Meal Planning for Athletes: Ensuring Essential Nutrition in Athlete Meal Plans

Meal Planning for Athletes: Ensuring Essential Nutrition in Athlete Meal Plans
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thletes require energy to perform, and blood oxygen provides the athlete with this energy in the form of calories. When the stored up oxygen in the blood depletes, athletes are deprived of calories and exhaust themselves.Good meal planning for athletes provides the athletes with adequate calories to last the workout, enabling them to perform better.

The major nutrients that provide calories to athletes are carbohydrates, fat and proteins. Carbohydrates provide more energy per unit of oxygen consumed compared to fat and proteins, and for this reason most balanced athlete meal plans ensure more than half the calories come from carbohydrates, around 20 percent from lean proteins and the remaining 30 percent from unsaturated fats.


The most effective carbohydrate diet for athletes is food with a low or medium glycemic index, which are slow burning complex carbohydrates. Meal plans for athlete therefore include whole-wheat flour foods such as brown bread, wheat pasta, and brown rice, unprocessed cereals such as oats, pasta, spaghetti, pulses, and long grain rice, fruits such as apple and banana, and other grain products.

Food with a high glycemic index, or refined carbohydrates convert to blood glucose fast and depletes the body of B-complex and calcium, adversely affecting the athlete’s wellness. Examples of carbohydrate sources with high glycemic index include sugar, short grain wheat rice, confectionery, white bread, and the like. Consumption of such foods is however advisable post workout, for such food serve the purpose of replenishing the required energy at a fast pace.


Like carbohydrates, fats provide the athletes with energy. The athlete’s body might derive about half of the total required energy from free fatty acid metabolism for moderate exercises that last for less than an hour, and about three-fourths of the total energy requirements for prolonged aerobic work.

The best type of fat for athletes is unsaturated fats from sources such as vegetable oils, nuts, lean protein, and low fat diary. Saturated fats in excess of 20 grams a day or more than ten percent of the total calorie intake, and all trans-fat are harmful and need avoidance.

Consumption of caffeine prior and during the athlete’s performance increases the rate of fat metabolism, and is a good way to ensure that the body’s energy sources last longer. The danger is however caffeine’s association with insomnia, restlessness, ringing of the ears, and its diuretic property that induce the need to urinate.


Protein is the third major source of energy for athletes after carbohydrates and fats. The optimal protein intake for athletes is 10 to 12 percent of the total calories intake, which translates to between 1.2 and 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Resistance and strength-trained athletes might require a higher quantity of protein, in the range of 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Good protein sources include grilled chicken breast, lean ground turkey, tuna and other fish, lean cuts of beef, egg whites, low fat milk and cheese, cottage cheese, soy, beans, tofu and most fruits and vegetables.

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Good meal planning for athletes limits the quantity of protein to the recommended levels. Carbohydrates and Fat are better sources of energy for an athlete and excessive protein intake deprives the athlete of such more efficient fuel. Protein also comes with nitrogen that the body needs to flush out through urine. A high protein diet increases the body’s requirement of water, and cause dehydration. Excessive protein consumption also increases the metabolic rate that causes increased oxygen consumption, leading to athletes tiring faster.


Meal Plans for Athlete

An important component of athlete meal plans is hydration. Athletes loose excessive fluid through sweat and need to replace the lost fluid at event time itself, without slipping into dehydration mode. Water also regulates the athlete’s body temperature.

The athlete needs to take fluids at regular intervals without waiting to be thirsty, for thirst is a manifestation of dehydration. The optimal quantity of fluid intake is half the body weight in ounces, with 12 to 20 ounces two to three hours prior to exercise, and 6 to 12 ounce every fifteen to twenty minutes during exercise.

Chilled fluids are preferable to ordinary fluids, for the body absorbs chilled fluids faster. Addition of salt with the water ensures the fluid remaining in the body long enough to do its hydration work. Addition of glucose and electrolytes to the water increases the rate of absorption of the water.

Balanced Diet

A successful meal plan for athletes is not just loading the menu with the required athletes nutrition. The key to success rather lies in a balanced athlete diet with variety in menu, and moderation.

The ideal strategy is to spread the food intake evenly throughout the day instead of resorting to two or three large meals. Small meals increase the energy absorption levels and prevent over eating. Three small meals interposed with three snacks form the optimal eating schedule.

Breakfast form a critical component in the athletes meal plan. A balanced breakfast high in fiber and an average amount of protein provides significant amount of calories and other nutrients, and prevents mid-morning hunger. Skipping breakfast on the other hand causes hypoglycemia, leading to weakness.

A combination of good eating with a good training and conditioning program makes a successful athlete.


This article does not constitute medical or dietary advice. Readers are requested to take professional help before acting on the information contained in this article.


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