Nutrition Plan for Athletes: Eating Right for Optimal Performance

  • Eat regular meals, including breakfast. (Breakfast is important because energy stores often are depleted during sleep, and muscles need energy to function.)
  • No sodas or candy. Filling up on concentrated sweets prevents a good appetite for a healthy, varied diet. Water is the drink of choice.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of carbohydrates, and moderate amounts of protein and fat, with limited sugar.
  • Time your eating to ensure you have plenty of energy for performance, without a big meal sitting heavily in your stomach right before a game or practice.
  • STAY HYDRATED—water and more water!


You really are what you eat. The building blocks of food: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and WATER are the same building blocks of your muscles, bones, and other body parts. You need to eat food to maintain and grow these body systems. And food is the source of fuel for energy, like gasoline is to a car. The type of fuel you put in your body influences your ability to grow and perform well, just as the grade of gasoline affects how well a car runs. No matter what paint job or rims the car has, if you fill it with soda instead of gas, you can’t take it on the road, and nobody will know how awesome it is. Likewise, as good as the Spurs look, if they can’t perform on the court from lack of energy, they won’t get a second glance. SO READ ON TO LEARN WHERE AND HOW TO GET THE PREMIUM GRADE FUEL..


  • BREAKFAST 7AM – Bagel, cream cheese or peanut butter, banana or orange slices, 8 ounces water
  • (GAME 9AM)
  • SNACK 10AM – Granola bar and 8-16 ounces Gatorade or water
  • LUNCH 12:30PM – Turkey sandwich (2 slices bread, 3 ounces turkey, light mayo or mustard, lettuce and tomato slices), carrot sticks, apple slices, 1 ounce bag potato chips, 8 ounces water
  • (GAME 3PM)
  • SNACK 4PM – Cheese sticks, pretzels, orange slices, 8-16 ounces water
  • (free time until dinner – REST)
  • DINNER 7PM – 4 ounce chicken breast, grilled, 1 cup rice or potatoes, green beans, 2 rolls, 8 ounces water
  • (GAME 9PM)
  • SNACK 10PM – 2 slices pizza/Gatorade

**Times and food choices for point of example and should be adjusted for varying schedules, preferences, food allergy or intolerance, and calorie needs.

What diet is best for us?

In general, we need a diet with 55-60 percent of calories from carbohydrates (mostly complex carbohydrates like whole grains, minimal sugars), 20-30 percent fat, and 10-15 percent protein. That translates into eating a variety of foods every day—grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, lean meats, and low fat dairy products. Fluids, especially water, are also important to the winning combination. Dehydration can stop even the finest athlete from playing his or her best game.

Why are carbohydrates important for us?

When starches or sugars are eaten, the body changes them all to glucose, the only form of carbohydrates used directly by muscles for energy. Most glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. During exercise, glycogen is broken down to supply glucose. Usually there is enough glycogen in muscles to provide fuel for 90-120 minutes of exercise. Most sporting events don’t use all the glycogen stores, so eating carbohydrates during a game is usually not needed, though stores need to be replenished afterwards. For longer periods of activity, restoring fluids and/or carbohydrates with water and/or sports drinks can help maintain tissue hydration and blood sugar levels to support muscle and brain function needed for performance.

Do we need extra protein or protein supplements to build muscles?

No. Muscles develop from training and exercise. A certain amount of protein is needed to help build the muscles; but a nutritious, balanced diet that includes two or three servings from the meat/bean/egg group (6-7 ounces total) and two to three servings of dairy daily will supply all the protein that the muscles need. Extra servings of protein in foods or protein supplements do not assist in muscle development. Unlike carbohydrates, protein cannot be stored in the body, and any excess will be burned for energy (less efficiently than carbohydrates are) or stored as body fat.

What should we eat before, during, and after exercise?

The most important thing is to concentrate on eating a nutritious, balanced diet every day. This provides plenty of energy to grow and exercise. Here are a few tips about eating before, during, and after exercise.


Have some high carbohydrate foods like bananas, bagels, or fruit juices. These foods are broken down quickly to provide glucose to the muscles. The timing of this meal depends on our preference for eating before exercise, but researchers have found that eating something from 1 to 4 hours before exercise helps keep plenty of blood glucose available for working muscles. It is generally good to eat lightly before an athletic performance, keeping protein and fat intakes low, as these may slow digestion. Avoid bulky foods and gas-forming foods like cabbage, dry beans, raw vegetable, and popcorn, which may stimulate cramping or bowel movements during the performance. Avoid drastic changes in normal diet routine immediately prior to competition. Some people prefer to use favorite foods which may give them a psychological edge. It is also critical to drink plenty of cool water before exercise to keep muscles hydrated.


Perspiration and exertion deplete the body of fluids necessary for an optimal performance and lead to dehydration. It is important to drink plenty of cool water, at least half a cup of water every 20 minutes of exercise. Usually there is no need to worry about replacing carbohydrates unless the exercise lasts over 90 minutes and is hard and continuous. When this happens, drinking a sports drink or other beverage with some sugar in it will provide fuel and water to the muscles being exercised.


If the exercise was strenuous and lasted a long time, glycogen stores may need refueling. Consuming foods and beverages high in carbohydrates right after exercise will replenish glycogen stores if they are low after exercise. No matter the intensity of the exercise, it is important to drink plenty of water and eat a nutritious, balanced meal that has lots of carbohydrate rich foods such as grains, pastas, potatoes, vegetables, and fruits. You can assess how much fluid was lost during a daily performance by weighing in before and after. Every pound lost is the equivalent of 16 ounces of water that needs to be replaced. What other tips can help enhance daily performance?

Design a meal pattern that fits your daily cycle

This can vary from day to day, especially during special events like a tournament. But be sure to eat several times a day using regularly spaced meals and snacks to help meet calorie and nutrient needs. Plan for good times to eat and try to stick to this.

Always be sure to stay hydrated!

Drinking lots of water on a regular basis even if you don’t feel thirsty. This can be especially challenging on the road, but is most important then. Eating a mixed and varied diet, with elements from all the food groups, is the best way to ensure the body is at top condition for performance. Including a small amount of protein at each meal or snack allows glucose to be supplied to the bloodstream and muscles in a controlled fashion. Avoiding meals and snacks high in concentrated sweets also helps to prevent spikes and drops in blood sugar that can make you feel drained and perform less than optimally.

Avoid fatty foods

For several hours before performance avoid fatty foods. These can sit too long in the stomach, produce cramping during exercise, and are not readily used for energy. Carbohydrate loading is generally not needed. This is a practice sometimes used by endurance athletes to trick the body into storing more glycogen. It involves eating a small amount of carbohydrates for several days, making the body think it needs greater energy stores, then a big load of carbohydrates, usually on the day before the event, to store up extra glycogen. As a general rule, this may decrease ability to perform on the days when carbohydrates are restricted, and it can interfere with a growing athlete’s daily energy needs. More important is to be sure to eat adequate carbohydrates on a daily basis.


Yours truly,

Vicari Erwin-Wilson, M.D.

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