Eating for Peak Performance

Sports Nutrition Tips for the Athlete

This article was taken from the Flathead Lake Distance Running Camp notebook and the Whitefish High School Cross Country Handbook.

Are you looking for a diet that will give you a competitive edge?

It's not surprising if you are. Many athletes are easily persuaded to change their diets in an effort to seek out every available advantage for better performance.

It's true that good nutrition - along with training, natural ability and skill, as well as motivation - is one of the major factors that influence performance. But, there are no magical foods that will produce superstars.

So concentrate on a training diet that is high in fluids and carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and low in fat to achieve top performance.

Training Table:

Make the Food Groups the basis of your training diet.

Each of the groups includes foods which are good sources of the essential nutrients needed for an active lifestyle. (See chart below)

Milk Meat Fruit/Vegetable Grain
Milk, 1 cup Meat, 2-3 oz. Fresh, frozen, canned, dried and juiced fruits and vegetables Cereals, 1 oz.
Cheese, 1 oz. Fish, 2-3 oz. Breads, 1 slice
Yogurt, 1 cup Poultry, 2-3 oz. Rolls, 1
Cottage Cheese Eggs, 1 Pasta, 1/2 Cup
Ice Cream Muffins, 1
Frozen Yogurt Pancakes, 1
Tortillas, 1

Snack Hints

These high-carbohydrate foods can be packed and taken along for midday snacks, long workouts, or competitions:

Pre-Competition meals should be:

All Day Events

Athletes should consider the amount of time between eating and performance when choosing foods at all day events. Suggested pre event foods include the following:

Two to three hours before competition:

Three to four hours before competition:

Four hours or more before competition:


Fluid replacement is critical for the athlete. Dehydration severely limits athletic performance. Heat stroke, organ damage and possibly death may result of fluid is not consumed at regular intervals during exercise. Consult the following guidelines:

Water vs. Sports Drinks

Water is always appropriate for fluid replacement; however, for endurance athletes expending large amounts of energy for more than 60-90 minutes, a sports drink may be beneficial.

Day-to-Day Nutrition Guidelines

  1. Keep food intake regular - don't skip meals.
  2. Forget the fads - get back to the basics. Select meals from the Food Groups
  3. Select foods high in complex carbohydrates such as breads, cereals, crackers, and pastas. They are preferred fuel for the exercise muscle.
  4. Drink fluids regularly - dehydration impairs athletic performance even at minimal levels
  5. Eat enough to maintain body weight. Avoid drastic weight changes.

Myths and Misinformation

Myth: Consuming large amounts of protein or taking protein supplements will increase muscle size and strength.

Fact: Excess protein will not increase muscle growth and strength. A normal diet will supply you with more than enough protein to build muscles.

Myth: Eating honey, sugar, soda pop, or a candy bar is an excellent way to get quick energy just before practice or competition.

Fact: The energy used in practice or competition comes from the foods eaten days and weeks prior to the event. A diet consisting of the four food groups and adequate training will enable you to perform at your best.

Myth: Athletes require extra vitamins and minerals and should take vitamin pills to supercharge their bodies

Fact: Most vitamins and minerals can't be stored, so it is impossible to supercharge your body. Taking large amounts of supplements can cause serious problems.

Myth: Drinking milk before an event causes cotton mouth and cuts speed and wind

Fact: Cotton mouth appears to be due to emotional stress and fluid loss. Performance does not decline when drinking milk