The food and drink an athlete eats before, during and after exercise is important for achieving good sports performance. The right balance of energy from protein, carbohydrates and fats is necessary to maintain a healthy body weight. A well-planned diet, especially for children and adolescents, should provide enough fuel to support optimal sports performance and growth.
Eating meals and snacks that are low in saturated fat and added sugar is recommended as part of a balanced sports nutrition plan. This helps ensure adequate intake of nutrients such as fibre, iron and zinc. It also allows for a flexible eating pattern that may vary according to training schedules.
Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source and should make up 60-70% of an athlete’s total calories (1,2). Consuming carbohydrate-rich foods, such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, is a key factor for athletes. These are more nutritious than refined carbohydrate foods, such as jams, lollies and white bread, which should be a small percentage of the diet (2,3).
High-intensity training and competition require the replenishment of carbohydrate energy stores after exercise. This is best accomplished by consuming 30-60 g of a simple carbohydrate source within the first hour after training or competition (3,4).
For long-distance endurance athletes, it is also important to consume carbohydrate energy supplements if available. These are often liquids containing 25 g of carbohydrate per serving, and may contain add-ins such as caffeine or vitamins. They can be consumed as needed during exercise sessions lasting longer than 1 hour (5).