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Meal Planning & Nutrition for Athletes



Whether you’re an athlete, fitness fanatic, or you just want to be healthier, you should already know one of the most important factors in maintaining your lifestyle—a nutrition plan that includes a healthy daily diet.

Becoming an exceptional athlete requires a lot of time and effort, but if you’re neglecting good nutrition, that time and effort may have less of an effect than you’d like. Rather than let yourself get to that point, why not take a few minutes to learn about proper nutrition and meal planning?

Nutrition for Athletes & Fitness Fanatics

You may be a veteran athlete or could be at the beginning of your fitness journey. Either way, there are some basic facts that  you should always remember (Source):

  • Water is a critical nutrient for athletes. Dehydration can cause muscle cramping and fatigue.
  • Athletes gain the most from the amount of carbohydrates stored in their bodies.
  • Fat provides body fuel, but its use depends on the duration of the exercise and the condition of the athlete.
  • Athletes achieve peak performance by training and eating a variety of healthy foods.

Why Carbohydrates Matter

Being your best starts with a healthy daily diet. Your diet should strike a healthy balance between protein, vitamins, healthy fats, fiber and carbohydrates. All of these nutrients are important, but the last one—carbohydrates—are perhaps the most important because your body gets the most benefit from them.

As you exercise or compete, your body burns calories. As a result, your body needs additional calories to make up for those that are being burned. Carbs, healthy fats and protein are needed for healthy energy production and increased muscle mass.

How Do I Know How Many Carbs I Need Every Day?

Your carbohydrate intake will always depend on a number of factors, including age, gender, body type, and what type of exercise or sport you’re engaging in.

For example, “teen athletes may need anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 total calories per day to meet their energy needs” (Source). Older athletes will obviously need much more.

Michael Phelps, the well-known U.S. Olympic swimmer has told ESPN in the past that he normally eats between 8,000 and 10,000 calories every day to support his rigorous training and competition schedule. Dylan Armstrong, a shotputter from Canada has an intake that falls between 6,500 and 9,000 calories every day. Allyson Felix, a U.S. sprinter who won three gold medals at the 2012 Olympics consumes around 3,000 calories each day. She also ends every workout and training session with some form of protein shake or snack.

Your carb/calorie intake should always be based on your activity levels. Because training can change daily, it can be a good idea to calculate how many carbohydrates you should be getting each day. If you’re not quite sure how to do so, check out this handy calculator. Just enter your age, gender, height, weight and intended activity.

Meal Frequency & Planning

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the more frequently you eat, the more energy you’ll have. According to Livestrong.com, “eating every two to four hours, or the equivalent of four to six meals a day, is ideal for most athletes” (Source).

By eating smaller meals more frequently, it becomes a bit easier to reach your caloric intake for the day. This can lead to better performance, high metabolism, and a stable blood sugar level.

Tips for Meal Planning

When it comes to the three main meals of the day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), you don’t want to skip any of them. That being said, planning and preparing your meals ahead of time offers a great way to avoid missing a meal.

Not sure what to choose for each meal? No problem! Here are some great ideas:

  • Breakfast: After a good night’ sleep, plenty of carbs and protein is ideal for a quality breakfast. Turkey bacon, whole-grain cereals, eggs and fresh fruit are some great options.
  • Lunch: Your lunch should almost always be a low-calorie option, when possible. Light pasta dishes are a good choice, and something simple like a chicken Caesar salad offers the protein, vitamins, and minerals your body needs without a high number of calories.
  • Dinner: Your dinner choice is important and should be well-balanced but high in protein, vitamins, healthy fats, fiber and, of course, carbs. Healthy options here can include chicken breast, green beans, rice, or whole-wheat bread, and a piece of fruit. Try to avoid eating dinner at a late time. Instead, choose a meal high in fiber, so you’re not hungry right before bedtime.

Sample Meal Plans

Colorado State University offers a number of sample meal plans for athletes and fitness fiends. Check a few of them out below:

Sample of a high-carb diet:


Sample hydration recommendations:


Sample pre-event meal plans:


Post-Workout Protein Ideas

You should already know how important protein as after your workout,t raining session, or competition. Whether you indulge in a shake, snack bar, or other type of protein supplement, just make sure you don’t forget it.

If you’re not sure what to choose, Natural Healthy Concepts offers a range of great protein options. You can find some of my favorite options from Vega below:

Do you have any tips for healthy meal planning? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment below!