The special sports diet is for people who practice high-intensity physical activities. In the athlete, the consequences of a poor diet can be multiple: decreased performance, lack of energy, poor recovery, risk of injury and hypoglycemia, etc. The athlete’s diet must therefore cover the needs associated with major energy expenditure and provide all the nutrients the body needs to perform and recover.
The essential points of the sports regime:
- Focus on carbohydrates
- Consume lean protein
- Limit fat
- Have good hydration
- Choose foods according to your tolerance
Benefits of the sports diet
The benefits of the sports diet are multiple, it allows you to:
- Have enough energy
- Cover energy needs according to expenditure
- Increase performance and endurance
- Reduce recovery time
- Avoid dizziness and hypoglycemia
- Limit the risk of injury
- Increase coordination
- Avoid muscle wasting and anemia
- Prevent premature aging due to oxidative stress
Sports nutrition is aimed at athletes practicing sports sessions of more than 1 hour, at high intensity, and more than 4 times a week. For people who have moderate physical activity (sessions of less than an hour and less than 4 times a week), a balanced diet and good hydration are sufficient.
In addition, the exact amounts of water, carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids depend on the type of activity and many other factors (sex, age, weight, height, etc.). It is, therefore, preferable to call on a qualified dietitian for personalized recommendations.
Sports nutrition: dietary recommendations
Diet and sport are closely linked, so it is important to follow a special sports diet for many reasons: better performance, reduced risk of injury and hypoglycemia, optimization of recovery time, etc. Food is, in fact, one of the keys to athletic success.
The recommended diet for athletes
Carbohydrates have the first place in the athlete’s meal, but they must be accompanied by the right nutrients for optimal action. Thus, it will be necessary to ensure to integrate the right proteins, to have the right level of hydration at the right time, and to integrate enough antioxidants. As we will also see, dietetic products for athletes can have a prominent place in the diet of athletes, provided they are well chosen.
In sports nutrition, carbohydrates are the basis of the diet. It is necessary to consume a lot of it because their storage is limited. They help prevent hypoglycemia and provide the body with energy throughout the workout. After ingestion, they are stored in the liver and in the muscles as glycogen. If these hepatic and muscle reserves are full, then we see better sports performance because glycogen is the source of energy most quickly available during exercise. Carbohydrates are an integral part of sports nutrition before, during, and after exercise. They should represent 55 to 60% of the total calories ingested.
Care will be taken to promote complex carbohydrates which provide energy to the body in the long term. They also affect blood sugar levels much less. Fast carbohydrates (white sugar, chocolate, honey, candy, etc.), on the contrary, provide energy for a very short time and cause blood sugar spikes. In some cases, they can be consumed during exercise or during recovery.
The complex carbohydrates to favor in the sports diet are the following:
- Wholemeal pasta, brown rice, bulgur, whole couscous
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole grains
To obtain 15g of carbohydrates, you will need to consume:
- 1 slice of bread
- 1/2 bagel
- 1/3 cup of cooked pasta or rice
- 1/2 cup cooked legumes
- 1 fresh fruit
- 1/2 cereal bar
- 125ml of fruit juice
Proteins must also be part of the athlete’s meals. They promote the stability of energy. They also help maintain tissue and muscle fibers. However, many protein foods contain fat that you want to avoid. It is therefore necessary to promote low-fat proteins in the sports diet. Here are some examples :
- Skinless poultry
- Fish and seafood
- Lean meats
- Low-fat cheeses and dairy products
- Soy milk
8g of protein are contained, on average, in:
- 250ml milk
- 1 yogurt
- 30g of cheese
- 30g of meat, poultry, fish, or seafood
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup of legumes
Protein requirements according to the type of sport:
Since exercise alters the thirst mechanism, you should not wait until you are thirsty to drink. The thirst reflex is often triggered when we are already 1% or 2% dehydrated. At this stage, our performance has already decreased by 10%.
To know the quantity of water to take before and during the effort, it is first necessary to assess the losses incurred during the activity in question. Here’s how to do it:
1. Weigh yourself before and after the effort (example: before 69 kg, after 67 kg).
2. Note the quantity of water drunk during exercise (example 1 liter).
3. The weight lost during the effort corresponds to the quantity of water lost
(69 kg – 67 kg = 2 kg = at a loss of 2 liters of water).
4. The quantity of water to drink corresponds to:
the quantity of water drunk + the quantity equivalent to the loss
(1 liter + 2 liters = 3 liters).
5. Divide the amount of water needed by 15 minutes of training
eg. : duration 3 h (12 x 15 minutes) so 3 l / 12 = 250 ml
It will then be necessary to drink 250ml of water every 15 minutes and during the 3 hours of training.
Here is the type of drink to integrate into the athlete’s diet before, during, and after exercise
Watch out for overhydration. Drinking too much can be as damaging to your health as not drinking enough. Indeed, overhydration, or more than 9.5 liters of water per day, can cause hyponatremia (too low a blood sodium level) which can lead to cerebral edema, even coma, and death. Overhydration mostly affects marathon runners, triathletes, and those who do long-term cycling and swimming events. To avoid overhydration, consult the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Sports Nutrition2.
High-intensity sport increases oxidative stress and premature aging of the body, in the long term. Also, as part of the diet for athletes, it is recommended to consume enough antioxidants. They are contained in the following foods:
- Red fruits
- Goji berries and wild berries
- Kiwi, grape, fig
- Colorful vegetables: peppers, spinach, eggplant, celery, broccoli
- Garlic, onion
Dietetic foods for athletes
To meet their carbohydrate needs, some athletes will take carbohydrate gels or bars, during long-term effort (eg: mountain bike raid). Which can be quite suitable. However, it is important to have tried them before, intense exercise can decrease the taste for solid and very sweet foods. It is also important to make sure that you drink a lot when consuming these concentrated foods. Do not hesitate to seek advice from a dietitian to be sure to choose your specialized foods as part of the diet for athletes.
Recovery drinks are also useful for great athletes to rebuild muscle glycogen reserves and repair tissues. Long-lasting, high-intensity training depletes your glycogen stores. It is important to reconstitute them quickly, within 30 minutes after stopping the activity. The muscles will then have what they need to rebuild their energy reserves. For people who engage in moderate physical activity, a recovery drink is not necessary. It would reverse the loss of calories caused by exercise. A good, complete meal in a timely manner is more appropriate.
Other recommended foods:
- Omega 3
- Fractional feeding
- Home cooking
Foods not recommended in a sports meal
In the overall diet of athletes, no food should be banned. However, around training sessions, we recommend adopting the right reflexes for a successful sports meal. Thus all foods that are difficult to digest or that can cause gastric discomfort should be avoided: fats, spices, coffee, etc.
Whether they are good or bad fats, it is better to limit their consumption before and during training. Lipids require a long process of digestion which promotes gastric discomfort during exercise. However, in the hours following exercise, it is highly recommended to consume good fats such as olive, flaxseed, rapeseed, or walnut oil. Oilseeds and fatty fish are also particularly suitable because of their high content of Omega-3
Foods that stimulate peristalsis
Spices or foods that cause gas can cause stomach discomfort during exercise. They should therefore not be part of the sports meal just before training. Before exercise, now is not the time to try new foods or choose foods that are used to causing discomfort. For example, legumes or crucifers. Also, spicy or caffeinated foods can stimulate peristalsis and make you want to have a bowel movement during training. Reserve new foods and those that are more difficult to digest or irritating for after exercise.
Other foods not recommended:
- Industrial food
- Refined products
- Sweet products
- Alcohol, tobacco
Sports diet: practical advice on a daily basis
- Do not wait until you feel hungry or thirsty before eating or drinking while exercising
- Plan nutrition and hydration in advance, during and around workouts
- Get help from a qualified dietitian to build an adapted and personalized food plan
- As a snack, think about oilseeds to fill up on good fats (nuts, seeds, oilseed butter, soy products, etc.)
Recipe ideas for athletes
The following menu is developed by SOSCuisine.com and satisfies all of the above recommendations. To view a recipe, simply click on the name of the dish.
Sports meal for a woman, a day without training at 2200 kcalories
Sports meal for a woman, a day with training at 2800 kcalories
These sample menus are suitable for a 35-year-old woman, about 1.70m tall and weighing 70kg, who trains 3 times 2 hours per week, at high intensity.
Examples of meals for athletes, before exercise
What to eat and drink after intense exercise?
The roles of water in the body and as part of the sports regime
- Water is a carrier of nutrients. It delivers carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals to the sites of use. You have to drink often because you can’t stock up.
- It also serves as a lubricant, ensuring in particular a smooth sliding between the different tissues (eg synovial fluid in the knee).
- It acts as a radiator by dissipating the heat produced by the evaporation of sweat.
- Water helps prevent performance drops caused by dehydration. It maintains body temperature, provides electrolytes and carbohydrates when added to it, for example when taking a rehydration drink.
How to calculate your energy needs?
Energy requirements (BE) = Basal metabolism (MB) x activity factor (AF)
To calculate the energy needs of a 38-year-old woman, measuring 1.71 m, weighing 69 kg and training 3 times 2 hours a week intensely, we used the following formula:
MB = 247- (2.67 X age) + (401.5 X height (m)) + (8.6 X weight kg)
BE = MB x FAFA = 1.75
MB = 1425.51 kcal
BE = 1425.51 * 1.75
BE = 2495 kcalories per day
Activity factor (AF)
- 1.35 = sedentary
- 1.55 = weakly active
- 1.75 = active
- 1.95 = very active
In men: MB = 293- (3.8 X age) + (456.4 X height m) + (10.12 X weight kg)