I often times get asked by athletes “What should I be eating?” That’s a pretty vague question and there really isn’t just one answer, however, there are some simple guidelines that can help lead an athlete to better performance. In general athletes need to consume a diet that is high in carbohydrates, low in saturated fats and contains enough protein to rebuild the muscle breakdown that takes place during their training.
Carbohydrates are our number one energy source and the fuel we need to compete at a high level. A diet that contains 60% of its total calories from carbohydrates is recommended for most athletes. These carbohydrates should come from whole grain pasta/bread, rice, potatoes, fruits and starchy vegetables.
All athletes know that protein is important, but many protein sources also contain saturated fats that need to be avoided. Quality protein choices include lean meats, fish, low fat dairy, poultry and beans. Protein intake depends on the size of the athlete, activity the athlete is doing and the overall goals of the athlete. A good rule of thumb is .5 – .75g of protein/lb of body weight. Those athletes looking to increase muscle mass or those that experience extreme muscle breakdown during their sport may require higher levels.
Fats have a bad reputation, but they’re also an important part of every diet. Athletes should get about 20% of their calories from fat. The key is being able to recognize the “good” fats from the “bad” fats. “Good” or unsaturated fat can be found in nuts, oils and fish.
Finding a proper diet plan is a very individualized process and depends on a number of variables. Following the steps above will help build a solid nutritional foundation and get most athletes started in the right direction. From there, a little modification will have you competing at a higher level than ever before!