Sports Nutrition for Athletes

Parkview Sports Medicine

​Sports Nutrition for Athletes

Did you know that proper nutrition can enhance your athletic performance? A balanced diet will help keep you healthy – and at peak performance.

The key is choosing a variety of foods rich in these nutrients:

  • Protein gives you the energy you need to rebuild small muscle tears that occur during sports and exercise. You should consume about 1.2 – 1.7 grams of protein per 2.2 pounds of your body weight per day to stay healthy and achieve optimal performance.

  • Iron helps carry oxygen from your lungs to your working muscles, which can help boost your performance. Make sure you eat foods with higher levels of iron, including beans, whole and enriched grains, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

  • Carbohydrates are the most efficient fuel source. During sports and exercise, energy from carbohydrate sources – like pasta, rice, vegetables, fruits and grains – is released in your working muscle groups three times faster than energy from fat sources. This boosts your energy availability, which helps optimize performance. Starting athletic activity with stored energy from previous carbohydrate-rich meals can also help prevent fatigue.

  • Calcium is the primary nutrient that enhances bone health and muscle function. Athletes, especially female athletes, with low dietary calcium may have increased risk of bone and stress fractures. You can easily get calcium from foods like fortified soy or rice milk, fortified fruit juice, broccoli, kale, cheese, yogurt, almonds and carrots.

  • Vitamin D is required for your body to properly absorb calcium – and it’s needed for a healthy immune system. You should consume about 1,000 IU of vitamin D-rich and vitamin D-fortified foods like fortified milk, yogurt, eggs, soy products and fatty fish. Spending about 20 minutes outside every day can also help boost your vitamin D levels. A vitamin D supplement may be needed if your blood level is low, and especially during winter, when sun exposure is at a minimum.

Sample Meal Options

Here are some easy-to-prepare, 3,000-calorie meal options  that include vital nutrients and minerals like protein, iron, carbohydrates, calcium and vitamin D.

Day one:

  • Breakfast: Two pancakes with 2 teaspoons margarine and ¼ cup syrup; 1 cup orange juice; 1 cup skim milk

  • Lunch: Two slices of thick-crust cheese pizza; 1 cup watermelon; 12 ounces lemonade

  • Afternoon snack: Four peanut butter crackers; one banana; 1 cup skim milk

  • Dinner: Grilled chicken breast with ½ cup steamed vegetables and ½ cup pasta; one whole-wheat roll; 1 cup strawberries; 1 cup skim milk

  • Evening snack: 1 cup frozen yogurt

Day two:

  • Breakfast: 1 cup oatmeal; one banana; one slice whole-wheat toast with jelly; 1 cup grapefruit juice; 1 cup skim milk

  • Lunch: Sliced ham sandwich on whole-wheat bread with one slice Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato; two cookies; 1 cup apple juice; 1 cup skim milk

  • Afternoon snack: 3 cups microwaved popcorn, no salt; 1 cup juice

  • Dinner: Baked potato with ½ cup veggie or beef chili and 1 ounce cheese; green lettuce salad with carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms and dressing of choice; ½ cup cottage cheese; 1 cup skim milk

  • Evening snack: Ice cream sundae with 1 cup low-fat ice cream, chocolate sauce, chopped nuts and strawberries

Day three:

  • Breakfast: Half sesame seed bagel with cream cheese; 1 cup cooked oatmeal; ½ cup peaches; 1 cup skim milk

  • Lunch: Roast beef sandwich on whole-wheat bread with lettuce and light mayo; 1½ cups fresh fruit salad with apples, bananas, grapes, oranges and pears; 6 ounces low-fat yogurt; 1 cup apple juice

  • Afternoon snack: ¼ cup pretzels; 1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice

  • Dinner: Large grilled chicken salad with loose-leaf lettuce, garbanzo beans, shredded carrots, red peppers and light dressing of choice; one wheat dinner roll with margarine; 1 cup skim milk

  • Evening snack: ¼ cup crackers and peanut butter

Day four:

  • Breakfast: ¾ cup whole-grain cereal with 1 cup skim milk; ½ cinnamon-and-raisin bagel with peanut butter; 1 cup fruit of choice

  • Lunch: One wheat tortilla with ¾ cup refried beans, ½ cup rice, 1 ounce cheese, lettuce and chopped tomatoes; large apple; 1 cup skim milk

  • Afternoon snack: One granola bar; 6 ounces fruit juice of choice

  • Dinner: 3 ounces broiled lean pork chops; ½ baked potato with margarine; ½ cup mashed squash; ½ cup steamed green beans; 1 cup skim milk

  • Evening snack: One frozen fruit bar

To reduce or increase the number of calories you consume, you can decrease or increase the serving sizes. You can also incorporate a morning snack into your diet to increase your caloric intake.

Here are some options for morning snacks (with approximate calorie values):

  • 1 cup granola (500 calories)
  • 1 cup fruit yogurt (250 calories)
  • ¼ cup raisins (120 calories)
  • One bowl lentil soup (250 calories)
  • One large banana (130 calories)
  • Two oatmeal cookies (150 calories)
  • 16 ounces skim milk (200 calories)
  • One medium muffin (300 calories)

Hydration, Dehydration and Your Performance

Like a well-balanced diet, proper hydration before, during and after sports or exercise can improve your performance. Water regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints and helps transport nutrients for enhanced energy, health and well-being.

Staying hydrated can:

  • Increase your energy level
  • Sharpen your alertness and critical-thinking skills
  • Reduce your likelihood of developing muscle cramps
  • Improve your cardiovascular (heart) function
  • Help you maintain a cooler body temperature

Dehydration occurs when your fluid loss is greater than your fluid intake. When your body doesn’t have enough water, it can’t work properly, and your athletic performance can suffer. Even a fluid loss equal to 2 percent of your body weight can cause a decrease in your performance.

Signs of dehydration can include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dry mouth
  • Decrease in sweating
  • Heart palpitations

To avoid dehydration, you should:

  • Drink 12 to 22 ounces of water one to two hours before you begin sports or exercise

  • Drink 10 ounces of water 10 to 20 minutes before you begin sports or exercise

  • Drink 4 to 6 ounces of water every 15 minutes during sports or exercise

  • Drink 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound of weight lost after sports or exercise

Sports Drinks

Although water is the best drink for most athletes, most of the time, sports drinks can also be helpful. However, you should only consume sports drinks if you’re participating in high-intensity sports or exercise for 60 minutes or more. You should also choose your sports drinks wisely. Drink only those with 60 to 100 calories per 8 fluid ounces, and avoid drinks that are high in sugar and sodium.

Nutrition and Hydration on Game Day

It’s important to eat well every day, regardless of whether you have a game, meet or other sporting event. But proper nutrition on game day can further enhance your athletic performance.

You should be aware of three significant changes in your nutritional needs for game day:

  • Nutrition starts the day before. When it comes to sports nutrition, hydration and carbohydrates are the two most important factors that affect your performance. Your body has a limited capacity for both of them and is constantly losing both throughout the day. It’s important you consume plenty of water and foods rich in carbohydrates before you go to bed the night before.

  • Calorie consumption is different. If you need 3,000 calories, then you need 3,000 the day of the competition. However, it doesn’t help to consume most of your daily calories after an event. You should eat every two to four hours throughout the day, consuming about two-thirds of your calories three to four hours before game time.

  • Fuel mixture is different. On game day, you should get most of your calories from carbohydrates and liquids — especially before and during the event — as opposed to proteins and fats.

Here’s a sample nutrition and hydration plan for game day:


  • Three to four hours before: Drink about 17 to 20 ounces of water, and eat your largest meal. Remember, this meal should be rich in carbohydrates and lean protein, and low in fiber and fat.

  • One to two hours before: Drink about 12 to 22 ounces of water. Eat a snack rich in carbohydrates.

  • 10 to 20 minutes before: Drink 10 ounces of water.


  • Eat a light snack like a granola bar, energy bar or dry whole grain cereal. Consume 4 to 6 ounces of water every 15 minutes.


  • 30 minutes after: Eat a carbohydrate-rich snack, and drink a sufficient amount of water or energy drink low in calories and sugar.

  • Two hours after: Eat a smaller meal (less than one-third of your daily caloric intake) rich in carbohydrates, lean protein and heart-healthy fats. Continue to drink water or an energy beverage low in calories and sugar.

Remember that although proper nutrition on game day is vital to successful athletic performance, it’s only helpful if you're eating well throughout the week. Don’t wait for the pre-game meal to consume the nutrients, minerals and fluids you think you need. If you approach your nutrition with the same discipline as your training, you’ll maximize your potential.

Contact Us

For more information, or to schedule a sports nutrition consultation, call (260) 266-4007.

Parkview Sports Medicine

Services provided at AWP Sports Training –
Located within the SportONE Parkview Fieldhouse
3946 Ice Way, Fort Wayne, IN 46808
and on The Summit Campus
1025 W. Rudisill Blvd., Fort Wayne, IN 46807


Back to top