Athletes will have different nutritional needs compared with the general public. They may require more calories and macronutrients to maintain strength and energy to compete at their optimum level.
In addition to consuming sufficient amounts of calories and macronutrients, athletes may also require more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients for peak recovery and performance.
Moreover, they may need to consider meal timing and ensure adequate hydration.
In this article, we discuss macronutrient and micronutrient needs of athletes and look at calories, meal timing, and how to tailor requirements to specific sports. We also give meal examples for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Nutrition is essential for supporting an athlete’s general health and their training needs.
Having a suitable diet provides a person with enough energy and nutrients to meet the demands of training and exercise. In addition to helping a person perform optimally, it facilitates recovery.
Athletes may need to consider:
- their caloric needs
- macronutrient amounts and ratios
- meal and snack timings
- vitamins and minerals for recovery and performance
Tailoring these considerations to an athlete’s body weight and composition, the amount of time spent training, and the type of sport they do can improve their performance.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020–2025 suggest that the optimal macronutrient ratios for adults are as follows:
The International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) notes that people can adjust these ratios based on the goal of physical activity.
For example, an endurance athlete would increase the amount of carbohydrates they eat, while a strength athlete would increase their protein intake.
According to a 2018 reviewTrusted Source by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), typical macronutrient ratios for athletes are as follows:
Carbohydrates receive a great deal of attention in sports nutrition due to the vital role they play in athletic performance.
Carbohydrates are typically the preferable fuel source for many athletes, particularly for high intensity and long duration exercise. This is because they supply ample glycogen storage and blood glucose to fuel the demands of exercise.
To maintain liver and muscle glycogen stores, athletes will need different amounts of carbohydrates depending on their exercise volume.
For moderate amounts of intense training, defined as 2–3 hours per day of intense exercise performed 5–6 times per week, the ISSN suggests consuming 5–8 grams per kilogram (g/kg) of body weight, or 250–1,200 g, of carbohydrates per day for athletes who weigh 50–150 kg.
For high volume intense training, defined as 3–6 hours per day of intense training in 1–2 daily workouts 5–6 days per week, the ISSN recommends 8–10 g/kg of body weight, or 400–1,500 g, of carbohydrates per day for athletes weighing 50–150 kg.
For example, an athlete weighing 150 kg who performs high volume intense training would look to consume roughly 1,200–1,500 g of carbohydrates.
Athletes doing intense training may benefit from ingesting more than two times the recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein in their diet.
For example, the dietary reference intakeTrusted Source for adult females is 46 g, and for adult males — 56 g. That is why it may be beneficial for athletes to consume nearer to 92 g and 112 g of protein, respectively.
The ISSA suggests that many athletes can safely consume 2 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight daily, compared with the RDA of 0.8 g/kg.
The ISSNTrusted Source also notes that optimal protein intake may vary from 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg of body weight per day.
Higher amounts of protein can help athletes avoid protein catabolism and slow recovery, which the ISSN notes can contribute to injuries and muscle wasting over time.
For moderate amounts of intense training, an athlete should consume 1.2–2 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight, which translates into 60–300 g of protein per day for an athlete weighing 50–150 kg.
For high volume intense training, the ISSN suggests 1.7–2.2 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight per day, or 85–330 g of protein for an athlete weighing 50–150 kg.
Healthy protein sources include:
- lean meat and poultry
- fish and seafood
- eggs and dairy products
- beans and lentils
- nuts and seeds
- soy, including tofu and tempeh
Fats are essential in the diet to maintain bodily processes, such as hormone metabolism and neurotransmitter function.
Including healthy fats in the diet also helps satiety and can serve as a concentrated fuel source for athletes with high energy demands.
The ISSNTrusted Source recommends athletes consume moderate fat intake, representing around 30% of daily calories. However, they can safely consume up to 50% of their daily calories as fat to meet higher volume training needs.
Athletes seeking to decrease their body fat may reduce fat intake to 20% of their daily calories.
Some athletes may choose to eat a ketogenic diet and consume higher amounts of fats. However, the ISSN review indicates there is not sufficient evidence to support the diet’s effectiveness.