Sports Nutrition

The Athlete’s Diet


            Athletes place considerable demands on their bodies.  A necessary portion of athletic performance includes proper nutrition.  Too often, athletes spend considerable time and effort perfecting skills and attaining top physical condition while ignoring proper nutrition.  Food intake should be kept regular- meals should not be skipped. 

            The athlete’s diet should contain a relative balance of carbohydrate, fat, and protein.  Of the total calories consumed, the recommended balance for most people is:

  • Carbohydrates: 55% to 60%
  • Fat: no more than 30% (less than 10% saturated)
  • Protein: 10% to 15%



  • Carbohydrates are the fuel substrate preferred for athletes.
  • Carbohydrates are a major energy source, particularly during high-intensity exercise.
  • Carbohydrates regulate fat and protein metabolism.
  • Major sources of carbohydrates include grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Athletes should consume a diet high in complete carbohydrates.
  • Simple carbohydrates (sugars) found in fruit, juices, etc. can be consumed before or after a workout/competition.


  • Fat is a primary energy source, providing up to 70%of our total energy in the resting rate.
  • Fats occur in two forms: saturated and unsaturated.  Fats derived from animal sources generally contain more saturated fatty acids than fats derived from plants.
  • Fats that are more highly saturated tend to be solids at room temperature, whereas less saturated fats tend to be liquids.  The tropical oils (palm and coconut) are the exception.
  • Consumption of foods high in monounsaturated (canola, olive oil), omega-3 fatty acid, tuna fish, flaxseed, and nuts are recommended.
  • Athletes should consume foods low in saturated fats (cheese, meat, etc.).


  • Protein is used for growth, repair, and maintenance of body tissues.
  • Hemoglobin, enzymes, and many hormones are produced from it.
  • Antibodies for disease protection are formed from protein.
  • Energy can be produced from protein.
  • Fish, poultry, eggs, and milk are good sources of proteins.  Athletes should their proteins from high quality sources of protein like white meat, skim/ low fat milk, egg and fish.


  • Vitamins are a group of compounds that perform specific functions to promote growth and maintain health.
  • We need vitamins in relatively small quantities, but without them we could not use the other nutrients we ingest.
  • Vitamins are essential for energy release, tissue building, and metabolic regulation.
  • Vitamin A plays an important role in bone development, Vitamin D plays a large role in calcium absorption, the B-complex vitamins are essential to cellular metabolism, and Vitamin C is important in the maintenance of healthy bones, ligaments, and blood vessels.


  • Thirst is not a good mechanism for gauging one’s state of dehydration.  If you are thirsty, you are dehydrated. 
  • Because of the increase water loss during exercise, it is imperative that athletes’ water intake be sufficient to meet their bodies’ needs, and it is essential that they re-hydrate during and after exercise.
  • Fluids with electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, etc.) and Gatorade type drinks should be taken during prolonged exercise reducing the risk if dehydration and optimizes our bodies’ cardiovascular and thermoregulatory functions. 
  • Excessive water consumption during prolonged exercise can dilute the sodium in the body, leading to hyponatremia.
  • Fluids should be consumed at a rate of about 2 ½ cups of fluids two hours before exercising, 1 ½ cups of fluids 10-15 minutes before exercising, and at least ½ cup of fluid every 10- 15 minutes during exercise.
  • In very hot and humid conditions, it is important that the amount of fluid lost during exercise is replaced.  So, the athlete should weigh themselves before and after exercising and consume 2 cups of fluid for every pound lost.

The Pre-competition Meal

  • This meal should contain only 200 to 300 calories and consist of mostly carbohydrate foods that are easily digested. 
  • The meal should be high in complex carbohydrates (bread, vegetables, fruit), and low in simple sugars (soda pop, sugar, candy bars).  Additionally, the meal should be low in protein, low in fat, and adequate in fluids.
  • In general, this should be consumed 2-3 hours before competition.
  • The rates at which food is digested and nutrients are absorbed into the body are quite individual, so timing the pre-competition meal might depend on prior experience.
  • Food intake should generally be avoided in the final hour before competition.


Sample Training Table Menus


Oatmeal                                                                                Pancakes with fruit and yogurt

Banana                                                    OR                       Orange juice

Milk- 2%or less                                                                    Milk- 2% or less




Very lean roast beef/ turkey/ chicken                                Vegetable Soup

Sandwich on 100% whole wheat                                       Ham sandwich on rye bread

Bread, lettuce, tomato                           OR                        Strawberries with frozen yogurt

Apple                                                                                     Milk- 2% or less

Milk- 2% or less



Spaghetti w/ meat sauce (5% or less hamburger)           Stir-fry chicken and vegetables

Parmesan cheese                                                                Rolls

Salad (light with salad dressing)           OR                        Milk- 2% or less

Italian bread

Milk- 2% or less

Fresh fruit- no canned


Optimal Body Fat Percent For Athletes

The Washington Institute of Sports Medicine and Health believes that athletes should strive for realistic goals in achieving the correct body composition and percent fat for competition and health, which should be determined individually.

Age, gender, sport and position, body type, genetics, and individual variation should all be considered when telling an athlete what percent fat they should be and how much they should weigh.

Adolescent athletes require accurate information on establishing safe weight and body composition. This is important for athletes striving for potentially low body fat levels, such as wrestlers, gymnasts, rowers, dancers, swimmers, and long distance runners. The goal is to achieve a balance of fat weight in proportion to lean muscle mass so that optimal performance is achieved, while health is improved or maintained.

Percent body fat values for athletes typically range from 6% - 15% in males, and 14% - 20% in females, varying between sports and positions.

Competitive wrestlers may strive for weight classes that are unrealistic low, given their individual percent fat. Optimal percent fat should not go below 6-7% percent. If a wrestler struggles to achieve a weight class that puts him at 2 or 3% he will have lost strength (lean muscle) and will not be able to compete as well as if he weighed more and were stronger.

Essential fat for females is at least 12%-15%. If a young female athlete experiences amenorrhea (no longer having periods) she is too lean. Experts say this causes loss of calcium from bones, and potential long term health problems, often seen in long distance female runners, as well as with those who experience anorexia and bulimia.

Professionals, such as MD's, Nutritionists and Exercise Physiologists, who have the knowledge, and utilize accurate body composition measurement instrumentation, can determine an individual's ideal anatomical body weight.

For additional information on body composition, or to schedule an appointment call 425-820-2110.


Washington Institute of Sports Medicine  |  12707 120th Ave NE # 100 Kirkland, WA  98034  |  425-820-2110