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Dietary Tips for the Athlete

Content by: Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD

The sports diet requires a commitment for managing intake to meet activity levels. Learn more...

Dietary Tips for the Athlete





Managing the sports diet is necessary for greater strength, improved training and rigorous competition. Use these sports nutrition tips to support the young athlete.

• Cereal, bread, oatmeal, rice, pasta, and other grain-foods—as well as all types of vegetables and fruits—are excellent sources of carbohydrate that fuel your muscles.
• Lentils, chickpeas, pintos and other kinds of beans and legumes are also excellent carbohydrate and nutrient-rich sports foods.
• Sugary foods (soda, gels, sport drinks, candy) can fuel your muscles, but lack the vitamins and minerals that keep you healthy.
• Carbohydrates—not protein or fat—get stored in muscles as glycogen. When your glycogen stores get depleted during exercise, you end up feeling fatigued. Consuming abundant grains, fruits and veggies on a daily basis can reduce fatigue and enhance stamina.
• While carbs are best to fuel muscles, protein builds and repairs muscles. Include a protein-rich food at each meal along with the carbs.

• Pre-exercise bananas, crackers or a granola bar are easily digested carbs that can give an energy boost.
• Better yet, prevent the need for an afternoon energy boost by eating bigger breakfast and lunch.

• Experiment during training to learn which pre-exercise foods—and portion size— settle well. Some popular choices include cereal, banana, canned peaches, granola bars, toast and pasta. Large, fatty meals (burgers, fried foods) are harder to digest and poor choices.
• The night before a game, eat easy-to-digest, carb-based meals such as spaghetti with meatballs, beans and rice or chicken with rice and veggies.
• Before a 10:00 a.m. game, eat breakfast (cereal, bagel) by 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. and a pre-game snack (granola bar, banana) within an hour before the game, as tolerated.
• Before a 4:00 p.m. afternoon game, eat a hearty breakfast and lunch (soup + sandwich), plus a pre-game snack (crackers, pretzels).
• Before an evening event, eat an early pasta dinner.

• To prevent dehydration, drink fluids before, during and after strenuous exercise. Urine should be pale yellow (like lemonade), not dark (like apple cider). Urinate every 2 to 4 hours.
• Water is a good choice before and during exercise lasting less than an hour.
• For exercise longer than 1 hour, choose a sports drink to help maintain high energy.
• Chocolate milk is an excellent recovery drink, preferable to a sports drink because it offers carbs and protein.

• Muscles refuel the quickest within the hour after hard exercise. Plan ahead, so recovery foods will be readily available.
• Muscles want more carbs than protein, so always choose a bigger portion of carb (pasta, rice, bread) than meat/protein.
• For those that sweat a lot, choose salty foods—soup, spaghetti sauce, cheese, salt sprinkled on your next meal—to replace the sodium lost in sweat.

Quick Tip!
1. Plan ahead to have the right foods available at the right times.
2. Experiment with types of foods and portions that settle well.
3. Hydrate well before, during, and after exercise.
4. Eat for recovery.

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