Stellar athletic performance is dependent not only on genetics, hard work and determination, but also on sensible and consistent nutrient intake. The foods that athletes consume will help support their training and competition. Although dietary needs may vary between athletes depending on their individual needs and the sports they play, there are basic components of a healthy diet that all athletes should include.
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for physical activity. Healthy carbohydrate sources include fruits and vegetables, whole grain crackers, breads and pastas and baked potatoes, for example. Consuming adequate amounts of healthy carbohydrates at meals help athletes store energy that they can use during intense physical activity later on. Most athletes may achieve adequate carbohydrate intake by eating pre-event meals and replenishing themselves with food after their event. Endurance athletes such as heavy cyclists or long-distance runners may also need to supplement their regular diet with carbohydrate sources, for example, carbohydrate-rich sports drinks, during their events.
Protein is an extremely important component of a healthy diet, especially for athletes. Protein is essential for helping rebuild muscle. Lean protein sources are best. Chicken, turkey, egg whites, beans, nuts and nut butter, and low-fat dairy products such as Greek yogurt and cheeses are all healthy sources of lean protein. Although protein is important, consuming excess protein is not necessary and should be avoided. High-protein diets, in excess of what the body can actually use, may adversely affect fuel utilization and athletic performance.
Fat is another form of energy that should be included as part of a healthy diet. The key to fat consumption is consuming healthy fats. Healthy fats such as olive and canola oils, avocados, nuts and nut butters, and low-fat dairy products are particularly good choices for the athlete's diet. Fruit smoothies made with Greek yogurt, whole grain toast smeared with peanut butter and guacamole are only a few healthy snack options.
Hydration is key for any athlete. Maintaining fluid balance is important to help prevent dehydration and keep athletes performing at peak levels of performance. Fluids such as sugary fruit juices, soft drinks and coffee provide little to no benefit and may be heavily laden with excess calories. Water should be the athlete's fluid of choice. Sports drinks may be a usual form of fluid replacement in athletes performing in vigorous and lengthy events. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates and electrolytes that can help replace those lost during intense physical exertion.
- Krauses' Food and Nutrition Therapy; L. Kathleen Mahan and Sylvia Escott-Stump
Amanda Davis began writing in 2010 with work published on various websites. Davis is a dietetic technician, registered, personal trainer and fitness instructor. She has experience working with a variety of ages, fitness levels and medical conditions. She holds a dual Bachelor of Science in exercise science and nutrition from Appalachian State University and is working toward her master's degree in public health. Davis will be a registry eligible dietitian in May 2015.