What Should An Athlete's Diet Consist Of? What You Need To Know

Expertly reviewed by Chris Icamen · Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 29, 2022

    What Should An Athlete's Diet Consist Of? What You Need To Know

    Sports Nutrition is a comprehensive approach that athletes follow to attain athletic success. Athletes, or even those who engage in a more active lifestyle, consistently train and recover. The regular training, together with bouts of injury and recovery, is physically demanding. Due to this, an athlete’s diet should consist of nutrients that are appropriate to the body’s energy demands.

    Is an Athlete’s Diet Different from a Non-Athlete’s Diet?

    Essentially, an athlete’s diet is not that different compared to a non-athlete’s diet. Just like anyone who’s working to become healthy, athletes need nutrients from various food groups. Furthermore, athletes require the same vitamins and minerals like everyone else.

    However, we can say that athletes need to be more meticulous when it comes to what they eat. This is because they might need to eat more or less of specific foods depending on:

    • The type of sports they engage in
    • How intense their training is
    • The amount of time they spend training

    Normally, sports nutrition should consist of more calories than normal. Thus, it’s not surprising to find an athlete consuming more than 2,200 to 2,700 calories. Some even go over the 2.400 to 3,000 kcal range.

    To put that into perspective, health institutions agree that in general, a woman’s daily calorie intake requirement is 2,000 while men’s is 2,500. So an athlete’s diet should consist of what kind of nutrients?

    An Athlete’s Diet Should Consist of What Foods?

    To better understand sports nutrition, here are what athletes need to remember for each of their macros.

    An athlete’s diet should consist of CARBOHYDRATES

    Since athletes and non-athletes alike primarily get their energy from carbs, this macro remains to be the biggest source of calories (about 55% to 60% of their diets).

    There are two types of carbohydrates: Simple and complex or starch. Simple sugars are those that our body can break down easily, hence they give us a “burst” of energy. On the other hand, we need more time to digest complex sugars.

    While you can find these two types naturally in foods, they can also be added to processed or refined products. The ultimate suggestion is for athletes to get their carbs from foods that naturally contain them. Natural carbs can be found in healthy foods like fruits and veggies, whole grain products, and milk.

    An athlete’s diet should consist of FATS

    The second biggest source of calories for athletes is fats (no more than 30%). Fats, like carbs, are an important source of energy and they also support other vital functions like nutrient absorption.

    Experts strictly advise athletes to monitor their fat intake. This is because too much of this macro can result in weight gain and heighten the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

    As a general rule, athletes should refrain from eating saturated and trans fats (from animal products) because they tend to increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or what we know as “bad cholesterol.”

    The best sources, according to experts, are foods like avocados, oily fish, nuts, and olive oil.

    An athlete’s diet should consist of PROTEINS

    An athlete’s diet should consist of proteins that amount to 10% to 15% of total caloric intake. Despite having the smallest percentage, proteins are crucial for athletic performance. This is because they are responsible for muscle-building and tissue repair.

    Healthy sources of proteins are fish, turkey, peanut butter, chicken, eggs, legumes, and nuts.

    Sports Nutrition for Different Athletic Goals

    An athlete’s goal often revolves around strength, endurance, sports performance, and, of course, recovery. Sometimes, however, how these goals are prioritized vary. In other words, there are periods when the goal is to build strength more than endurance. There are times when it’s the other way around. Then again, if a sportsman suffers an injury, recovery will be the main goal.

    Here’s how athletes can use nutrition to achieve different athletic goals.

    Nutrition for Strength

    Since the goal is to build strength, an athlete will most definitely have high-intensity workouts. Due to this, they will need an adequate amount of all macros, while being cautious about protein intake to maintain or build lean muscles.

    Nutrition for Endurance

    To build endurance, athletes might need to train for 1 to 3 hours a day using moderate to high-intensity exercises. Since this could be draining, there might be a special focus on carbs and fats as they are the sources of energy.

    Nutrition to Improve Performance

    If the goal is to improve athletic performance, it’s imperative to consider the kind of sports.

    For instance, some sports will require increased lean body mass among athletes. There are also sports that require athletes to be fit and fast. For this reason, the nutritionist might tailor their diet in a way that they’ll lose weight.

    Nutrition for Recovery

    For recovery, an athlete’s diet should consist of all the macros from a variety of healthy food choices. To repair tissues, the nutritionist might put the focus on proteins.

    Precautions in Sports Nutrition

    Due to the meticulous nature of sports nutrition, athletes need to be careful about the following aspects.


    An athlete’s diet should consist of a lot of water. Hydration should always be an athlete’s priority. Due to the regular and sometimes intense training, the body must cool down and it does it through sweating. Not drinking enough water could lead to poor performance. Furthermore, it can result in dangerous health risks such as electrolyte imbalance and heat stroke.

    Water is perfect for hydration, but if you engage in physically-demanding activities for longer than one hour, the nutritionist might advise you to take sports or energy drinks.

    sports nutrition should consist of

    Meal Replacements

    Meal replacements are ready-made, edible products that allow athletes to “skip” a normal, sit-down meal. Often, these replacements have different formulations of proteins, fats, and carbs to accommodate various athletic goals.

    As tempting as it is to not cook and just eat meal replacements, don’t forget to consult a doctor, dietician, or nutritionist before you do so. Remember that sports nutrition should consist of foods that are appropriate for your needs. Taking a “short-cut” through replacement meals might give you nutrients that are not truly tailored for you.

    Dietary Supplements

    In their desire to have more strength and endurance, some may athletes resort to taking supplements. Despite its availability, experts would like to caution everyone from taking them.

    Before an athlete even thinks about supplements, they must ensure that their diet is already balanced and tailored for their sports. After they have decided, they must talk to a licensed sports dietician or nutritionist. Only then will it be safe to incorporate replacement meals in their diet.

    Use of Steroids

    Steroids or “performance-enhancing” drugs, in general, are banned in sports. And it’s not just an issue of fairness and equality among sportsmen. Studies show that taking performance-enhancing drugs have health risks. Possible dangers include:

    • Heart problems
    • Liver problems
    • Stroke
    • Cancer
    • Blood clots

    Do not take steroids unless your doctor specifically orders you to because you need it for medical reasons. In that case, you need to disclose both your health problem and steroid-use to your coach.

    Key Takeaways

    An athlete’s diet should consist of foods that will provide your body sustenance during training or recovery. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all in sports nutrition, discussing everything with a registered dietician or nutritionist is a must.

    Learn more about Sports Nutrition here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Expertly reviewed by

    Chris Icamen

    Dietetics and Nutrition

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 29, 2022


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