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  • Writer's pictureBrooke Evans

Nutrition for Sports Performance

When aiming for a healthy lifestyle, nutrition and physical activity serve as fundamental cornerstones. They not only reduce the risk of numerous physical ailments but also enhance mental well-being. Essential dietary guidelines emphasize the daily intake of key nutrients such as protein, healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. For athletes, whether they compete professionally or pursue recreational activities, tailored nutrition strategies are essential.

getting the right nutrition for sports performance

Optimizing your body's fuel intake plays a pivotal role in achieving and exceeding fitness goals. According to the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, approximately 30 minutes of exercise five days a week (or ~150 minutes weekly) is recommended, though individual routines may vary.

The nutritional advice offered here applies equally to dedicated athletes seeking a competitive edge and to “weekend warriors”. Regardless of your fitness regimen, understanding these guidelines is crucial for maintaining an active lifestyle. Keep reading to explore a variety of foods packed with these essential energy and nutrients for training and efficient recovery, and how to time them for optimal nutrition.

Don’t forget: when you need personalized nutrition counseling on how to eat right while getting in shape, Catalyst Nutrition and Training is here for you! Make an appointment with us today.

Sports Nutrition for Athletic Performance

If you are physically active, it is especially important to pay attention to your fluids, calories, carbohydrates, and protein.


Water is crucial for athletic performance as it helps keep your body hydrated and regulates body temperature. When you engage in intense exercise for an hour, you can lose several liters of sweat. Even a slight 2% decrease in hydration levels can affect how well you perform.

Wondering how much to drink? Generally, clear urine indicates you're well-hydrated, so it's a good indicator to keep in mind. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, even if you're not planning to work out immediately. During exercise, follow the recommended fluid intake guidelines outlined below, even if you don't feel thirsty at the moment. Keeping hydrated is key to staying on top of your game!


If you're highly active, your body requires more calories compared to someone with a less active lifestyle. These calories provide the necessary fuel for strength and energy during physical performance. However, it's important to be mindful. Many people tend to overestimate the calories burned during their workouts, so avoid consuming excessive calories.

For instance, a competitive male athlete typically needs between 2,400 to 3,000 calories daily, while a competitive female athlete generally requires 2,200 to 2,700 calories daily. With less physical activity, you won't need as many calories to sustain your energy needs. If you are looking for a quick and easy way to track your calories, we love the Cronometer App for monitoring our nutrition. This app makes it easy not only to track your energy and macronutrients, but also some of the major micronutrients such as iron, calcium, and fiber.


Carbohydrates serve as the primary fuel source for your muscles during activity.

There are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates, found in sugary drinks and sweetened foods, provide quick energy but lack essential vitamins and minerals. They are also present in white pasta, bread, and cereals. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates, such as starches, offer more nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Examples include fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

For your day-to-day carbohydrate needs, opt for complex carbohydrates. During intense exercise, simple carbohydrates can be beneficial before, during, and after your workout. Vigorous exercise demands immediate carbohydrates for fuel. Consuming simple carbohydrates can enhance energy levels before exercise, support higher-intensity efforts, and aid quicker recovery. Still, they shouldn't constitute your primary source of carbohydrates.


Protein plays a vital role in muscle structure and function, as well as supporting tissue repair, bone health, immunity, and various enzymatic and neurotransmitter functions. This makes adequate protein intake crucial, especially for those engaged in muscle-building resistance exercises.

Additionally, when carbohydrate stores are depleted, protein can serve as an alternative fuel source, underscoring its importance for athletes who may require higher protein intake compared to non-athletes. For instance, many athletes may need between 2-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day during intense training phases.

However, it's important to note that meeting protein needs doesn't necessarily require a focus on high-protein foods or supplements, provided you consume sufficient calories. Many Americans already consume twice the amount of protein they need. We recommend lean meats, eggs, dairy products, nuts, and legumes.

proper nutrition for sports performance

Sports Nutrition for Different Types of Exercise 

You can keep improving your health and exercise performance over time by regularly consuming nutrient-dense foods and staying hydrated. Here are some nutrition tips on how to fuel yourself best for the type of exercise you do:

Before any workout

To prevent dehydration, aim to drink approximately 2 cups of water around 2 hours before starting your workout.

PRO TIP: To estimate how much water is lost during exercise, weigh yourself immediately before and after your session. The difference primarily reflects water loss, helping you determine how much fluid to replenish using the guidelines below.

Regarding nutrition, if your objective is to enhance athletic performance, especially before a big game, avoid exercising on an empty stomach. Instead, consume a small meal containing fibrous carbohydrates and limited fats approximately 60 to 90 minutes beforehand.

If you’re going to work out for less than one hour

Water is your fluid of choice, so drink 1 cup every 15 to 20 minutes throughout your workout.

If you’re going to work out for more than one hour

Before beginning your workout, fuel up with carbohydrates and keep fat intake moderate. This could mean having a glass of juice, a cup of yogurt, or a PB&J.

If your activity spans over an hour and involves intense aerobic exercise, it’s crucial to stay hydrated and consume carbohydrates during this period. Aim to drink up to 1 cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes in the first hour.

As you progress into subsequent hours, it becomes essential to replenish lost electrolytes and carbohydrates. You have the option to switch to a sports drink at this stage. Aim for 5 to 10 ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. If you prefer to continue with water instead of a sports drink, incorporate food sources rich in electrolytes and carbohydrates, such as 2 to 3 handfuls of pretzels or half a cup of low-fat granola.

After any workout

Exercise depletes your body’s stores of fluids and energy, so depending on the intensity of your workout, it’s crucial to replenish them. As a general rule, aim to replace the weight lost during your training session with fluids. This translates to drinking about 3 cups of fluid for every pound lost within the next 6 hours.

If your activity lasted less than an hour, you can typically replenish lost fluids with water alone. However, if you exercise for more than 90 minutes, it's beneficial to consume carbohydrates along with a small amount of protein about two hours later. This could include options like a sports bar, trail mix with nuts, or yogurt with granola. These choices help restore energy levels and support muscle recovery after prolonged physical activity.

athletes preparing food together


Whether you're a seasoned competitive athlete or a “weekend warrior”, proper fueling is essential for enhancing your performance. Start with hydration—ensure that you are drinking enough water before, during, and after your workout as recommended. Additionally, it's crucial to consume sufficient calories, carbohydrates, and proteins. These nutrients fuel your workouts and replenish lost nutrients and support post-exercise recovery.

If you’re considering adjustments to your hydration and nutrition strategies, feel free to consult a licensed registered dietitian nutritionist from Catalyst Nutrition and Training! We can assess your activity levels, health goals, and nutritional needs to provide personalized guidance tailored to optimize your athletic performance and overall well-being.


Curious about whether you're hydrating effectively and optimizing your athletic performance? Interested in understanding the benefits of sports drinks and protein supplements for your fitness goals? Looking for a personalized nutrition plan tailored to meet your specific needs?

Schedule an appointment with Catalyst to explore how our nutrition counseling and other services can assist you. Together, we'll determine the best strategies to enhance your performance and achieve your workout objectives.


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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, October 7). How much physical activity do adults need?


Clark, N. (2019, June 18). American College of Sports Medicine. The athlete's kitchen: Sports nutrition myths busted!


Clifford, J. and Maloney, K. (n.d.) Colorado State University Extension. Nutrition for the Athlete - 9.362


MedlinePlus. (2019, May 13). Nutrition and athletic performance.


Murray, B. (2019, March 14). American College of Sports Medicine. Everyday nutrition vs. performance nutrition: Clarifying the carbohydrate confusion.


Richards, L. (2021, April 20). Medical News Today. Nutrition and athletic performance: What to consider.


University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. (2019, March 4). Eating for peak athletic performance.

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