Eating to be active

  • Published: Wednesday, July 8, 2009
  • Reviewed Date: Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Eating for performance is often overlooked by athletes. Foods contain nutrients that are important for various body functions. For example, fat stores vitamins, carbohydrates are energy for muscles and protein helps the body repair itself after exercise. Eating for peak performance is very similar to a normal healthy diet. Carbohydrates, protein and fat are important components of a healthy sports diet. Each of these nutrients is important and should be included in your diet every day.


Carbohydrates should comprise approximately 60 percent of your daily diet. Carbs are the energy source for your muscles and brain. In fact, your brain only uses carbs for energy. Have you ever "bonked" or "hit the wall" while working out? If you did and you had a hard time focusing, this is because you ran out of fuel for your brain. Without enough carbs, your body will break down protein, like your muscles, to fuel your activity. Choose a variety of carbohydrates. Foods with carbs include vegetables, fruit, dairy products, grains, breads, pasta, rice and crackers. Try adding more whole grains to your diet like whole-grain bread, whole-wheat pasta, brown rice and grains like barley and popcorn.


Most athletes need approximately 4 to 8 ounces of protein each day. Protein is important for recovery and repair of damaged tissue, and aids in many of your body’s functions. The increased amount of calories athletes consume usually supply plenty of protein. Look for low-fat and lean protein sources. Cuts of meat with the words “round” and “loin” are lean protein sources, as are chicken, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products, like tofu.


Although it may not seem like it, fat is an important part of the diet. Fat provides energy for your body, acts as cushioning to absorb the shock of falls, is a storage place for certain vitamins, regulates body temperature and provides essential compounds for your body. There are different types of fats, like saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids. Not all fats are created equal. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids have minimal effects on cholesterol and can be thought of as good fats. In fact, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to increase the level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), considered the good cholesterol. Foods like walnuts, olives, avocados, salmon, herring, mackerel and plant oils like olive oil, canola oil, soybean oil, sunflower and safflower oil contain these good fats. Saturated fats from animal products and trans fats found in foods with hydrogenated oils should be avoided. These fats can have a negative impact on your heart health. Work to limit these fats in your diet. Try low-fat and fat-free dairy, lean meats and less-processed foods. By reading the nutrition facts panel on a food package, you can identify foods high in saturated and trans fat and substitute other foods with healthier fats.

Writer: Jessica Kovarik

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