Athlete Nutrition

Dr Shannon Nierman of Allen County Chiropractic Wellness Center took some time to share thoughts on proper athlete nutrition. They’re a sponsor of Team NeighborLink and have a passion to help athletes reach their full potential and handle the physical challenges of competing at a high level.

You can download the info below here as well.


·    Athletes achieve peak performance by training and eating a balanced diet including a variety of foods.

·    Carbohydrates and fat provide fuel for the body.

·    The use of fat as a fuel source depends on the intensity and duration of the exercise, as well as the condition of the athlete.

·    Exercise may increase the athlete’s need for protein.

Water is a critical nutrient for athletes. Dehydration can cause muscle cramping and fatigue, and increases the risk for heat stroke


Complex carbohydrates come from foods such as potatoes, beans, vegetables, whole grain pasta, cereals and other grain products. Simple carbohydrates are found in foods such as fruits, milk, honey and sugar. During digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates to glucose, which is then utilized for energy or converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver to fulfill later energy needs.

During exercise, stored glycogen is converted back to glucose and used for energy. The body can only store a finite amount of carbohydrates as glycogen. The ability to sustain prolonged vigorous exercise is directly related to initial levels of muscle glycogen. For events lasting less than two hours, the glycogen stores in muscles are typically sufficient to supply the needed energy. Extra carbohydrates will not help any more than adding gas to a half-full tank will make the car go faster.

For events that require heavy work for more than two hours, a high-carbohydrate diet eaten for two to three days before the event allows glycogen storage spaces to be filled. Endurance athletes, such as long distance runners, cyclists, swimmers, and cross-country skiers, report benefits from a pre-competition diet, in which 70 percent of the calories come from carbohydrates.


Fat is also a significant contributor to energy needs. It supplies 9 kcal/g of fat, making it the most energy dense macronutrient. During ultra-endurance events, lasting 6-10 hours, fat can contribute 60-70% of energy requirements.

Using fat as fuel depends on the event’s duration and the athlete’s condition. As duration increases and/or intensity decreases, the utilization of fat as an energy source increases. For moderate exercise, about half of the total energy expenditure is derived from free fatty acid metabolism. If the event lasts more than an hour, the body may use mostly fats for energy. Furthermore, trained athletes use fat for energy more quickly than untrained athletes.


When compared to fat and carbohydrates, protein contributes minimally to energy needs for the body. Dietary protein is digested into amino acids, which are used as the building blocks for the different tissues, enzymes, and hormones that the body needs to function. It is important for muscle building and repair that occurs after exercise.

Exercise may increase an athlete’s need for protein, depending on the type and frequency of exercise. The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram per day. However, the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that endurance athletes eat between 1.2-1.4 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day and resistance and strength-trained athletes eat as much as 1.2-1.7 grams protein per kg of body weight.

Eating protein after an athletic event has been shown to support muscle protein synthesis. However, eating protein in excess of nutritional needs has not been shown to further increase muscle building. Extra protein is broken down for energy or is stored as fat.

H2O & Electrolytes

Water is an important nutrient for the athlete. Water loss during an athletic event varies between individuals. Sweat loss can be tracked by measuring weight immediately before and after exercise.

Pre Race

Eating before competition can increase performance when compared to exercising in a fasting state. A pre-game meal three to four hours before the event allows for optimal digestion and energy supply. Most authorities recommend small pre-game meals that provide 500 to 1,000 calories. This meal should be sufficient but not excessive, so as to prevent both hunger and undigested food.

The meal should be high in starch, which breaks down more easily than protein and fats. The starch should be in the form of complex carbohydrates (breads, cold cereal, pasta, fruits and vegetables). They are digested at a rate that provides consistent energy to the body and are emptied from the stomach in two to three hours.

Post Race

Regardless of age, gender or sport, the post-game competition meal recommendations are the same. Following a training session or competition, a small meal eaten within thirty minutes is very beneficial. The meal should be mixed, meaning it contains carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Protein synthesis is greatest during the window of time immediately following a workout and carbohydrates will help replete diminished glycogen stores. However, consuming food within the 30 minute window may be difficult for athletes—they often experience nausea or lack of hunger. Options to address this difficulty include:

·       Consuming a drink that contains carbohydrates and protein. There are several liquid smoothies and beverages on the market that provide high protein and carbohydrates for replenishment. One classic is a protein shake or meal replacement drink.

·       If that is difficult, fruit, bread, crackers, or popsicles would all be better than not consuming any food.

If you are a carb athlete you will stick to the carbs for your fuel primarily (the info above), if you are a low-carb high fat athlete then you will load with fats and keep your carbs low. Try to keep your ratio around 75% fat, 20% protein and 5% carbs based on your caloric goals for the high fat low carb athlete. You may want to “carb load” several days before your event, if it is going to be 2-3 hours or longer, but give your body time to recover from the spike in carbs/sugar before your event.

Just eat for races like you eat to train, that’s what training is for.

** Always practice during training with any foods that you may want to use during the race. NEVER try something new on race day!

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