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Nutrition for Athletes: Fueling Your Body for Optimal Performance

Published June 12, 2024

NUTRITION FOR ATHLETES: FUELING YOUR BODY FOR OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE

NUTRITION FOR ATHLETES: FUELING YOUR BODY FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE

According to physiology experts, nutrition for athletes is often the difference between a mediocre performer and a champion. Well-planned and varied healthy eating is crucial to athletic performance. But in a sea of fad diets and processed snacks, it can be a challenge to get back to basics.

Ultimately, the most effective way to optimise your results is by following a simple food pyramid (with some adjustments accounting for activity levels) and listening to your body’s hunger cues.

If you’re hoping to optimise your diet for better athletic performance, you’ve come to the right place. Read on for our top tips on fueling your body over the course of your workout journey.

1. PACK IN THE PROTEIN

About 15-25% of an athlete’s diet should be comprised of wholefood sources of lean protein. These might include: 

Poultry
Lean red meat
Fish
Hummus
Tofu
Beans
Milk
Greek yogurt
Eggs (both yolk and whites)
Cheese 

Not only does sufficient protein intake help keep you satiated, but it’s also crucial to your body’s recovery after each workout. Every cell in your body is made up of protein, so replenishing that protein is essential in repairing the microtrauma your muscle fibers undergo each time you exercise.

Staying on top of your protein intake also helps prevent injury and even prolonged muscle soreness, and will help you see results faster as your body can recover more effectively.

In general, athletes should consume 1.4–2.0 grams of protein per kilo of body weight each day.

2. GET ENERGISED WITH CARBS

Carbohydrates provide a burst of short-term energy, which means they should make up the bulk of your plate as an active person. In fact, about 45-65% of your diet should come from carbs (perhaps even more if you perform physical activity for over an hour each day). 

When possible, choose unprocessed sources of carbs with a low glycemic index (GI). These foods will cause less of a spike in blood sugar levels, are easier on the liver, and can help with weight loss (if that’s your goal). 

Examples of healthy, low-GI carbohydrate sources include: 

Unprocessed oatmeal
Whole-grain bread or crackers
High-fiber, non-sugary cereals
Quinoa
Brown or wild rice 

In general, go for whole grains while avoiding refined carbs and sugars.

3. INCLUDE FRUIT AND VEGETABLES

Believe it or not, most fruits and vegetables are classified as “carbohydrates,” and they should make up about half of your plate at each meal. Fruits and vegies not only provide that burst of energy but also essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that are crucial to digestion, hydration, recovery, and injury prevention.

Some fruits and vegies can also help you hit your quota in other categories rather than just for your carbohydrate intake, like avocado for healthy fats or sweet potatoes in place of another starch. Otherwise, do your best to incorporate them wherever you can (spinach in a protein shake or as a base for a salad, apples and oranges as snacks, etc.).

4. GO THE DISTANCE WITH HEALTHY FATS

The remaining 20-35% of an athlete’s diet should come from healthy fats. Eating monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (while steering clear of more heavily processed saturated and trans fats) is crucial for sustaining long-term energy during physical activity.

Fats are what keep you going during lower-intensity exercise, and are a key factor in building muscle mass and the absorption of certain vitamins.

Good sources of monounsaturated fats (characterised by the single carbon bond in each molecule) include: 

Avocado
Almonds
Cashews
Peanuts
Extra virgin olive oil
Rice bran oil 

Examples of polyunsaturated fats (with more than one carbon bond per molecule) worth picking up at the grocery store include: 

Walnuts
Flaxseeds
Soybeans
Fatty fish (such as salmon or mackerel)
Tahini (sesame seed paste)
Brazil nuts 

While healthy fats should be consumed in smaller quantities compared to carbs and protein, it's still vital to include them in your diet every day as an athlete.

5. HYDRATE FOR RECOVERY

When it comes to an athlete’s diet, the importance of hydration is just as relevant as food is. Our bodies are 60% water, and when we exercise, we lose fluid rapidly through sweat. If you feel thirsty, you’re likely already dehydrated—so it’s best to drink water continuously regardless of thirst.

In general, you should drink:

About 500-750ml of water 2-3 hours before your workout

125-250ml water every 15-20 minutes as you work out

1-1.5L of water per every kilo of body weight lost during your workout after it’s complete (you can weigh yourself to keep track of how much fluid you’ve lost). 

Don’t forget to bring a water bottle with you every time you go to the gym, and consider investing in a collapsible water bottle or small backpack for longer runs and bike rides designed specifically for endurance athletes.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT TIME TO SNACK

While what you choose to eat is paramount when it comes to sports nutrition, when you eat can be just as impactful for peak performance in athletes.

According to Mayo Clinic, it’s best to eat larger meals 3-4 hours before you exercise and refuel with a small, carb-heavy snack 1-2 hours before your workout. If your workout lasts longer than an hour (eg, a long run), you might want to refuel with something like an energy bar, race gel, or banana during a pit stop for optimal sports recovery.

Within two hours after your workout, replenish the energy you’ve expended with a snack containing both lean protein and carbs (such as a peanut butter sandwich, or chocolate milk).

FUEL UP AND SUIT UP WITH P.E NATION

Once you’ve fueled your body for a workout through proper nutrient intake and hydration, there’s one more step to take before you hit the gym: donning the proper attire. If you’re in need of a gear refresh, look no further—P.E Nation has you covered with high-quality, supportive, comfortable, and stylish activewear. If you need some outfit inspiration, you can explore our detailed guide on choosing the perfect workout set.

Whether your sport is endurance running, tennis, skiing, or good old-fashioned weight training, P.E Nation has apparel tailored to your needs. From workout tops to women’s leggings and yoga bags, we’ll have you suited up in no time. We even offer specialised collections, like our Sustainability Edit.

With your outfits on deck and performance nutrition know-how on lock, getting in shape couldn’t be less of a sweat.

 

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But what exactly is an infrared sauna? And are these health benefits fact or fiction?

Don’t worry—we’re here to help. Read our guide to learn what infrared saunas are, infrared sauna benefits, and tips for adding them to your wellness regimen.

Sources:

Wageningen University & Research. What nutrition benefits (top) athletes?

Better Health Channel. Sporting performance and food. 

University of Wisconsin Health. Eating for Peak Athletic Performance.

Medical University of South Carolina Health. The Importance of Protein in the Student-Athlete Diet.

Healthline. Glycemic Index: What It Is and How to Use It.

Lancaster General Health. What Athletes Should Eat: Back to the Basic Food Groups.

New South Wales Institute of Sport. An athlete’s guide to understanding dietary fat.

Family Doctor. Nutrition for Athletes.

Mayo Clinic. Healthy Lifestyle: Fitness.

American Heart Association. Food as Fuel Before, During, and After Workouts.