High Performance Nutrition for Athletes
Compiled by Coach Lee Pantas
To reach your
highest potential as an athlete, all of your body systems
must be perfectly tuned. Nothing is more important to your
well-being and ability to perform than good nutrition. The best
training in the world will not help you perform at a high level
if you do not eat right. Eating the right foods helps you
maintain desirable body weight, stay physically fit, and
establish optimum nerve-muscle reflexes. Without the right
foods, even physical conditioning and expert coaching aren't
enough to push you to your best. Good nutrition must be a key
part of your training program if you are to succeed.
There is no one
"miracle food" or supplement that can supply all of your
nutritional needs. Certain foods supply mainly proteins, other
foods contain vitamins and minerals, and so on. The key to
balancing your diet is to combine different foods so that
nutrient deficiencies in some foods are made up by nutrient
surpluses in others. Eating a variety of foods is the secret.
proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and
water--are teammates that work together to provide good
nutrition. Just as each team member carries out different tasks
during a game, each nutrient performs specific functions in your
body. A lack of just one nutrient is a disadvantage to your
body. Your body needs all these nutrients all of the time, so
the foods you eat should supply them every day.
Just because you are
not hungry does not necessarily mean that your body has all the
nutrients it needs. You can fill up on foods that contain mostly
carbohydrates and fats, but your body still has basic needs for
proteins, minerals, and vitamins.
Listed below are the
5 main food groups. As a track athlete you should eat a balanced
selection from all five groups. Recommended minimum servings per
day are given for each group:
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group
(3-5 servings daily)
1 serving is
an 8 ounce glass of milk,
8 ounces of yogurt or 1 1/2 ounces
of natural, unprocessed cheese.
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group
(3 to 4 servings daily)
1 serving is
3 ounces of lean, cooked meat, 2
eggs, 1 cup of cooked dry beans, peas, or lentils or 4
tablespoons of peanut butter.
(3 to 5 servings daily).
1 serving is 1/2 cup of
cooked vegetables, 1/2 cup of chopped raw vegetables, 1 cup of
leafy raw vegetables such as lettuce or spinach, or 1 glass (6
ounces) of juice.
Fruit Group (3 to 5 servings daily).
1 serving is
1 whole fruit such as a medium
apple, banana, or orange, 1/2 grapefruit, 1 glass (6 ounces) of
juice, 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of berries, 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of
cooked or canned fruit or 1/4 cup of dried fruit
Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta
(6 to 11 servings daily).
serving is 1 slice of
bread, 1/2 hamburger bun or English muffin, one1 small roll,
biscuit, or muffin, 3 to 4 small or 2 large crackers, 1/2 cup
cooked cereal, rice, or pasta or 1 ounce ready-to-eat breakfast
Because of their
rapid growth and development and higher levels of physical
activity, teen athletes should eat the higher levels of servings
recommended from each food group. An active track athlete could
easily eat eleven servings of breads/cereals and four to five
servings of the other food groups each day. Some athletes may
even need more than the maximum servings recommended. Eating the
maximum number of servings recommended from all five-food groups
provides about 3,000 calories.
In no instance should you eat less
than the minimum servings for any food group.
You need the minimum servings to supply a base level of
essential nutrients and calories required for good health.
Consuming the minimum servings listed above will supply about
1,600 calories, which is the minimum a teen girl should take in.
Teen boys need at least 2,000 calories a day and thus need more
than the minimums given.
Athletes need plenty
of starchy foods because, along with proper training, these
foods cause muscle and liver cells to store glycogen. Glycogen
is a vital energy source for most sports. When muscle cells run
out of glycogen, muscle fatigue sets in and performance suffers.
Foods high in starch include: pastas, spaghetti, noodles,
ravioli, beans, rice, potatoes, carrots, peas, corn, sweet
potatoes, bread, bagels, muffins, pancakes, waffles and cereals.
Unfortunately, many girl athletes think of starchy foods as
"fattening" and cut out breads, cereals, and starchy vegetables.
The results are predictable: low glycogen, low energy, and poor
performance. The girl athlete who wants top performance must eat
starchy food so that she goes into an event with glycogen
reserves. Starchy foods are not fattening in themselves. Eating
more than the body needs and not exercising is the main cause of
obesity. America is currently experiencing an epidemic of
overweight kids who eat too much junk food and do not exercise.
However, the girl athlete who is training properly shouldn't
worry about extra weight from starchy foods.
High Energy Foods
These are some of the best foods you can eat as an athlete, the
ones that improve athletic performance. They are of particular
importance in your diet. Make sure you include them.
snack-One of the highest sources of potassium.
Beef: Great source of zinc, high quality protein, iron and
Beans-Legumes: High in protein and B Vitamins, important for
Broccoli: One of the best nutritional foods around. High in
Vitamin C, folic acid, calcium, magnesium and iron.
Brown Rice: Better for you than white rice.
Carrots and Carrot Juice: Most concentrated source of
Cheese: Great source of calcium
Chicken: Another high quality protein source
Corn: High carbohydrate source
Dried Fruit: Concentrated sources of energy and good sources
Fig Bars: Strong carbohydrate punch and easy to eat
Grapes: Good source of boron, important in building strong
muscles and bones
Kiwi: High in vitamin C
Lentils: Good source of protein, complex carbohydrates, and
Milk: Absolutely essential for athletes. Great source of
vitamin D and calcium. The drink of choice for Marion Jones.
Oatmeal: Great source of fiber and carbohydrates.
Orange Juice: Vitamin C, potassium and more
Papaya: A treasure trove of nutrients
Pasta: Loaded with complex carbohydrates
Potato: Powerhouse of complex carbohydrates, potassium,
Vitamin C and iron
Salmon: High protein and rice source of important omega-3
Strawberries: Vitamin C and fiber
Water: 2 liters a day for athletes is a must!
Whole Grain Cereals. Complex carbohydrates. Chose whole
grain bread rather than white.
Yogurt: Another great source of all-important calcium.
Needs of Athletes:
Increased physical activity increases some of your food needs.
You require more energy, water, and possibly salt (sodium
chloride). An athletic teenage boy may need 5,000 calories a
day, compared to the 3,000 calories required daily by his
non-athletic friends. By taking extra servings of foods from all
food groups (particularly breads, cereals, vegetables, and
fruits), you can fill this increased energy need.
Salt needs can be
met by increased use of salt on foods. The use of salt tablets
is not recommended. Salt tablets can cause stomach cramps. The
tablets hold water in the stomach longer and can actually cause
water to be pulled back into the intestinal tract and away from
body tissues where the water is needed most.
What To Eat Before A
Before a game, your
digestive processes may be slowed down by your keyed-up
emotional state. To allow for this condition, you should eat an
easily digestible, balenced meal no later than three hours
before the contest. Avoid foods that contain substantial amounts
of fats or oils. Fats are more slowly digested than other
nutrients. Trying to compete with a high-fat meal still in your
stomach is a losing proposition. Meals high in starches are
better because they are digested more rapidly than fats or oils.
Make sure that your pre-game meal is a balanced one containing
all food groups.
Some athletes like
poached eggs, toast, and juice as a light pre-meet meal. Some
prefer breakfast cereal with milk, yogurt, a bagel or toast, and
juice. All-day events such as track meets present special
problems. Consuming several high-starch mini-meals or snacks,
accompanied by ample fluids, is a winning strategy for these
situations. Snacks you might consider bringing to the all-day
meet include Fig Bars (Allen Johnson’s favorite meet snack is
Fig Newtons), Powerbars, dried fruit, Granola Bars, bananas,
apples, oranges, grapes and other fruit, carrots, peanut butter
sandwiches. For the meet, stay away from candy, chips and most
of the junk food sold in convenience stores or in the concession
stand at the track! Bring your own high-energy snacks! At all
costs avoid sugary foods such as candy or honey before a meet.
Sweets can cause rapid swings in blood-sugar levels and result
in low blood sugar and less energy.
Keeping Energy Levels Up
Keeping your energy
levels up for peak performance isn't easy. It doesn't just
happen. High energy levels are the result of good eating and
exercise habits. If you don't pay attention to either of these
factors, your performance can suffer.
One of the
least-recognized nutrition problems of the young athlete is
simply not eating enough. Extracurricular activities may make
life so busy that you simply don't take the time to eat.
After-school practice sessions may be so exhausting that you
feel too tired to eat. But you must take the time to eat the
right foods. Don't let fatigue caused by poor eating hurt your
performance. Another problem of the young athlete is not eating
the right kinds of foods--particularly foods high in starch.
Eating a balanced diet that has plenty of starch keeps muscle
Participating in sports can drastically increase your food
energy needs. Increased physical activity calls for more food
calories. Also, when you train, you increase muscle tissue
relative to fat tissue, and muscle tissue requires more calories
than fat tissue. Going out for sports can easily increase the
daily calorie needs of a teen athlete by 2,000 or more. A
teenage athlete on a track team may consume 5,000 or more
The amount of food
you need depends on your age, sex, weight, and activity level. A
larger athlete requires more calories that a smaller one because
more energy is needed to move more mass over the same distance.
You usually burn more calories in a practice session than in
actual competition because more total work is usually done
during practice. However, the rate at which calories are burned
for short periods of time may be greater from short bursts of
intense activity during competition. Activity levels vary among
sports as well as with the position played in a sport.
The glycogen stores
you have available right before an event are the result of how
you've eaten and exercised for the past several days. Glycogen
stores in the body are increased by rest or light levels of
exercise and high levels of carbohydrates (particularly starch)
in the diet. Glycogen stores in the body are lowered by high
levels of exercise and low levels of starch in the diet. Once
glycogen stores are exhausted, it takes at least two days to
fully restore them. Although the pre-meet meal can stabilize
blood sugar levels and provide some energy, don't look to the
pre-meet meal to provide the bulk of your energy for the meet.
You should eat a nutritious, varied diet containing plenty of
starchy foods every day. Give starches particular emphasis two
days before the event.
Here are some tips
to help you keep your glycogen reserves up--particularly before
a soccer game:
Start each day
with a good breakfast. Cold cereal, milk, toast, fruit,
and/or fruit juice make an easy-to-fix, quick meal that
provides plenty of starch.
that contain foods from all five-food groups. Our bodies use
nutrients more efficiently when they are consumed together.
Model your noon meal on one of the Main Meals shown above.
healthy snacks as another opportunity to power up with
starch--and don't forget that snack at bedtime. Cold cereal
with milk serves as a quick snack at any time. It can be
more than the "breakfast" of champions! And you don't have
to stop at one bowlful.
foods particular emphasis the days right before the event by
building the main meal around a high-starch entree like
spaghetti and meatballs. Make sure the other food groups are
Decrease physical activity the day before and the day of the
event. Light practices directed by your coach are enough.
The day before or the day of the event is not the time to
organize a pickup game with your friends. Rest up!
Drink plenty of
fluids--even at mealtimes--to guard against dehydration.
AFTER THE GAME
After the game or
practice session, much of the glycogen in your muscle and liver
tissue has been used up, and synthesis, or creation, of new
muscle protein slows. To promote glycogen recovery, consume
nutritious foods and drinks that are high in carbohydrates and
protein. When you eat the right foods, your body can replace
lost glycogen rapidly, and normal synthesis of new proteins can
Whole foods like
cereals, breads, and pastas with a glass of milk are better for
total recovery than pure carbohydrate supplements. A mix of
whole foods contains proteins, minerals, and vitamins in
addition to carbohydrates. You need these other nutrients along
with high levels of carbohydrates for a complete, rapid
recovery. . Remember, whole foods, such as breads and cereals,
when eaten with beverages like milk promote more rapid recovery
than pure carbohydrates alone.
To assist in total,
rapid recovery, you should consume nutritious foods and drinks
as soon as you can tolerate them after an event or workout.
Ideally, you should eat food within two hours afterward.
However, if you can't tolerate eating that soon, choose what's
comfortable for you.
Young athletes often
have questions about foods high in fat and sugar, such as candy,
soda, and desserts. These foods are called "empty calorie" foods
because they're usually high in calories but contain few
nutrients. Don't eat many of these foods but they are ok in
moderation. Stay away from these foods on meet day. Get your
energy from foods that supply ample proteins, vitamins, and
minerals as well as calories.
mistakenly believe that high-sugar foods will give them quick
energy before a game or an event. High-sugar foods, such as
candy or honey, should be avoided before a game or an event.
Sweets can cause rapid swings in blood sugar, make you feel
tired, and decrease performance.
Hydration For Top Performance
Water lost through
sweating is not easily replaced. Low water-intake during
strenuous exercise leads to dehydration, which can lead to
fatigue, heatstroke, and death. Replacement water should
never be restricted during exercise. However, if you drink
too much water too quickly during increased physical activity,
you may become "waterlogged," an unpleasant condition that you
may already have experienced. Moderate amounts of cool water
taken frequently before, during, and after activity prevent this
problem. Six to eight ounces of fluid taken every fifteen to
twenty minutes during strenuous activity is about right for most
There are many
different commercial sports drinks available. They contain
varying kinds and amounts of sugars and electrolytes. Whether
they offer advantages over plain water depends on the situation.
Many times, plain water is all that an athlete needs. When
activities last an hour or more, however, some sport drinks may
offer advantages both for carbohydrate and electrolyte
Water is a basic
necessity for all life. Without it, life can't exist. Even when
water is limited, living organisms suffer. You are no exception.
For young athletes like yourself, not enough water means you
can't do your best. It can even cause serious health problems.
Our blood circulates like an ocean within us. The water in blood
helps carry nutrients and energy to our body cells. It also
carries waste products away from our cells for excretion from
our body. Water helps regulate our body temperature, too--an
important factor for all of us.
As a young athlete,
you have a special need for water. Remember to drink
plenty of fluids, even if you aren't thirsty. A soccer
athlete in training needs at least 2 liters of water a day!!
Keep your fluid levels up! When you participate in a
sport like soccer, you burn a lot of food energy (called
calories). Some of that unleashed energy powers muscles. But
some of that energy is released as heat. Water keeps you from
overheating. Sweating and evaporation from the skin cools you
down. However, water is lost in the cooling process. That can be
dangerous if the water is not replenished. If you run low on
water, your body can overheat, like a car that is low on cooling
fluid. Losing just two percent of the body's water can hurt
performance. A five percent loss can cause heat exhaustion. A
seven percent to ten percent loss can result in heat stroke and
death. Dehydration can kill.
Young athletes have
a lot of growing to do. New muscle tissue must be made. Bones
need to grow rapidly. And with all of the physical activity,
some tissues need to be repaired. All of this metabolic activity
requires an abundance of nutrients and energy carried to body
tissues and waste products carried away. Water allows all of
this to happen. Water is vital for your body's growth, repair,
and physical activity.
thirst is not enough!!
Thirst is your
body's signal that you need to drink water. By the time you feel
thirsty, you may have already lost one percent to two percent of
your water--and that's enough to hurt performance. But just
drinking enough to satisfy your thirst may not supply your
body's needs. If you drink only enough to satisfy your thirst,
your body may take up to 24 hours to fully rehydrate its cells
and regain maximum performance.
When you participate
in a sporting event or practice session, follow these
Don't wait until
you are thirsty before drinking water.
Drink more than
enough to satisfy your thirst.
Drink more than
you think you need before an event or practice to make sure
you are fully rehydrated.
Conditioned athletes need more
The conditioned athlete is able to store and burn more energy in
a shorter time. That means your body releases more heat,
requires more cooling, loses more water, and needs more water to
replenish its stores. Also, you may have increased your sweating
response, which means you lose even more water. As an in-shape
athlete, you need more water than other people.
When you feel exhausted and hot during a
workout or game, drinking large amounts of water very rapidly
may cause discomfort or stomach cramps. But that is not a good
reason to restrict water. Drinking moderate amounts at frequent
intervals is the best strategy during competition or practice.
About one cup (six to eight
ounces) of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes during an activity
is about right for most athletes.
Some athletes can drink a bit more than this at each interval.
Cool water is best and helps absorb body heat. And it empties
from the stomach into the intestine at a fast rate, which allows
it to be absorbed rapidly into the body.
Most of the weight
you lose during an event or training session is water lost
through sweat. Of course, you lose some weight when your body
burns materials for energy. For example, the glycogen stored in
liver and muscle cells is used for energy, which results in some
weight loss. Some fat and protein is burned for energy, too, and
that results in additional weight loss. However, most of the
weight you lose during strenuous physical activity is water lost
Student Athlete Educational Foundation
Ultimate Sports Nutrition, Frederick C. Hatfield,
University of Illinois: Sports and Nutrition For Teenage
Athletes–A Winning Combination.
The Science of Hurdling and Speed Brent McFarlane,