Diet plan for a sprinter: There is a preconception that sprinters and other athletes do tend to put on weight and become sturdy as they make use of their muscles, but in reality they do an immense amount of physical work which requires them to have the right nutrition.
SPRINTING. . . Dietary Approaches to Optimize Training Adaptation and Performance
Gary J. Slater, Jennifer Sygo, and Majke Jorgensen
Although sprint athletes are assumed to primarily be interested in promoting muscle hypertrophy, it is the ability to generate explosive muscle power, optimization of power-to-weight ratio, and enhancement of anaerobic energy generation that are key outcomes of sprint training. This reflects the physique of track sprinters, being characterized as ecto-mesomorphs. Although there is little contemporary data on sprinters dietary habits, given their moderate energy requirements relative to body mass, a carbohydrate intake within the range of 3–6 g·kg−1·day−1 appears reasonable, while ensuring carbohydrate availability is optimized around training. Similarly, although protein needs may be twice general population recommendations, sprint athletes should consume meals containing ∼0.4 g/kg high biological value protein (i.e., easily digested, rich in essential amino acids) every 3–5 hr. Despite the short duration of competitions and relative long-recovery periods between races, nutrition still plays an important role in sprint performance. As energy expenditure moderates during competition, so too should intake of energy and macronutrients to prevent unwanted weight gain. Further adjustments in macronutrient intake may be warranted among athletes contemplating optimization of power-to-weight ratio through reductions in body fat prior to the competitive season. Other novel acute methods of weight loss have also been proposed to enhance power-to-weight ratio, but their implementation should only be considered under professional guidance. Given the metabolic demands of sprinting, a few supplements may be of benefit to athletes in training and/or competition. Their use in competition should be preceded with trialing in training to confirm tolerance and perceived ergogenic potential.
General Nutrition Guidelines For Sprinters
- Focus on getting 1.2 to 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
- Carbohydrate intake should be at 5 grams per kilogram of body weight to maintain glycogen stores during training (although carbohydrate is not the prime source of fuel during the actual race).
- Creatine supplementation may increase muscle mass, but weight gain is possible. Research has shown that creatine supplementation for sprinters results in either a slight performance enhancement or no change in sprint velocity. If you’re going to use creatine, it might make more sense to do it during your training, not on race day.
Race Day Sprinter’s Diet
The race itself only lasts a few seconds, but it can be difficult to hone in on your nutritional strategy, since you may race in multiple heats and events. Since glycogen is not being used, carbohydrate loading is unnecessary. The key is to stay hydrated and keep your blood sugars stable so you feel comfortable. A healthy balance of carbs and protein three to four hours prior to the race is recommended. Sample meals include:
- baked potato and Greek yogurt
- lean protein (chicken, turkey, etc.) and beans or brown rice
- turkey sandwich
- cereal with cottage cheese
If you’re hungry, eat a low-fiber/low-fat snack approximately one hour before the event. Examples include low-fat yogurt, a smoothie or a low-fiber protein bar. Don’t try anything new on race day, and be sure to run fast!
A Sprinter’s Diet
Sprinters are a prime example of how important nutrition is for performance. To compete at the highest level, they need their nutrition to be on point so they have enough energy to stick to a demanding training schedule, yet they don’t eat so much they gain body fat, which can affect performance. Even if you’re not competing at the top level and just sprinting for your school, as part of an athletics team or for fun, you can make tweaks to your diet to optimize your performance on the track.
Fueling the Fire
Calories are one of the most important aspects for sprinters to consider, but they can be a bit of a conundrum. Training sessions are rigorous, so you need plenty of calories for energy. However, body weight is also a concern — you need to have a low body fat level while still maintaining muscle mass to generate power. During the off-season, increase your calorie intake to the point where your weight is stable week after week and you’re eating enough so you feel energized for training and recover well after sessions. Sprinters often have to lose body weight in the lead up to a competition, according to the Australian Institute of Sport. Cut your calorie intake as competition approaches.
Sprinters should prioritize protein, notes “Men’s Fitness,” averaging around 1 gram per pound of body weight each day, or 60 percent of your total calorie intake. Focus on lean protein sources such as chicken breast and fish. Sprinter Allyson Felix, winner of three gold medals at the London 2012 Olympic Games also recommends having a protein-based drink after training sessions to help you recover.
Counting the Carbs
Green leafy vegetables.
Unlike longer running events, sprinters don’t need a lot of carbohydrates. “Men’s Fitness” advises getting most of your carbs from fruits and vegetables, sticking to dark-colored ones when possible. These include spinach, kale, broccoli, leeks, cabbage and all types of berries. You might find having a small portion of starchier carbohydrate, such as sweet potato, whole-grain bread or oatmeal before a race of training session gives you an energy boost, however, so time the majority of your carbohydrates around training and competitions.
On the Right Track
Sprinter Bolt claimed to eat fried chicken before a race.
Staying strict with your diet is important, but you don’t have to be 100 percent strict, 100 percent of the time. World record 100 and 200 meter holder Usain Bolt is known to bend the rules when it comes to dieting, claiming to eat fried chicken and fast food before races. Bolt does concede, however, that most of the time, he follows a healthy plan, consisting of meat, fish, rice, bananas, yams and traditional Jamaican dishes. U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin adds that the older you get, the more you have to watch what you eat if you don’t want to pile on the pounds and slow down.
Unlike endurance running, which favors athletes with lean frames, sprinting favors athletes who exert a short burst of power using fast-twitch muscles. The fibers in these muscles use primarily carbohydrates for energy and exhaust rapidly. Sprint training also damages fast-twitch muscle fibers, causing them to grow larger and stronger. As a sprinter, you need to obtain enough carbohydrates and fat in your diet to maintain your energy level and enough protein to meet the increased demands of training.
Carbohydrates and Fats
Carbohydrates and fats provide energy to the sprinter. The fast-twitch muscle fibers that generate the rapid force while sprinting run primarily on carbohydrates. Runners typically consume 60 percent of their caloric intake from carbohydrates, but fat intake should never drop below 15 percent of caloric intake. Good sources of carbohydrates for sprinters include whole grains, rice, pasta, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes and quinoa. Choose a variety of healthy fats including nuts, seeds, oils derived from vegetables, lean cuts of meat and cold-water fish.
Protein provides the amino acids necessary to restore muscle fibers after training or competition. Protein can be burned for energy but is only used when carbohydrates and fats have been temporarily depleted. The daily allowance of protein for adults is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, according to the U.S. Institute of Medicine. That amount is insufficient for sprinters, who should consume at least 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass, according to a study in the “Journal of Applied Physiology.” Obtain protein from complete sources including lean meat, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy, eggs, soybeans and quinoa.
What food does it take to fuel athletes like Usain Bolt to Olympic success?
Usain Bolt made history at the Rio Olympics, becoming the first athlete to win gold in the 100 metre and 200 metre sprints at three consecutive games. He didn’t beat his world record of 9.58 seconds, but still managed to leave his competitors for dust.
It takes years of intense training and enormous discipline for athletes such as Bolt to achieve their Olympic dreams – and throughout it all they have to adhere to strict dietary requirements. To find out what sort of food it takes to fuel Bolt’s Olympic efforts, it’s worth taking a closer look at an Olympic sprinter’s ideal diet.
In the run up to the Olympic Games, Bolt would actually require more energy than during the games themselves. High quality preparatory training sessions use up a huge number of calories which need to be replaced with the correct nutrients. After all, these sessions are crucial in giving Bolt the all-important muscle power and technique that help him to gain the advantage over his competitors.
Protein over carbo-loading
During training, sprinters have to maintain a nourishing and balanced diet. This is predicated on the familiar mix of protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. Unlike some endurance athletes, sprinters don’t need to carbo-load with bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and cereals. Instead, protein – found in eggs, meat, fish, nuts, beans and dairy products – is perhaps the key dietary requirement. Protein allows muscles to recover, repair and develop after sprint and resistance drills which cause minute damages to the muscle fibres.
Carbohydrates are still crucial for sprinters as sprint training also uses up a huge amount of a compound called glycogen. When we eat carbohydrate, it is broken down and stored by the body in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen. Sprint training can deplete glycogen stores very quickly since it’s the only fuel available to the body at such high intensity effort. Bolt’s 100 metre world record time of 9.58 seconds isn’t long enough for the body to process the oxygen it needs and so energy is provided anaerobically – without oxygen – from fuels already found in the muscles.
The all out effort of sprinting can use up most, if not all, of the glycogen stored in the body. During a training session, if Bolt is doing repeated sprints of 20 to 50 metres, the majority of his muscles’ glycogen will be depleted after about eight to ten efforts. Good nutrition is therefore vital to restock the lost glycogen and repair any routine muscular damage that’s been done.
When the Olympic Games draws closer – and with the bulk of athletes’ training behind them – their energy requirements lessen and they look to simply maintain their weight. The good news for sprinters is that there’s a reasonable amount of flexibility with what they can eat the night before a medal race. Apart from adhering to the basic principals of a balanced diet, the main recommendations are to limit fibre intake and to avoid a high-fat meal – which can lie heavily in the stomach. Athletes should also stick to familiar dishes to avoid upsetting their digestion with food that they’re not used to the night before a race. Trying local delicacies is best left until after the games have finished.
Rest assured, however, that there is some wriggle room, even in the diet of a world class sprinter. If Bolt’s fabled love of chicken nuggets is indeed true, then he wouldn’t have to constantly deprive himself of his favourite snack. Although eating fried food every day would cause an excess of fat in the diet, the energy demands on athletes are so high during full training that they can get away with more sweet treats and slightly more fat than the average person. So Bolt can afford to indulge as an occasional luxury, and if he’s just won a gold medal, he certainly deserves it.
And although sprinters are recommended to have a slightly higher protein intake for repair and growth than the general population, Bolt’s diet is not fundamentally different to what an average person should be ideally looking to eat, except of course energy requirements would be higher. Most people should eat a well balanced mix of carbohydrates: pasta, bread, cereals and potatoes, and protein foods: meat, fish, cheese, egg and milk, beans and pulses as well as plenty of vitamin loaded fruit and vegetables. And there’s even room for the occasional indulgence, although the rest of us might not have quite as good an excuse as Bolt for a high-fat binge.