What Athletes Need to Eat – and Drink – During the Off-Season

Two young athletes make a food selection.

The biggest question every athlete should ask is, “Can I perform better?” The answer? Yes! 

Nutrition plays a vital role in an athlete's performance, especially during summer and off-season conditioning. Although fad diets are constantly circulating online, these are often not as optimal for performance-based athletes. Instead, athletes should consult a healthcare professional, such as an athletic trainer, to help create a specific plan based on the food that is enjoyable and available to them.

What does an athlete's body need?

Let’s start with the basics: calories. Calories are not something to be feared; in fact, a calorie is only a unit used to measure energy and fuel for your body. If someone told you gas was bad for your car, how would it perform if you withheld gas from it? Like a car, your body is a tank, and unneeded calories are stored as adipose tissue, also known as fat. 

How many calories should an athlete consume? To calculate Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE), you need to calculate the basal metabolic rate (how many calories you need for normal body functioning to lie in bed all day) and daily activity. Use this calorie calculator from the Mayo Clinic to help.

How can athletes fulfill dietary requirements?

Now that you have calculated daily caloric needs, you need to know how to achieve these dietary goals. In this article, we will consider three basic measurements, collectively known as macronutrients. Fats, proteins and carbohydrates each have a specific unit of energy. Fats provide nine calories per gram, and both proteins and carbohydrates each provide four calories per gram.

Our goal as athletic trainers is to create a nutrition plan centered on these macronutrients to fulfill athletes’ TDEE. For performance-based athletes, our recommendation is to create a diet that is 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fats. For example, if an athlete’s TDEE is 2,000 calories, then the goal would be 200 grams (800 calories) of carbohydrates, 150 grams (600 calories) of protein and roughly 66 grams (600 calories) of fats.

Proteins should consist of lean meats, such as chicken, fish and beef. Athletes should aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of weight. Carbohydrates include rice, bread, pasta and vegetables. Remember that fats aren’t all bad – try to include healthy fats, which include oils, butter, nuts and dairy, in diet plans.

Calories should be spread throughout the day in smaller meals rather than a few large meals. Additionally, pre- and post-workout meals should be used to replenish calories.

It’s important to remember hydration, too. How much water performance-based athletes consume is dependent on their body. The main goal for athletes when it comes to water is to avoid the risk of dehydration and enhance performance. Sports drinks can be used to replace electrolytes lost through perspiration, but water should still be a priority. Athletes should drink 0.5 oz to 0.75 oz of water for each pound of body weight depending on activity level.

At UK Orthopaedic Surgery & Sports Medicine, our specialists and surgeons develop and implement state-of-the-art techniques to diagnose, treat, research and educate patients about bone and joint disorders.Call 859-218-3131 to make an appointment.

This content was produced by UK HealthCare Brand Strategy.

Topics in this Story

    Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine