Nutrition for Athletics

Below is a useful powerpoint and resource for information on Nutrition in Athletics.

Nutrition Powerpoint for High School Athletics presented by Registered Dietician Nutritionist – Kelsey Griffin, RDN, CNSC

Nutrition Timing

When talking about sports nutrition, it’s not so much what you eat, but a lot of it has to do with timing, and when you eat. This is called nutrient timing. Your schedule may vary depending on your sport (workout could mean: practice, weights, conditioning, or even a game) but you should attempt to eat every two to three hours to keep your nutrient levels stable and muscles primed for physical activity.

A typical day:

  • Breakfast: 7am
  • Snack: 10am
  • Lunch: 12pm
  • Pre-workout snack: 12pm
  • Post workout snack: 2pm
  • Dinner: 7-8pm

So now that you have an idea of when to eat, let’s answer the question of what you should be eating. Food can be broken down into three important categories, these are called macronutrients.

10 – 30% of your diet should be in the form of protein. Protein is a macronutrient that is responsible to build stronger muscles. Athletes should aim to consume 20-25 grams of protein every time that they eat. Yes, every time. This will not only help build stronger muscles, but also help speed up recovery and decrease the feeling of muscle soreness after an intense workout. Protein is most important to eat after your workout to assist the body in rebuilding muscle fiber that have been broken down due to exercise. Care should be taken to ensure that you do not OVER CONSUME protein as it inevitably will turn to fat and will end up hindering performance.

  • Examples of protein include: eggs, meat, Greek yogurt, fish, milk, and beans.

If protein builds muscles, carbohydrates supply the fuel to keep the body going. Athletes should aim to eat 45 – 65% of their intake in the form of Carbohydrates, due to the amount of energy required to perform physical activity. Carbohydrates come in two forms: simple, and complex. Simple carbs are sugars (from fruits and sweets), and complex carbs are starches and fibers (from grains, oats, and vegetables). It is important to consume complex carbs early enough to be digested and available for use, and therefore should be eaten 2+ hours before workouts. Simple carbs are recommended sparingly, and should be consumed immediately pre- or post-workout so they are not stored as fat. Care should be taken to avoid low carbohydrate “low carb” diets as they may limit the amount of energy that is available during workouts.

  • Examples of simple carbohydrates include: Fruits, sweets, fruit juice, honey, maple syrup
  • Examples of complex carbohydrates include: starch, fiber, vegetables, whoe grain breads, oatmeal, legumes, brown rice, wheat pasta


Fats are not to be feared. Fat is essential to an athlete’s overall health and performance. Without consuming some fat, joints cannot protect themselves from injury and the body will not have enough cushioning around the vital organs. However, athletes should aim to consume no more than 25 – 35 of their daily intake in the form of fat. Fats can be saturated or unsaturated, and you can differentiate the two by looking at their states at room temperature. Saturated fats (from animal sources) are solid at room temperature and should be avoided when possible. Unsaturated fats (from plant and liquid sources) are liquid at room temperature and are the more ideal type of fat to consume. Heart-healthy fats such as Omega-3s and Omega-6s will aid in an athlete’s performance. Avoid trans fats of all kinds.

  • Examples of fats include: avocados, cheese, dark chocolate, chia seeds, virgin olive oil

The most important macronutrient for athletes to consume is water. Without it, muscles cannot contract, the brain cannot function properly, and the body begins to shut down. This is known as dehydration. It is important for athletes to be properly hydrated at all times, and this begins the evening before. Athletes should aim to drink 20-24oz (~3 cups) of liquids 2-3 hours before workouts, and 8-10oz (1 cup) 20-30 minutes before workouts. As you workout, you sweat, and therefore you must replenish those fluids that are lost during workout. Athletes should drink 5-10oz (1 cup) of fluid every 20 minutes of exercise. Post-exercise replenishment will ensure an athlete is ready for the next workout. So, athletes should drink an additional 20- 24oz (~3 cups) over the next 2 hours post-workout.

Athletes should aim to consume at least 4 liters (16 cups) (128 oz.) (1 gallon) of water per day on days that they are practicing, conditioning, or have competition. This will vary by your body weight and size however this is a good benchmark to start with.

The ingestion of all electrolytes including: calcium, potassium, sodium as well as magnesium is important in a daily diet. With sweat loss comes electrolyte loss with it. One important nutrient to touch on is that of electrolytes. Potassium (e.g. bananas) was incorrectly thought to help stop cramping from occurring. However, new research shows that sodium is one of the most commonly lost electrolyte in sweat loss more so than both potassium and calcium. Hyponatremia is the condition that commonly causes cramping in athletics, due to the loss of sodium in the system. Therefore, sodium (e.g. mustard, salt) is the most critical electrolyte to replace.

Sports Drinks
Sports drinks can be used to help with electrolyte replenishment, however it should be known that it is IMPOSSIBLE to consume enough liquid of electrolyte sports drink (regardless of brand) in a day to properly replenish lost electrolytes through exercise. The only way to properly replenish electrolytes for a day of heavy exercise is through balanced meals throughout the day. Balanced meals themselves contain most of the necessary levels electrolytes needed for athletic participation. Often times sports drinks can result in excessive calorie intake leading to obesity and cavities. Sports drinks in moderation could be useful, but please understand the risks as well.