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What is Sports Nutrition?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Sports nutrition is a branch of nutritional science which focuses on the unique nutritional needs of athletes. People who want to achieve better athletic performance for casual sports and workouts often need to adjust their diets to meet their physical needs, and professional athletes often use the services of an experienced dietitian or nutritionist to make sure that their diets are designed appropriately. Numerous references on sports nutrition for specific sports can be found in print around the world.

Athletes burn a lot of energy, which means that they need to consume more energy than sedentary individuals. One of the best sources of energy is carbohydrates, making an increased carb intake critical for an athlete, and athletes also usually require slightly more protein. They also need the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetables, and a well designed diet may also include some wiggle room for treats ranging from ice cream to slices of cake.

Another critical nutritional need for athletes is water consumption. Failure to drink enough water can result in an electrolyte imbalance, which can cause medical problems. Therefore, it is important for athletes to integrate water into their dietary plans, and to make sure that water is consumed in appropriate amounts at the right intervals, as too much water can also be damaging.

Different types of athletes have different nutritional needs, as do male and female athletes. Sprinters and marathon runners, for example, require different things from their bodies, and they also train differently for races, which means that their diets will be different. Sports nutrition considers the sport an athlete is involved in, and his or her physical condition. Different nutrition may also be involved for training, tapering down after a meet, or gearing up for a meet.

Many athletes also try to eat food which is healthy, in addition to nutritionally necessary. They may opt for a heavy concentration of fresh foods, for example, and try to avoid packaged foods if possible. Whole foods like unhusked grains, whole fruit, and so forth can be very popular with athletes, to ensure a rich balance of vitamins and minerals in the diet.

Sports clubs and gyms sometimes offer nutrition for sports workshops, which are an excellent resource for information on sports nutrition. Personal trainers can also provide tips and advice, whether people are trying to build muscle for bodybuilding, or trim down for rock climbing. Athletes at all levels can also work with nutrition professionals to tailor a diet regimen which will meet their needs, and to learn more about the complex science behind sports nutrition.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By tigers88 — On Apr 24, 2012

I remember hearing about the diet that Michael Phelps ate before he won all those gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. Every day he would consume something like 15,000 calories because he was training so hard.

For breakfast he would eat a huge plate of eggs, pancakes and sausage. For lunch it was an entire pizza and a huge plate of pasta. For dinner it was massive amounts of meat and starches. A lot of the food was surprisingly unhealthy because he needed to consume so many calories. The guy ate like a horse.

By summing — On Apr 24, 2012

@chivebasil - I completely agree. I played on the offensive line when I was in college. It is really difficult to manage your weight when you are a lineman.

Basically, you have to be fat, but not too fat. Linemen need to be more than just strong, they need to be big and wide. You have to have some bulk. That means that you have to eat a lot to keep the meat on your bones. But if you eat too much and gain too much weight your performance and coordination will decline. It is not easy to do. Luckily we had nutritionists that developed detailed diets for us to follow.

By chivebasil — On Apr 23, 2012

Nutrition is vital for peak athletic performance. The best athletes will tell you that you have to consider every single thing you put into your body. Especially during the season.

A lot of the pros will pig out for a week or two right after the season and then go straight back into their nutrition regiment in order to prepare for off season training. It takes a lot of discipline to eat like this. As an athlete you develop a powerful hunger and have to consume a lot of calories to keep your weight balanced. Making sure that these are all healthy calories can be difficult.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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