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Athlete Nutrition

Adequate nutrition, eating and drinking the right things in the right amounts, is an imperative
component to an athlete’s physical and mental well-being. Making sure that your student’s nutritional
needs are met is crucial in keeping them healthy and safe. Their bodies depend on strength, skill, and
endurance when practicing and competing. Their bodies need fuel. Much like a car, their body cannot
run without the right fuel at the right time. It is important to take special care to get enough calories,
vitamins, and nutrients to provide the energy needed. This is true for all athletes, regardless of their
sport or event.
Every athlete’s needs are different. The amount of food your athlete needs depends on many
factors such as age, height, weight, and level of activity. In general, they need to replace the number of
calories they burn each day. While most people need between 1,500 and 2,000 calories per day,
athletes need to increase this number by 500 to 1,000 more calories since their bodies are expending
so much more.
Calorie burning doesn’t just occur during physical activity. The body uses calories to fuel itself in
all aspects. Calories are used for everything - to think, breathe,
sleep, talk, and for the organs and systems of the body to operate. Age Boys Girls
Many people fear that higher calorie intake equates to gaining (years) (kcals/day) (kcals/day)
weight and being unhealthy. Much like consuming too many 6-7 1,800 1,650
calories can lead to health issues, not consuming enough calories, 7-8 1,950 1,775
or the right kinds of calories can also lead to health problems and
8-9 2,100 1,950
injuries. Getting enough calories and the right kinds of calories is
important. 9-10 2,275 2,125
10-11 2,475 2,300
For athletes, knowing when to eat is as important as
11-12 2,700 2,475
knowing what to eat. Try to eat a pre-meet meal 2 to 4 hours
before your event. Avoid rich and greasy foods. These can be 12-13 2,925 2,625
harder to digest and can cause an upset stomach. It may be helpful 13-14 3,175 2,725
for some to avoid food the hour before a sporting event. This is 14-15 3,450 2,855
because digestion uses up energy and depending on the event, 15-16 3,650 2,875
digestion can cause nausea and throwing up.
16-17 3,825 2,875
Try not to be tempted by junk foods, which are an empty 17-18 3,925 2,875
source of calories. Instead, focus on lean meats, whole grains, and
a mixture of fruits and vegetables to fuel your body. See your doctor for specific recommendations on
the amount of calories your athlete should be consuming daily to maintain their body and brain and
the types of foods that are best for your athlete. The following information is a general suggestion and
overview for nutrition and should not take the place of professional medical advice.
Sources of Nutrients
Calories come in different forms. There are three main sources of calories: carbohydrates, fats,
and proteins. Below you will find explanations for each of the sources and which types of foods provide

Carbohydrates – also called “carbs”

 Carbohydrates are the body’s biggest source of calories.
 Simple carbs are the easiest for your body to break down and provide quick bursts of energy.
o Simple carbs are found in foods such as fruits, milk, and dairy products. These are the
“healthy” sources. Simple carbs can also be found in processed foods and sugary items
such as candy, syrup and soda.
 Complex carbs take longer for the body to process and are a better source of energy over time.
o Complex carbs in whole grain foods are the most nutritious.
o Complex carbohydrates may be referred to as dietary starch and are made of sugar
molecules strung together like a necklace or branched like a coil. Complex
carbohydrates are commonly found in whole plant foods and are also often high in
vitamins and minerals.
o These whole plant foods are great sources of complex carbohydrates:
 Green vegetables
 Whole grains and foods made from them, such as oatmeal, pasta, and whole-
grain breads
 Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and pumpkin
 Beans, lentils, and peas


 Fats are nutrients in food that the body uses to build nerve tissue, including tissue in the
brain. Fats are an important source of calories and a key fuel source when consumed in
small amounts.
 Fats help the body absorb some vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble, meaning
they can only be absorbed if there's fat in a person's diet)
 Fats insulate all nervous system tissues in the body.
 Fats are necessary to a diet but should never replace carbs. Fats should not be excluded or
replaced. Balance in knowing what types of fats and how much to consume is important.
 There are three types of fats – Saturated, Unsaturated, and Trans Fats
o Saturated Fats – solid at room temperature
 Found in meats (beef, pork, chicken) and animal products such as butter,
cheese, milk (except skim or nonfat), and coconut oil.
o Unsaturated Fats – liquid or fluid at room temperature
 Found in plant foods (olives, nuts, seeds) and fish - are considered healthier
than saturated
 Monounsaturated – found in avocados, olive, peanut, and canola oils
 Polyunsaturated – found in most vegetable oils
 Omaga-3 fatty acids – found in fish like tuna and salmon
o Trans Fats – solid at room temperatures
 Found in stick margarines, commercial snack foods, baked goods, and fried
foods. Ex: crackers, cookies, cakes, and microwave popcorn
 They can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease.
 When possible, choose unsaturated fats like olive oil and nuts.


 Proteins build and repair muscle, hair, nails, and skin.

 Proteins help maintain blood sugar levels and provides energy in duration exercise.
 Good sources of protein include lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products, beans and
 Some athletes think consuming large amounts of protein is beneficial. While protein does help
build muscle, high doses do not help them “bulk up”. Too much protein can be harmful. The
digestion process of large amounts of protein can put a strain on the liver and kidneys.
Vitamins and Minerals – also called Micronutrients
 Athletes need vitamins and minerals just like everyone else.
 To stay healthy, eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. It should include foods full of calcium, iron,
potassium, and fiber. Key vitamins, such as A, C, and E are also needed.
o Calcium – important for bone health, enzyme activity, and muscle contraction
 Found in milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, spinach, and fortified grain products
o Vitamin D –important for bone health and involved in the absorption and regulation of
 Found in fortified foods (milk) and sun exposure.
o Iron – important for oxygen delivery to the body’s tissues
 During adolescence, more iron is required to support growth as well as increase
blood volume and muscle mass.
 Iron depletion is common in athletes and can be attributed to diets poor in meat,
fish, and poultry as well as increased iron loss in urine, menstrual periods, and
sweat. Female athletes, vegetarians, and distance runners may require periodic
iron testing.
 Iron rich foods include eggs, leafy green vegetables, fortified whole grains, and
lean meats.
o Potassium – maintains fluid balance, keeps the brain, nerves, heart, and muscles
functioning and protected
 Potassium is an electrolyte, a substance that conducts electricity in the body.
 It is crucial to heart function and plays a role in skeletal and smooth muscle
contraction, including digestive muscle function.
 Potassium is part of every cell in the body.
 Potassium lowers blood pressure and contributes to more flexible arteries.
 Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium.
 Found in meats, some types of fish, fruits, vegetable, and legumes. Can also be
found in dairy products.
 Good sources of potassium include bananas, strawberries, citrus juices
(such as orange juice), avocados, cantaloupes, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet
potatoes, lima beans, flounder, salmon, cod, chicken, and other meats.
HYDRATION – Staying hydrated is one of the most important things athletes can do.
 Fluids help regulate body temperature and replace sweat lost during exercise. During activity,
the body loses fluid through sweat. Sweating is how the body cools itself to prevent damage to
the brain and organs from overheating.
 Dehydration (not enough fluid intake) can decrease performance and put athletes at risk for
health problems and injury. Thirst is a sign of dehydration.
 Hydration takes place before, during, and after activity. Athletes are
encouraged to carry a water bottle with them and to drink regularly
throughout the day – everyday.
 Water is the best way to hydrate. Sports drinks can be beneficial as
well. They can provide electrolytes and carbohydrates.
 Some experts recommend drinking chocolate milk after exercise as the
protein in the milk helps with muscle recovery and it can have less
sugar than some sports drinks. Milk also contains vitamins and
 Avoid drinks that are carbonated or that contain caffeine – they dehydrate rather than hydrate
and can cause athletes to feel anxious or jittery.

Eating AFTER practice and competing

 It is important for athletes to replenish their body’s fuel supply after practice and competition.
Recovery foods should be consumed within 30 min of exercise, and again within 1 h to 2 h of
exercise, to help reload muscles with glycogen and allow for proper recovery. These foods
should include protein and carbohydrates.