Meals for athletes to fuel and train

One of my favorite quotes is “Athletes don’t diet and exercise, they fuel and train”. Social media has done an injustice to our athletic community focusing on thin being ideal and getting ripped now labelled ” fitspiration or “fitspo“. As a result, we are seeing an epidemic of under-fueled, overtrained, and injury prone athletes.

Fuel for your sport

For the most part general nutrition recommendations still pertain to the athlete however the quantity and purpose of the food may differ. In performance we no longer speak of macronutrients in percent but focus on prescriptions per kilogram body weight. By doing so you can adjust to your sport whether strength/power focused, endurance or combination of both. You can also adjust according to your training cycle. Example ,distance runners ramp up their mileage before their season starts and generally do the least amount of mileage at the end of their season. They may focus more on their strength right after season completion versus the start of their season.

Know your macros but no need to count them

Now let’s talk about the roles of carbohydrates, protein and fat. All 3 are critical for every day health and especially for performance. Cutting one of these out would be like to trying to show up one man short on the field or court.


Carbohydrates are critical to performance as they are the key fuel source for exercise. When carbohydrates are stored they are referred to as glycogen (gas tank) When your gas tank (glycogen) is insufficient you fatigue quickly, have a reduced ability to train hard and your immune system is suppressed (hence why athletes tend to get sick towards the end of season).

The more endurance component of your sport the higher the carbohydrate recommendation. Below is a chart to help guide you with targets.
Daily Needs for Fuel and Recovery:

SituationCarbohydrate Targets
LightLow-intensity or skill-based activities3–5 g per kg BM
ModerateModerate exercise program (~1 hr / day)5-7 g per kg BM
HighEndurance program (i.e. moderate-to-high intensity exercise of 1-3 hr / day)6-10 g per kg BM
Very HighExtreme commitment (i.e. moderate-to-high intensity exercise of >4-5 hr / day)8-12 g per kg BM


Now for protein which seems to always take place as the MVP leaving carb & fat to sit as the 6th man on the bench. Protein has both structural and functional roles. Structural proteins help build connective tissue, cell membranes and muscle cells.  Functional proteins act as enzymes or transport vehicles (carriers). Some amino acids are used as a minor fuel source during exercise however you generally do not want to be using protein as a fuel source taking it away from its previous roles mentioned leading to reduced muscle growth and compromised metabolism.

GroupProtein intake (g/kg/day)
Sedentary men and women0.8-1.0
Elite male endurance athletes1.6
Moderate-intensity endurance athletes (a)1.2
Recreational endurance athletes (b)0.8-1.0
Football, power sports1.4-1.7
Resistance athletes (early training)1.5-1.7
Resistance athletes (steady state)1.0-1.2
Female athletes~15% lower than male athletes


Dietary fat for years has been undervalued related to performance of athletes. Fat is an extremely important fuel for endurance exercise eventually becoming the significant contributor of fuel in events lasting longer than 1 hour generally. Dietary fat provides the essential fatty acids (EFA) that cannot be synthesized in the body as well as it is necessary for absorption of Vitamins: A, D E & K which are invaluable to the athlete but that is for another blog! Recommendations seem to be more across the board in this category with 1gm/kg.

I hope by reading this blog you appreciate the team approach these nutrients serve and look to balance your dietary intake just as you would your training! Be sure to sign up for my Pair it up in the pantry handout.