What Should Athletes Eat?

While it is clear that elite athletes burn more calories than people who are not as active, Smolin and Gorsvenor (2010) believe that

“the overall diet of an athlete does not need to be different from anyone else’s, the timing of meals and foods relative to workouts and competition, as well as the composition of these meals and foods, needs to be considered” (pp.113-114).

Is Carb Loading Good or Bad?

Yes and no. When it comes to athlete nutrition, what’s also important is that the athlete maximizes stored glycogen. Carbohydrates are important.  A high-carbohydrate diet increases the level of glycogen, or stored energy, in muscles, allowing the athlete to train and compete for longer periods of time. Carbohydrate loading or glycogen supercompensation, when implemented properly, can “double the amount of muscle glycogen” (p. 115). Endurance athletes are more likely to benefit from “carb loading” than, say, a short distance track athlete.

The Downside to Carbs

On the other hand, there is a downside to carb loading.

“For every gram of glycogen deposited in the muscle, almost 3 grams of water are also deposited” (p. 115).

The excess water in the athlete will cause weight gain and may promote muscle stiffness. Athletes who have events that last less than 60 minutes, should exercise caution when it comes to carbohydrate loading.

What to Eat Before Competition?

A small meal before a competition is preferable over not eating at all. Smolin and Grosvenor (2010) recommend the following steps for pre-competition meals:

  • Eat something that is familiar
  • Eat about 2 to 4 hours before competition
  • Drink about 2 cups of fluid with the meal
  • Meal should consist of high carbohydrates (60% to 70% of calories)
  • Low in fat (10% to 20% of calories)
  • Moderate amount of protein (10% to 20% of calories)
  • Stay away from simple sugars

Post-competition Nutrition

Post-competition hydration and nutrition are also important. “Ideally, the drinks or meals should provide 1.0 to 1.5 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight, which is about 70 to 100 grams of carbohydrate for a 154-pound (70-kg) person – the equivalent of two pancakes with syrup and a glass of fruit punch” (p. 119). If the carbohydrate intake is done correctly, “muscle and liver glycogen stores can be replenished within 24 hours of the athletic event” (p. 120).


Smolin, L. A., & Grosvenor, M. B. (2010). Nutrition for Sports and Exercise. New York: Facts on File, Inc.

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