6 Simple Nutrition Rules for Athletes

November 6, 2012 | Brian Lebo

Must See Nutrition Videos

Many pro athletes have nutritionists and meal planners who help them eat for optimum performance. The rest of us? We have to fend for ourselves. And while you could spend dozens of hours combing through nutrition books and journals in search of an eating plan that gives you an edge, you probably don’t have that kind of time to spare. Good news: You can upgrade your game instantly by following these six tried-and-true nutrition rules. (And while you’re at it, be sure you know the basics.)

1. Aim for Balance

Each of your meals should provide a combination of carbs from whole grains, vegetables or fruits; proteins such as lean meats, peanut butter or dairy; and healthy fats from foods like olive oil, nuts or salmon.

2. Eat Breakfast

Your mom was right when she said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. (Read Never Skip This Meal: Why Athletes Need Breakfast.) A proper morning nosh awakens your metabolism, improves your focus, memory and mood, and boosts your energy levels all day long.

3. Eat More Frequently

Though you probably grew up on a three-meals-a-day diet, recent research indicates that athletes do better by eating five or even six smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Try to consume an equal number of calories in each meal or snack, and space your eating sessions about three to four hours apart.

4. Eat Before Your Workout

Your car doesn’t run without fuel, and the same is true of your body. Training on an empty stomach, whether in a workout, practice or a game, is like trying to drive with the tank on E—you’re bound to stall. A pre-workout meal provides your body with a readily available source of energy. For best results, consume a lean protein and slow-burning carbs like brown rice, sweet potatoes or oatmeal about an hour or so before training begins.

5. Stay Hydrated During Your Workout

You want to drink enough water to replace what you lose through sweat, but remember that hydration is an ongoing process. Make sure your fluid intake is adequate at all times—before, during and after activity. (See Guidelines for Effective Pre-Workout Nutrition.)

6. Refuel After Your Workout

Exercise depletes your body of energy and can damage muscle tissue, so it’s important to replenish your glycogen stores (the body’s main source of fuel) and supply some protein for muscle repair within about an hour of working out. Studies indicate that taking in a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein can help you accomplish both goals. Aim for 15 to 30 grams of protein and 30 to 90 grams of carbs after your workout. (Need ideas? Try these Post-Workout Foods for Any Occasion.)

Brian Lebo
- Brian Lebo is the owner and director of Athletic Performance Training Center, a strength and conditioning facility in North Royalton, Ohio. He specializes in helping...
Brian Lebo
- Brian Lebo is the owner and director of Athletic Performance Training Center, a strength and conditioning facility in North Royalton, Ohio. He specializes in helping...

Featured Videos

Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Views: 1,265,894
Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 2: Laying the Groundwork Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 2: Laying the Groundwork Views: 197,143
Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 4: Skill Training Eastbay Path to the Pros Episode 4: Skill Training Views: 396,957
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill
Views: 6,866,189
Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 43,354,155
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,501,209
Dustin Pedroia on Training Dustin Pedroia on Training
Views: 10,920,894
Dwight Howard Stays in the Gym All Night Dwight Howard Stays in the Gym All Night
Views: 6,134,125

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

12 Foods Every Athlete Should Eat

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

Where the Paleo Diet Falls Short

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

Healthy (and Unhealthy) BBQ Ideas For Athletes

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

5 Delicious Ways to Make Junk Food Less Junky

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

5 Foods That Are Stunningly High in Sodium

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

Healthy Eating at Restaurants: Decoding a Diner Menu

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

Vegetarian Athlete Tips: Olympic Swimmer Kate Ziegler

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

The Healthiest (And Unhealthiest) Ways to Eat Chicken

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

The Cheat Meal Day: Why It's Not So Smart

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

9 Athlete-Approved Peanut Butter Sandwiches

10 Athlete-Approved High-Protein Cereals

10 Athlete-Approved High-Protein Cereals

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

STUDY: Eat More Fruits and Veggies, Live (Almost) Forever

Registered Dietitians Reveal Their Favorite Ways to Eat Fruit

Registered Dietitians Reveal Their Favorite Ways to Eat Fruit

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

The Grain Guide: How and Why to Use 8 Healthy Whole Grains

How to Eat Healthy at a Dingy Sports Bar

How to Eat Healthy at a Dingy Sports Bar

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

5 'Good Foods' That Might Be Bad for You

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

5 Ways Junk Food Can Mess With Your Head

5 Simple Food Swaps That Make Eating Out Healthier

5 Simple Food Swaps That Make Eating Out Healthier

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

11 Food Services That Deliver Ready-Made Nutritious Meals

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

7 Foods That Are Ruining Your Workouts

Cookout Commandments: What to Eat (and Avoid) at Your Summer BBQ

Cookout Commandments: What to Eat (and Avoid) at Your Summer BBQ

How Marc Gasol Got Better by Overhauling His Diet

How Marc Gasol Got Better by Overhauling His Diet

Binge Eating Disorder and Athletes

Binge Eating Disorder and Athletes

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

Load Up on These Foods at Your Backyard Barbecue

The Boston Cannons' ‘Keep It Real’ Eating Plan

The Boston Cannons' 'Keep It Real' Eating Plan

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

You Should Eat the Peel of These 12 Fruits and Vegetables

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

6 Eating Mistakes That Undo Your Workouts

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

A Sneaky Food Additive Athletes Should Avoid

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

5 Protein-Packed Recovery Shakes

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

How Undereating Can Make You Gain Weight

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

5 Healthy Foods That Got a Bad Rap

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

Fuel Up Fast With 4 Smoothies From the New York Giants

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

Brown Rice vs. White Rice: Does It Really Matter?

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

4 'Bad Foods' That Might be Good for You

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

Terrible Toppings: The 5 Worst Things We Put on Food

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

Healthy Makeovers for 3 Classic Meals

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

3 Fruits and 3 Vegetables Athletes Must Eat

9 Foods to Eat When You Want to Lose Fat

9 Foods to Eat When You Want to Lose Fat

What to Eat If You Hate Bananas

What to Eat If You Hate Bananas

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

Salad Showdown: Which Greens Are the Healthiest?

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Small Change, Big Difference: 5 Foods You Should Buy Organic

Why You Should Say No to Diet Foods

Why You Should Say No to Diet Foods

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

5 'Healthy' Side Dishes That Are Worse Than French Fries

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

6 Healthy Foods You're Overeating

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

How Friends and Family Affect Your Food Choices

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

The Best Foods for Digestive Health

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

Are You Eating Too Much Protein?

YardBarker