Nutrition for Athletes: What to Eat When You’re an Athlete

nutrition for athletes

Compared to the public, athletes have different dietary needs. So, nutrition for athletes may look different from the average person’s diet. For example, they may require additional calories or an alternative breakdown of macronutrients to ensure they have enough strength and energy to compete in their sport.

Additionally, athletes and sports professionals may also need more vitamins and minerals to maintain optimal recovery times and performance. Plus, they may need to consider the timing of their meals and hydration.

This article will discuss nutrition for athletes, why good nutrition is essential, and the breakdown of macronutrients in the best diet for athletes.

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What Are the Nutritional Needs of an Athlete?

Good nutrition is essential for everyone to ensure optimum health and energy levels. For athletes, food is vital for supporting their performance, training, and their general health. The best diet for athletes meets the demands of training and preparation. Therefore enabling them to perform competitively, and supporting their recovery between training sessions.

To ensure their optimum performance, an athlete may need to consider:

  • Meal and snack times
  • Hydration
  • Their calorie needs and intake
  • Vitamins and minerals for both performance and recovery
  • Macronutrient ratios
  • An athlete’s weight and body composition, the time spent training, and the physical energy exerted in their activity will be factored into these decisions and how they can use nutrition to support their performance.


According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 – 2025, the ideal macronutrient ratios are:

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of daily calorie intake
  • Protein: 10-35% of daily calorie intake
  • Fat: 20-35% of daily calorie intake

However, those participating in more physical activity can adjust these ratios to suit their needs. Therefore, an endurance athlete would increase their daily intake of carbohydrates, while a strength athlete would increase their protein intake.


For many athletes, carbohydrates are the go-to fuel source, particularly for those participating in high-intensity and long-duration events. This is because carbohydrates supply a lot of glycogen storage and blood glucose, fueling exercise.

Healthy carbohydrates for sports nutrition can include whole grains, such as quinoa and oats, and starchy vegetables, such as sweet potatoes.


In addition to carbs, protein has an essential role in nutrition for athletes. Protein supports the body by providing amino acids to build and repair muscle and tissue. Athletes may benefit from increasing their protein intake by more than twice the recommended amount.

Healthy protein sources include lean meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy products, and soy products such as tofu.

Interested in learning about meat sweats? Learn more from Opt Health!


Fat is vital for supporting and maintaining bodily processes such as hormone metabolism. Including healthy fats in your diet can increase satiety and serve as a source of fuel for athletes with high energy needs. According to recommendations from the International Society of Sports Nutrition, athletes should consume around 30% of their daily intake of calories through fats. However, those with higher volume training needs can increase this to 50%.

Healthy fats include olive oil, nuts, seeds, oily fish, avocados, and seeds.

Diet for Athletes: What’s on an Athlete’s Plate?

As previously mentioned, we all benefit from a well-rounded diet, but athletes will find a balanced diet enhances their performance. The table below shows some examples of foods in each category.

FruitEggs (white and yolk)Nut butter
Starchy vegetables such as sweet or white potatoesDairy products such as Greek yogurtOlive oil
Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens & broccoliLean red meatsAvocado
Whole grainsPoultryNuts and seeds
High-fiber, non-sugary cerealsSoy products such as tofu or tempehHummus
Brown or white riceFlax seeds
OatmealOily fish

What Is the Most Important Nutrient for Athletes?

It’s often overlooked, but adequate hydration is one of the most important nutrients for athletes. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, when a person loses 2% or more of their body weight through sweat, it can significantly impair performance.

Typically, athletes consume the essential vitamins and minerals through a varied, balanced diet. However, some may choose to increase their vitamin intake by taking supplements or performance-enhancing aids such as creatine.

What Foods Should Athletes Avoid?

Before competition or training, athletes should avoid fried foods, dairy, and refined carbs, as they can leave an athlete feeling drowsy and losing concentration. Instead, opt for a mix of carbs, protein, and healthy fats to enhance your performance.

Does When Athletes Eat Matter?

The timing of eating and drinking can contribute to an athlete’s performance, supporting their training goals, reducing fatigue, and optimizing body composition. However, the guidelines will vary according to sport and training routine. In addition, the American College of Sports Medicine and the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends that athletes eat every 3-4 hours throughout the day.

Whether you’re an athlete looking for support optimizing your nutrition or looking for help with combatting fatigue and energy loss during your workouts, consider speaking with a specialized men’s health physician.

At Opt Health, our team of specialized men’s health doctors can provide treatment and test results in the comfort and privacy of your own home. As well as increasing men’s vitality through longevity medicine, we want to help you feel like you again.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or want to book an appointment.

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