A healthy meal plan for athletes is suitable for anyone who has a very active lifestyle. But, are you aware that there are plenty of calories hidden in your favorite snacks and beverages? So, you better start reading those food labels…
Eating for peak athletic performance
Every athlete aspires to have an advantage over their rivals. A thorough dietary plan that corresponds to these physical demands is necessary for daily training and recovery. The following is a review of the keys to optimum nutrition performance intended to support your training and competition.
Athletes have higher energy requirements than the normal individual. Male and female athletes frequently need more than 2,400–3,000 kcal and 2,200–2,700 kcal per day, respectively, especially those who are still growing. The macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) composition of a food determines how much energy it contains.
Macro-nutrient > Energy content
- Carbohydrates > 4 Kcal/gram
- Protein > 4 kcal/gram
- Alcohol* > 7 kcal/gram
- Fat > 9 kcal/gram
*Although alcohol is not considered a macronutrient, it’s important for athletes to realize that it is higher in calories and can contribute to undesirable weight gain.
- For more intense tasks, carbohydrates are the main source of energy. Fruits, vegetables, cereals made from whole grains, breads, and pastas are all good sources of healthy carbohydrates.
- Dietary fat is essential for supporting appropriate hormone levels as well as helping people satisfy their energy demands. Nuts, nut butters, avocados, olive and coconut oils, and nuts themselves are all good sources of fat. Use of vegetable oils, such as soybean, cottonseed, or maize oil, should be limited.
- Dietary protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. Lean meats, eggs, dairy products (yogurt, milk, cottage cheese), and legumes are all preferred sources of protein.
Tips to excel with proper sports nutrition
- Plan to consume a range of fruits and vegetables each day. At least five servings per day should be consumed, with a variety of fruit and vegetable colors. The size of a serving is around that of a baseball. The nutrients and energy needed for exercise and recovery are abundant in fruits and vegetables. Additionally, these meals will aid in your fight against diseases like the flu and the common cold.
- To get a powerful energy boost, use whole grain carbohydrates like whole wheat pasta or bread as well as cereals that are high in fiber. Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugars, such as those found in sugary cereals, white breads, and bagels. Whole-grain items will be more advantageous to you.
- Pick protein-rich foods like chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, almonds, and lentils over less healthful options.
- Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated because a 2% loss in hydration can have a negative effect on performance. You can choose from milk, water, 100% fruit juice, and sports drinks. Be aware, too, that 100% fruit juice and sports drinks frequently have higher sugar content overall and, in the case of fruit juice, less health advantages than their whole-food counterparts. Also, be careful not to mix up “energy” drinks like Red Bull and comparable liquids with sports drinks like Gatorade.
- As much as possible, choose whole food selections rather than overly processed ones.
Planning a nutritious meal
You will have a difficult time achieving your performance objectives if you don’t consume enough calories from the healthiest dietary sources. Consider including at least one item from each area when creating a healthful dinner.
- Starchy vegetables (sweet/white potatoes, squash)
- Non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, leafy greens)
- Whole-grain bread or crackers
- High-fiber, non-sugary cereals
- Brown or wild rice
- Whole eggs (white and yolk)
- Greek yogurt
- String cheese
- Lean red meats
- Peanut butter
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive or canola oil (the latter, if baking)
- Coconut oil
- Flax seed (add to baking or cooking)
Adequate hydration is a key element in sports performance. Most athletes benefit from developing a personal hydration plan. A general rule for training is to consume a minimum:
- Two cups of fluid prior to training
- Four to six ounces of fluid every 15 minutes of exercise
Your overall pre- to post-fluid losses have an impact on your post-event/training hydration needs. Weighing yourself right before and after an exercise will help you make an accurate assessment. Replace lost weight with 16 ounces of liquid for every pound. The best hydration options include water, low-fat milk, and 100% juice. Sports drinks should only be consumed during competitions where immediate hydration and electrolyte replacement are required.
Game day nutrition
There are a few golden rules when it comes to eating on game day:
- Remember, proper nutrition for the “big tournament/race/meet” does not happen on the day of the event alone. It happens the days, weeks, and months leading up to the competition
- Never experiment with a new dietary/supplement protocol on game day. First, try it out prior to a practice/training session to make sure you tolerate it well.
- As you get closer to the game/competition, make your meals smaller. Additionally, you may want to limit dairy, fat and fibrous carbohydrate sources during the last one to one and one-half hours pre-event/practice, as these may cause GI issues.
In order to perform at your best during a tournament, eat well while traveling. During a tournament, relying solely on the concession stand for meals is a recipe for disaster. Pack a range of foods and drinks in advance for the players (and parents).
Pick foods that are high in energy, such as mini-whole wheat bagels with peanut butter, pita bread with hummus, tortilla wraps with vegetables and lean meat, hard-boiled eggs, vegetable or bean soups, whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese, and spaghetti with grilled chicken. Any of these dishes are delicious when served with fruit or vegetables, milk, and milk.
Healthy food choices > Not-so-healthy food choices
- Grilled chicken, turkey or fish > Fried chicken or fish
- Lean beef or pork > Burgers, sausage, bacon
- Fruits, vegetables, salads, veggie-based soups > French fries, fried rice, alfredo or cheese sauce
- Nuts, trail mix, seeds or peanut butter > Chips, cheese curls, pork rinds
- Eggs or egg substitues > Omeletes loaded with cheese, hash browns and sausage
- Who grain breads, rice and pasta > Highly-processed white bread, rice and pasta
- Dairy products > Dairy products with excessive added sugars, like ice cream
As you get closer to the game/competition, make your meals smaller, removing fats and dairy products. Fibrous carbohydrates can be beneficial as these tend to cause GI disturbances.
The key thing with “pre-event” nutrition is making sure that you’ve tested it out before game day. Try the pre-meal/snack protocol in advance to make sure you tolerate it well.
8 of the Best Diet Plans and Programs for Athletes
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A quick look at the best diets for athletes
It can be difficult to find a diet that is healthy, productive, and sustainable, especially for athletes.
This is due to the fact that what you eat can have a significant impact on how well you perform physically, so you may need to adjust it to meet your unique fitness objectives.
Thankfully, there are several diet plans and workout regimens available, with options for any athlete.
The diets featured in this article fit the following criteria:
- Nutritionally balanced. These plans are balanced and provide nutrients that may be especially beneficial for athletes.
- Sustainable. You can follow these plans safely for extended periods of time. They are not overly restrictive.
- Effective. Research has shown that these plans, or elements of them, are effective, and they may offer benefits specifically for athletes.
- Easy to follow. They have clear guidelines that are simple to follow.
Here are 8 of the best diet plans and programs for every athlete.
Best overall: Mediterranean diet
The historic diets of nations like Italy, Spain, and Greece are the inspiration for the Mediterranean diet.
It discourages the consumption of processed foods and promotes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and heart-healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
These foods are abundant in several nutrients, including calcium, iron, and magnesium, which are crucial for athletes.
Check out “The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Beginners” for more details on the Mediterranean diet, including meal planning and recipes.
Best for men: Flexitarian diet
The flexitarian diet, often known as semi-vegetarianism, emphasizes plant-based foods such fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
It does, however, permit a small amount of animal items including meat, fish, and fowl, unlike vegan or vegetarian diets.
One research indicated that eating a plant-based diet could help people lose weight, boost blood flow, reduce inflammation, and store more glycogen, a type of carbohydrate found in muscles that can be used as an immediate source of energy.
When combined with physical training, it may also be simpler to meet your protein demands because it is less restrictive than traditional vegetarian diets.
Additionally, it can aid in lowering a number of heart disease risk factors. Men may benefit the most from this because they may be more likely than women to get heart issues.
Try reading “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life” if you’re interested in learning more about the flexitarian diet.
Best for women: DASH diet
The National Institutes of Health were the primary developers of the heart-healthy diet known as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
Whole foods that are high in nutrients are encouraged in the diet, such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy.
The DASH diet is not only balanced and full of essential nutrients, but it may also be particularly advantageous for female athletes, who are often more likely to be affected by bone problems including osteopenia and osteoporosis.
In order to support bone health, the DASH diet actually advises adherents to consume foods high in calcium, such as low-fat dairy. The DASH diet, according to studies, may aid in boosting bone density.
Best for gaining muscle: Paleo diet
The paleo diet is based on what is thought to have been the typical diet of early hunter-gatherers during the Paleolithic period.
The diet excludes processed foods, grains, legumes, sugar, and the majority of dairy products but is high in animal proteins, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.
When paired with strength training, the diet, which is normally heavy in protein, may be an excellent choice to promote muscle building.
There are a number of alternatives to the paleo diet if you find it to be excessively restrictive or challenging to adhere to. These include modified versions of the paleo diet that permit gluten-free cereals and grass-fed butter.
You can read “Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle” to find out more about the paleo diet and see if it’s good for you.
Best for weight loss: Noom
Noom is a mobile app diet program that encourages behavioral adjustments in order to help you lose weight in a sustainable, long-term manner.
It asks you a number of questions when you join up to gather information about your present diet and way of living. As a result, it might be an excellent choice for athletes seeking a more individualized strategy that takes into consideration their training.
Access to your virtual coaching team, which offers additional social support and encouragement, is also included with membership.
Noom advises members to eat nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins rather than completely avoiding particular foods.
Athletes with a busy schedule may find the program to be a wonderful fit because it is entirely online and only needs a smartphone.
Best for endurance: Nordic diet
The traditional diets of Nordic nations including Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway are the foundation of the Nordic diet, a type of eating behavior.
Foods that are processed, refined, or high in added sugar are discouraged, while locally grown produce, whole grains, fish, low-fat dairy, and legumes are given priority.
The diet allows for a wide variety of carbs, so endurance athletes can get enough of long-lasting energy from it.
In fact, experts frequently advise endurance athletes to eat high-carbohydrate, easily digestible foods like fruit or yogurt to assist feed their muscles during activity.
The Nordic diet not only encourages these foods, but it also encourages foods high in protein and good fats to balance your diet.
Consider reading “The Nordic Diet: Using Local and Organic Food to Promote a Healthy Lifestyle” to learn more about how to follow the Nordic diet.
Most convenient: Trifecta
Consider ordering preprepared meals from Trifecta if you’re searching for a quick approach to eat healthily and improve your athletic performance without spending a lot of effort on meal preparation.
This brand offers dishes with lean proteins, complex carbs, and wholesome vegetables that are tailored exclusively for athletes.
Organic veggies, wild-caught fish, grass-fed pork, and free-range chicken are just a few of the premium components used by the business.
Additionally, the program supports a variety of eating plans. It offers flexible subscription choices for paleo, keto, vegan, and vegetarian diets.
You can order individual items à la carte, including protein packs that contain prepared meat, fish, or chicken, for a quick way to add more protein to your diet while training.
Best meal kit: Green Chef
Green Chef is a fantastic choice for athletes looking to enhance their physical performance and culinary skills by consuming more wholesome, home-cooked meals.
It’s an organic meal kit company that offers all the materials you need, along with straightforward, step-by-step instructions, to make delicious, nutritious feasts at home.
The program offers a variety of menu options, including meal plans for Balanced Living, Plant-Powered, and Keto + Paleo.
Every meal comes with a list of components and comprehensive nutritional information, which may be helpful for athletes monitoring their intake of macronutrients.
Depending on your fitness objectives, you can choose meals that are higher in protein, carbohydrates, or healthy fats when creating your weekly menu.
How to choose the best diet for athletics
Finding a diet plan or program that works for you might be difficult because there are so many options available.
Consider whether you prefer a flexible program or a more structured program with clear limits for which foods are allowed when choosing a plan.
Finding a plan that accommodates your food tastes and any additional dietary restrictions you might have is also crucial.
Additionally, think about how well your diet aligns with your athletic objectives.
For instance, carbohydrate intake may be increased for endurance athletes, whereas protein intake may increase muscle mass when combined with resistance exercise.
Last but not least, stay away from programs that are extremely restrictive. They can be more difficult to follow and ultimately unsustainable, which can make it harder to achieve your dietary demands.
The bottom line
Every sort of athlete can choose from a wide variety of food plans and programs.
Be sure to take into account your objectives, tastes, and dietary limitations when choosing a plan that will work for you. Try to stay away from excessively restricted or unsustainable diets.
10 FOODS ATHLETES SHOULD EAT
Learn about the foods that athletes should consume to perform at their best. Encourage peak sports performance, healthy growth, and wellbeing. A young athlete’s success on and off the field can be boosted by these nutrients.
The enigma surrounding what foods should be a part of your young athlete’s diet is never-ending, in part due to the fact that new foods are continually being touted as miracle cures while old favorites fall out of favor.
Recall the controversy over coconut oil? Yes, if you want to have a healthy heart in the future, this is not such a good idea.
Athletes should take into account both their nutritional needs for growth and development and those for athletic performance when choosing meals to eat.
A Child Athlete Meal Plan Should Consist Of 7 Key Elements
To breakdown the nutrition aspect for young athletes, generally an athlete’s meal plan should include:
- Adequate calories for growth, development and performance
- Protein for muscle growth and repair
- Carbohydrates for muscle energy
- Fat for fat-soluble vitamins and rounding out caloric requirements
- Vitamins and minerals to maintain health and development of brain, bones and the body
- Water and other fluids to maintain hydration
- Fiber for normal bowel movements and gut health
I see young athletes make mistakes with their food choices and eating habits as a youth sports nutrition specialist and author of Eat Like a Champion.
As a mother who has brought up her own young athletes, I am also familiar with the challenges associated with feeding them and promoting a healthy diet.
I discuss some of the harmful eating habits of young athletes in this post and go into some of the essential foods for top performers.
These should be a part of your athlete’s meal regimen.
The Best Foods for Athletes
- Ready-to-Eat Cereal
- 100% Orange Juice
- Milk or Soy Milk
- Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
- Orange Fruits & Vegetables
Unhealthy Eating Patterns Get in the Way
It comes as no surprise that many kids and teenagers are deficient in essential nutrients including calcium, vitamin D, fiber, and potassium.
In addition to reducing nutritional consumption, skipping breakfast, snacking on unnutritious foods, or employing weight-loss techniques like diets might affect sports performance.
To further complicate matters, effective nutrition for athletes depends on a number of additional factors that aren’t often connected to food.
One benefit of eating at regular intervals throughout the day is that it helps the athlete satisfy his or her appetite and fulfill all of his or her nutritional needs.
Second, a good nutritional balance, especially in terms of protein and carbohydrate, can help with effective recovery and continuous muscle growth.
One thing is certain: Food selection counts. Even though the ideal nutrition strategy for athletes entails many specifics.
Having a well-balanced diet is important for young athletes, but I’m not advocating going completely organic or avoiding harmful foods.
In fact, I think some foods can be really effective additions to an athlete’s diet. They support promoting a balanced diet and top athletic performance.
You may feel comfortable that you are implementing the best nutrition for training and performance if you can start incorporating these meals into your athlete’s meal plan.
10 Foods You Should Eat Everyday if You’re an Athlete (Or, Most Days)
You can read my top 10 list of the healthiest meals for athletes, why I think they’re the greatest, and how to eat them.
Your athlete will be well on his way to fuelling himself better if he incorporates the following items into his or her eating regimen.
Healthy fats, fiber, protein, magnesium, and vitamin E are all abundant in nuts. Take a handful with you to practice, or use them to top yogurt or oatmeal.
Put a small bag of peanuts, almonds, or cashews in the gym bag for a quick and enjoyable snack if nut allergies are not an issue.
Similar to nuts, seeds are full of fiber, healthy fats, magnesium and vitamin E. Eat them like you would nuts.
They are a great substitute if your athlete is allergic to nuts.
3. Ready-to-eat Cereal (cold cereal)
Cereal is fortified with nutrients such as folic acid, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and E, making them a good source of nutrients.
Have it for breakfast, snack, or dinner in a pinch, but beware of choosing cereal with too much sugar.
Cereals with less than 8 or 9 grams of sugar per serving are best.
4. 100% Orange Juice
OJ is a fantastic source of folic acid and vitamin C, and you may increasingly buy juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
But don’t guzzle it!
Juice consumption for children aged 7 to 18 years should be limited to one cup (8 ounces) per day, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
When drunk in quantities greater than one cup per day, orange juice can be a major source of calories.
Magical indeed! Full of fiber, protein, iron, zinc and magnesium—find ways to fit beans into your athlete’s diet plan.
Roast them for a crunchy snack, top a salad, layer into a burrito, or throw them in with diced tomatoes for a hearty pasta dish.
Cheese is a quick and easy snack, especially when packaged in sticks or blocks. Mix cheese into casseroles, pasta and layer it in sandwiches.
Cheese is full of calcium, potassium, and protein.
Yogurt is a good source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein. Go for Greek varieties if you are looking for extra protein from whole foods (though most young athletes don’t need large amounts of protein in their diet).
Eat yogurt as part of a meal, a snack, or dessert.
8. Milk or Soy milk
In addition to being fortified with vitamin D, dairy milk provides a natural source of calcium, potassium, and protein. All milk contains these nutrients, however the number of calories depends on how much fat is present in the milk.
When they are in a growth spurt or participating in a high-calorie sport, some young athletes find it challenging to achieve their nutritional and caloric needs during the day.
If you’re unsure as to which type of milk—whole, low-fat, or skim—would be best for your athlete, I’ve done the research and outlined the advantages and disadvantages for you in this post about whole milk.
If soy milk is your preferred choice, make sure it is calcium and vitamin D fortified and shake the carton before drinking to prevent the minerals from sinking to the bottom.
After a strenuous workout, many athletes drink chocolate milk to assist their muscles recuperate.
This is a proven method to refuel and recuperate after more than an hour of sweating exercise, according to a wealth of studies.
Protein is used to repair muscles, and the combination of carbohydrates and protein helps muscles be replenished with energy in the form of glycogen.
9. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Dark green leafy veggies like kale, spinach and collard greens offer iron and calcium.
Pair these with foods that are high in vitamin C, such as red peppers, tomatoes or citrus fruit, or serve them with meat to maximize the absorption of iron.
10. Orange Fruits and Vegetables
These aid in maintaining a healthy immune system in athletes since they are packed with potassium, vitamins C, E, and A.
Athletes that are strong and healthy won’t be benched!