While what you eat before, during and after your sport is very important, a healthy, balanced diet, providing sufficient energy, macronutrients and micronutrients is also essential. Such a diet will help you to perform at your best, make sure that you have sustained energy, improve your health and prevent illness. In this article we will take a closer look at some of the components of a healthy diet, as well as guidelines around the amounts required. Take note that while not mentioned in this article, other important dietary components to monitor are your fluid and fibre intake.
Achieving an energy balance requires energy taken in through food and drinks to match energy expended through daily metabolic functions and activity. A sufficient daily energy intake is essential for ensuring that the body is able to perform all necessary functions, while still having sufficient fuel for training. Energy requirements will vary according to gender, size and body composition, as well as training type, intensity and frequency. Therefore, at different stages of training, an individual’s energy requirements may vary and intake should be adapted. It may be advisable to consult with a registered sports dietician to calculate exact energy requirements1,2,3.
Carbohydrates play numerous roles in sports, arguably the most important of all – is its role in energy provision. They provide an important energy source to the brain, central nervous system and muscles during exercise. Since the body is only able to store limited amounts of carbohydrates, it is important that adequate amounts are provided through the diet. The below table provides guidelines for daily carbohydrate intake in athletes.
Type of training
Daily carbohydrate needs per kilogram body weight
Low-intensity or skill-based exercise
3 to 5 g
Moderate duration and low intensity
5 to 7 g
Moderate to heavy-training load and high intensity
6 to 10 g
Extreme training and high-intensity races (longer than 4 to 5 hours)
> 8 to 12 g
These amounts will generally equate to around half or more of your total energy intake. For good health, the majority of carbohydrates in the diet should come from nutrient-dense sources such as wholegrain breads and cereals, rice, pasta, fruits, starchy vegetables (e.g. sweet potato, potato and corn), legumes, and dairy products. You should always try to include lower GI products to provide sustained energy4.5,6.
Athletes require a moderate amount of high quality protein in the diet, usually between 1.2g and 2g per kilogram of body weight per day. Protein is essential for many functions within the body, including the most recognised one, muscle protein synthesis. Requirements can be met with a well-planned diet, making supplements unnecessary. Intake should ideally be spread throughout the day, rather than at one or two meals. Protein can be obtained from both plant and animal sources, but it is important to be aware that animal proteins, while high quality, are often higher in fat. Please be aware that lower fat options should be prioritised. Below are some examples of both plant and animal protein sources, which could be included in the diet4,7,8.
- Skinless chicken or turkey
- Tuna, hake, trout and salmon
- Pork without fat rind and fresh ham
- Red meat, visible fat cut off before cooking
- Extra lean mince
- Split peas
- Chick peas
- Did you know: FUTURELIFE® High Protein Smart Food™ provides 30g of high quality protein per 100g. Adding milk to this will further increase protein availability.
While fat is necessary for absorption and transportation of fat soluble vitamins, protection of organs, brain development and is an integral component of cell membranes, it is also a very energy-dense macronutrient. This means that an excessive intake can lead to weight gain. While fat allowances will vary according to goals in sports nutrition, it should usually make up around 30% of total energy intake, with saturated fats making up less than 10% of energy intake. Unsaturated fats come mostly from plant sources and are considered “healthy fats” because they have the ability to lower “bad” cholesterol and increase “good” cholesterol which benefits the heart and vascular system. Omega-3 fatty acids also provide many health promoting benefits, while trans-fats should be avoided as far as possible, always check trans-fat content on labels4,8. FUTURELIFE® products do not contain Trans fats and majority of them are also cholesterol free.
‘Micronutrients’ refers to vitamins and minerals, which the body requires in small amounts daily for many necessary functions. Each micronutrient has a NRV or a daily intake considered to be sufficient to meet the currently recognised nutritional needs of the majority of healthy people. Due to biomechanical adaptations that take place in active people, the requirements for certain micronutrients may be slightly increased. However, with meeting increased energy requirements and eating a healthy, balanced diet, without any food group exclusions, micronutrient requirements are also usually met. Pay special attention to fruit and vegetable intake, making sure that you eat 5 or more servings per day. Fruit and vegetables are rich sources of micronutrients. Ensure that you vary your choices of fruit and vegetables, choosing different colour options. One serving is equal to one medium fruit, one cup of raw vegetables or half a cup of cooked vegetables.
If you feel for whatever reason that you may not be getting sufficient micronutrients, take a multivitamin at 100-150% of the NRV for each nutrient. Individual micronutrients should not be supplemented without a diagnosed deficiency.
Did you know: FUTURELIFE® High Energy Smart Food™, FUTURELIFE® High Protein Smart Food™ and FUTURELIFE® ZERO provides 100 % of the NRV’s for all vitamins and most minerals per 100g.
- Angela Bentley: The truth about protein
- FUTURELIFE® Sports nutrition presentation