Diet and Sample Menus for Athletes

Beef and veggies

A healthy diet for athletes has common-sense ground rules, followed by some tweaking to fit the discipline of choice for that particular athlete. For example, all athletes should go easy on alcohol, but a marathon runner may benefit from eating differently than the power lifter.

Basics of a Healthy Diet for Athletes

Let's be clear. The differences between the various sports and their nutrition is pretty marginal in the grand scheme of things. Interview a couple Olympic medal winners in any sport and see how many credit beer, pizza and ice cream for their recent victory. Thus, the foundation of a healthy diet for athletes is pretty universal. This foundation includes but is not limited to:

  • Moderate to high protein intake
  • Low to no alcohol consumption
  • Lots of water, even when not actively training
  • An emphasis on complex carbohydrates
  • Avoidance of highly processed foods
  • Medium to high fiber intake

That's pretty basic. Now, let's look at additional emphasis for endurance vs. explosive strength.


Long distance runners, triathlon athletes and the like need sustained energy input for hours and hours. That means lots of slow-digesting carbs, such as whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, beans and rough bread. These foods come packed with fiber, which is another important factor in ensuring a long-term but steady energy supply. Some choose to sip fast-carb (sugar-rich) liquids or gels during exercise as well.

Explosive Strength

More explosive athletes like sprinters, jumpers, lifters and tossers don't have to worry about prolonged energy. Instead, they need it all - right now! - meaning the conversion cycle of carbs to energy barely starts before the sprint or lift is over. Hence, creatine-rich foods like red meat are a good idea, since it boosts the supply of "instant energy" found in the muscle (you can also buy creatine as a supplement). For training days, however, they can go for faster carbs, since this helps them refill the "instant energy" deposits between jumps or tosses.

Sample Menus

So, let's look at two sample menus, one for long-distance runner Ron and one for high jumper Jack.

Ron the Runner

  • 8:00 - Breakfast Bran cereal, milk, orange juice, two slices fiber-rich bread, fistful of peanuts and/or sunflower seeds.
  • 11:00 - Pre-run lunch Boiled potatoes, salmon, steamed vegetables.

13:00-16:00 Exercise, consuming a couple energy gels and a bottle of Gatorade while running

  • 16:30 - Post-exercise snack Protein drink with 50 grams of dextrose added, banana.
  • 18:30 - Dinner Whole wheat pasta, skinless chicken breasts, steamed vegetables.
  • 22:30 - Pre-bedtime snack Plain protein drink.

Jack the Jumper

  • 8:00 - Breakfast Oatmeal, low-fat milk, four scrambled eggs, orange juice, melon slice.
  • 11:00 - Lunch Baked potato, large steak, onions and mushrooms.

13:00-16:00 Exercise, sipping Gatorade between jumps

  • 16:30 - Post-exercise snack Protein drink with 50 grams of dextrose added, banana.
  • 18:30 - Dinner Sushi, vegetables.
  • 22:30 - Pre-bedtime snack Plain protein drink.

As you can see, the change is not drastic, but rather a slight tweak to fit their respective training style just right.

More Tips

Some other good habits that can help you get an edge:

  • Eat several smaller meals rather than two or three big meals only.
  • Make the first two meals of the day the largest.
  • Try to get some fruits, vegetables and nuts into every meal.
  • Have something sugary immediately after your workout, since this helps the body start the recovery process sooner.
  • Incorporate fish into your diet as often as possible, or take extra fish oil supplements.
  • Beware of anything "instant" or that has an ingredient list that reads like something from a chemistry textbook.

Good luck!

Diet and Sample Menus for Athletes