Sports nutrition is quite a complex field, as the recommendations vary greatly between sports and between athletes. This is our attempt to summarize all aspects of sports nutrition into a handful of categories and to rank them in order of importance.
The foundation should be a well balanced and healthy diet. There is no need to follow a certain diet, such as vegan or paleo, instead athletes should emphasize unprocessed foods, eat at least 5 portions of veggies & fruit, plant-based sourced of dietary fat and lean proteins.
Micronutrients intake should be checked and dietary adjustments made to insure optimal vitamin, mineral, trace-element as well as fibre intake.
Adequate energy intake
This is vital to ensure good recovery, regulate sports specific body-composition, avoid low glycogen levels, suppressed immune function, low bone density and ensure abnormal hormone levels.
Even during dieting phases, the energy intake should always exceed 30 kcal/kg bw of fat-free-mass.
Carbs and protein
Carbs are needed for optimal training and competition performance. However, the requirements vary greatly between training sessions and should be adjusted accordingly. For example, on off-days or low intensity days 2-3 g-kg bw might be sufficient, on high-intensity days, the carb requirement might increase up to 8 g/kg bw. This means that for a 75 kg athlete, the carb intake can vary between 225 and 600 g per day.
The overall protein intake is one of the most important factors for muscle growth and muscle repair. Whereas dietary fats have no significant impact on sport performance, but athletes should prioritize plant-based fat sources as they are usually higher in healthy unsaturated fatty acids.
Once overall macronutrient intake is optimised, you can start improving pre & post workout nutritional strategies as well as carb and fluid intake during longer training sessions. These strategies will vary from sport to sport. For some sports, fuelling strategies during training are more important than others. For example, during a 3 hour bike-ride intra-workout carb, fluid and electrolyte intake has a direct impact on performance, whereas a strength athlete should prioritize the post-workout recovery period with high-quality protein sources.
Sport specific challenges
Sport specific aspects can range from weight-cuts, power to weight ratio, to practical challenges like travel nutrition, or sport specific cultural aspects such as paleo eating for CrossFitters are vegan diets for endurance athletes (these are just a few of many existing examples).
Nutritional strategies for extreme physical demands
During periods of very high-intensity, nutritional strategies to minimise muscle-soreness, support optimal sleep and the central nervous system as well as the immune-system may be applied. This can range from omega-3 to magnesium supplementation, an increase in anti-oxidant foods and probiotics.
Another example would be high-altitude training which requires special attention to carb and fluid intake as well as iron levels.
Similar to the muscle nutrition pyramid, supplements are the least important aspect athletes should worry about. Nevertheless, some supplements do have good evidence to increase performance by a small margin.
You can download our sports nutrition pyramid below 👇: