Nutrition for Athletes

Here are a few tips to help you with your everyday fueling strategies, compliments of Judy Donnelly, RD., LD. and Nutrition Works, LLC.

Eat regular meals and snacks.

  • Three meals with snacks in between meals are often needed to ensure adequate energy and nutrition. Don’t skip breakfast! Or lunch!!  Meals consumed in the early part of the day are fueling the muscles for afternoon and evening training sessions. The carbohydrates consumed also fuel the brain to help maintain mental focus during training.
  • Include a variety of foods from all food groups to promote adequate nutrient intake.

Carbohydrate: Quality counts!!

Enjoy good quality carbohydrate rich foods: In addition to providing carbs, these foods are important as they supply vitamins and minerals that are critical for energy production. The following are some good choices:

  • Whole grain bread, cereal, wraps, pita pockets, rice, crackers, bagels, pasta
  • Whole fruit, frozen fruit, fruit canned in water or juice, dried fruit, 100% fruit juices
  • Vegetables – fresh, frozen are best choices.




Whole grain toast/bagels

Bread/wraps/pita pockets


Whole grain waffles/pancakes


Granola bars

Hot/cold cereal


Fig bars

Fruit/ fruit juice


Oatmeal/raisin cookies



Fresh/frozen/dried fruit

Fruit smoothies

Salad/other vegetables


Wholesome muffins

Baked or Sweet potato


Don’t forget protein!

Protein helps repair muscle tissue after exercise and is necessary to help build new muscle tissue. Protein food sources also provide a variety of other nutrients (calcium, iron, zinc) that are important to health and athletic performance. A good goal is to consume 2 – 3 servings of dairy per day and 2 servings of meat, fish, poultry or eggs. Including meals based on plant sources of protein, such as legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds is a great way to improve the variety of nutrients in the diet and to help limit saturated fats.

Fats are important too!

Fats are needed by the body for several purposes:

  • Energy –Including foods containing healthy types of fat, like olive oil, nuts and seeds, peanut and other nut butters, avocado, fatty types of fish (salmon, halibut, tuna, sardines) helps support high energy demands.
  • Fat soluble vitamins – Fats help us absorb fat soluble vitamins and carry those vitamins to body tissues.
  • Hormones – An adequate fat intake is necessary to produce hormones.

Processed foods and “fast foods” often contain significant amounts of less healthful types of fat and should be consumed in limited amounts.

Hydrating and Eating for Practice and Competition:

Hydration – Water plays a role in energy production and body temperature regulation, both important factors to consider with athletic performance. Milk, 100% fruit juices, and water are excellent sources of fluid. Watery foods, such as soup, yogurt, and fresh fruit provide fluid as well as other nutrients. Here are a few tips to help ensure good hydration for exercise:

  • Drink water throughout the day.
  • Drink 16 to 20 oz of water, 2 – 3 hours before exercise.
  • Aim to consume 4 – 8oz water ~1/2 hr. before exercise.
  • Aim to consume 8 to 10 oz fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise.
    • Water is best for lower intensity exercise lasting less than 60 to 90 minutes.
    •  Sports beverages may be a better choice for higher intensity exercise lasting greater than 60 to 90 minutes.

Harness the power of healthy food to optimize your athletic performance!!