Athletes’ bodies face a high level of stress, proper nutrition is incredibly important. The most effective way to achieve proper nutrition is also the most basic: focus on the five main food groups—fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. Each contributes vital nutrients to your diet. Once these principle habits have been established, a registered dietitian can help you fine-tune your diet based on individual needs.
Fruits and Vegetables
These two crucial food groups should together compose about half of your plate or 50% of each meal. They provide carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, fiber, water, and antioxidants which work together to serve as energy, hydration, digestion, and recovery/injury prevention. The serving size of fruit and starchy vegetables (such as corn, peas, and potatoes) is about a fist, while a serving of vegetables is two fists.
Whole grains should be prioritized in the diet because of their greater vitamin, mineral, and fiber content compared to white/refined grain products. These sources are rich in carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fiber which contribute substantial resources for high-intensity activity and recovery. Depending on physical activity level, these high-starch foods should be consumed in amounts equivalent to one-two fists at each meal, especially those prior to exercise.
Complete protein sources are those that include all of the essential amino acids your body is unable to produce itself. Amino acids serve as building blocks for several vital functions in your body, such as cell structure, muscle maintenance, and chemical reactions. Animal proteins are complete sources, but certain combinations of plant-based proteins can also provide adequate amounts of all essential amino acids as well. Lean animal proteins such as poultry and fish should be prioritized in the diet and portions should take up about a quarter of the plate and be about a palm in size.
This food group is packed full of calcium, complete proteins, potassium, and carbohydrates, to name a few. This combination of nutrients provides the necessary components for energy production, muscle contraction/recovery, and bone strength. It is important for athletes to consume 2-3 cups of low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives a day in the form of cow’s milk/fortified plant-based beverages, yogurt, or cheese.
The Athlete’s Plate
Good nutrition can be very flexible and individualized to your taste preferences and lifestyle. It starts with combining the food groups mentioned above, in roughly the amounts mentioned. Follow up by listening to your body’s response so your approach can be tweaked as necessary.
And as often as possible, choose foods listed below in building carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat into your meal or snack.
(sweet/white potatoes, squash)
(broccoli, leafy greens)
Whole grain bread or crackers
High-fiber, non-sugary cereals
Brown or wild rice
(white and yolk)
Lean red meats
Nuts and seeds
Olive or canola oil
(add to baking or cooking)