneficial for athletes engaging in intense exercise lasting longer than an hour, as they help to replenish electrolytes and provide energy in the form of carbohydrates. However, for shorter or less intense workouts, plain water is usually sufficient .