Sports Nutrition


Sports Nutrition

Your ability to recover and grow from your workouts is directly related to your nutrition.  Nutrition also directly affects your ability to lose body fat and/or gain muscle.  This section will cover the following topics:

  1. Basic Facts
  2. Health & Performance Checklist
  3. Why Nutrition is Important
  4. Pre Exercise Nutrition
  5. Post Exercise Nutrition
  6. Muscle Gain Strategies and Foods
  7. Body Fat Loss Strategies and Foods
  8. Hydration
  9. Muscle Cramp Prevention
  10. Healthy Grocery List
  11. Healthy Eating Pyramid


Before you read on, test yourself to see where you are with your nutrition.  Honest efforts, yield honest results.


Health & Performance ChecklistGive yourself 1 point for each question you answer ‘yes’ to

  1. Do you eat breakfast 7 days a week?
  2. Do you eat foods from at least 3 different food groups at breakfast?
  3. Do you eat 3 balanced meals at approximately the same time each day?
  4. Do you eat a nutritious mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack?
  5. Do you eat at least 3 pieces of fresh fruit each day?
  6. Do you eat at least 5 servings of fresh vegetables each day?
  7. Do you choose primarily high fiber breads and cereals?
  8. Do you eat lean &/or low-fat protein at each meal?
  9. Do you limit your intake of saturated fat (found in meats, cheeses, dairy products, butter)?
  10. Do you eat at least 2 servings of “good fat” each day- found in nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, fish, and/or eggs?
  11. Do you limit your intake of processed and refined foods (foods made from white flour, foods high in sugar and sodium, packaged foods)?
  12. Do you eat and drink adequately to maintain your bodyweight (this should be your goal unless you are on a fat loss or weight gain program)?
  13. Do you eat a post-workout or post-practice snack within 30 minutes?
  14. Do you eat a healthy post-workout or post-practice meal within 2 hours?
  15. Do you drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day (not including fluid intake during exercise)?
  16. Do you sleep at least 7-8 hours each night?
  17. Do you go to bed at approximately the same time each night and get up at approximately the same time each morning?
  18. Do you research and choose supplements based on 3rd party organizations (Informed Choice, NSF for Sport, REC Exchange, and BSCG) that test dietary supplements for safety?

SCORE: /18

15-18: Performing Like A Champ! 9-14: Losing an Edge! <9: Missing Out- Big Time!

Why Nutrition is Important


Choosing the correct foods at the right proportions and the right times can mean all the difference between success and defeat. A properly fueled and hydrated athlete is primed to perform at their best while minimizing the chances of fatigue, injury and dehydration.

Nutrition, however, is not only preparative and preventative. No, in addition, nutrition provides the critical “trigger” for translating practice and weight training into increases in strength, power, speed and agility.



Relationship between Training and Nutrition

















***Simply put Lifting and Conditioning create a stimulus to the body and proper rest and nutrition allow for muscular adaptions of Speed, Strength, and Power.


On the field and off the field nutrition is key! For you to maximize your performance and recover quickly having consistent good eating habits will bring your conditioning, speed and strength performances to the next level.


The 10 guidelines of Healthy Nutrition by Precision Nutrition


  1. Eat every 2-4 hours. You don’t need a full meal every 3 hours. But eating more often will help you eat smaller meals, stabilize your blood sugar, ensure adequate recovery, and help you maintain a better body composition.


  1. Eat complete, lean protein each time you eat Protein is muscle food; you can do everything else right and your muscles won’t grow unless you give them the protein they need. It’s not necessarily easy to get enough protein. But it’s manageable if you have some with each meal.


  1. Eat vegetables every time you eat It is recommended that you get 10 to 15 servings of vegetables per day. The easiest way to do this is to have some veggies every time you eat. You can throw in fruit here and there but veggies are better.


  1. Eat carbs only when you deserve to. Eat fruits and veggies anytime you want but only eat carb foods such as pasta, bread etc. after your workout. That’s when your body needs them the most. And that’s when you are the least likely to gain body fat from an overreliance on dietary carbs.


  1. Learn to Love Healthy Fats There are three types of fat, saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Eating all three kinds in a healthy balance can dramatically improve your health and even help you lose fat.


  1. Drink mostly zero calorie drinks. The best choices are water and green tea. Obviously this rule can be broken in moderation but the more beverages you have with calories the harder it is going to be to become leaner.


  1. Focus on whole foods. Eating whole foods is always better than taking supplement powders or pills. Try to eat as much whole-food protein, veggies and fats as you can. And if you need a little extra to get you where you need to be, then supplement with protein powders, super foods and fish oil.


  1. Have 10% foods. The above rules may seem like they will be impossible to follow all of the time, and although they really aren’t, plan on breaking the rules 10 % of the time. Everyone has that favorite food or desert that doesn’t exactly adhere to the above rules. And, if you’re eating 42 meals a week (6 meals a day) that means 10% of the time (4 full meals) you can eat what you want.


  1. Develop food preparation strategies. The hardest part about eating well is making sure you can follow the 8 rules above consistently. And this is where preparation comes in. You might know what to eat, but if isn’t available, you’ll blow it when it’s time for a meal.


  1. Balance daily food choices with healthy variety Mix it up, healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring or bland. Change your veggies or your protein or your seasoning. Variety is going to make this method of eating much more enjoyable.




Fast Nutrition Facts

  • Training doesn’t stop on the field or in the weight room
    • Smart Food Choice is just as important during your training/practice days as it is before a game.  You must always be conscious that you are “training” your body with the correct food choices.
    • Benefits of Daily Good Nutrition:
      • Decreased time of recovery
      • Increased energy
      • Decreased loss of muscle tissue in-season
      • Increased stamina
      • Decreased body fat percentage
      • Injury prevention
      • Improved health
  • Eat CARBS before a workout to increase your energy levels!!

See Healthy Grocery list for more choices

    • Whole grain bagel
    • Oatmeal
    • High carbohydrate energy bar
    • Fruit
  • Protein + CARBS = RECOVERY
    • Be sure to EAT after a workout
    • CARBS – Restore used muscle energy stores
    • Protein – Help start repairing muscle damage and grow stronger


  • GET SLEEP!  In order for your muscles to fully recover, you must get an adequate amount of sleep.  A majority of muscle tissue growth and repair occurs during a deep sleep.



Pre-Exercise Meals: The Good and the Bad

  • Why eat prior to exercise?


  1. Eating breakfast prior to exercise would replenish muscle and liver glycogen stores from an overnight fast.
  2. Eating a meal high in carbohydrates raises blood glucose levels. Muscles can then use blood glucose rather than their own glycogen stores for energy, saving the glycogen for exercise.
  • When to eat the pre-competition meal:
    1. A large meal should be eaten 3-4 hours prior to the event.
      1. This allows for maximum digestion, absorption, and metabolism of the nutrients.
      2. Ensures that the stomach has emptied prior to the event.
  • Foods to increase consumption of these foods:
    1. Carbohydrates
      1. Digest and absorb quickly by the muscles as glucose, sparing muscle glycogen for exercise (e.g. pasta, rice, whole grain pasta).
      2. Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for anaerobic and prolonged high intensity aerobic activity.
  • It costs the body less energy to digest carbohydrates than protein or fat – saves your energy for your sport.




  1. Fluids


  1. Hydrate and prevent dehydration from occurring too soon during exercise
  2. 17-20 fl. oz., 2-3 hours before practice/competition
  • 7-10 fl. oz. after the warm-up (10-15 minutes before practice/competition)


  • Reduce Consumption of these foods prior to exercise/competition:
    1. Protein and Fat-
      1. Both digest slowly and require a higher metabolism for digestion and absorption, the additional metabolic heat generated may impair hot weather performance.
      2. Too much prevents carbohydrates from quick digestion and absorption to the muscles.
  • A small amount of lean protein in the pre-exercise meal will provide a small amount of energy to muscle cells, decrease the breakdown of muscle protein, increase protein synthesis in muscle after the workout, and delay hunger prior to the exercise.


  1. Fiber
    1. Too much fiber in a pre-competition meal may lead to gastric distress during the competition/activity.
    2. Fiber decreases the absorption of glucose and delays gastric emptying.
  • Avoid raw vegetables and high bran cereal.
  1. Avoid high fructose based drinks
  • 1 hour before and during exercise.
    1. High sugar content may cause gastric distress when not given proper time to be absorbed prior to exercise
  1. Limit caffeinated beverages:
    1. They may cause gastro-intestinal distress.


Pre-competition Meal

Hours before   a game   Amount of nutrient   Example Meal (200lb. player)


·   1.5 – 2g carbohydrate per lb. of body weight

·   30 – 40g protein

·   16 – 24 oz. fluid

·   375g carbohydrate –

·   4 spoonsful rice

·   1 spoonful vegetables

·   1 cup milk

·   1.5hr later with 1 bagel w/ jelly, 1 cup Gatorade, 1 cup fruit,

·   1 hour later – 1 large banana & 1 cup of water

·   30-40g of protein – chicken breast



Note: Heavier players consume more food while lighter players would consume less.




  • Carbohydrates that are easy to digest and are low to moderate in fiber content.
    • Low glycemic index carbohydrates may be best in order to avoid a spike in blood sugar and will then aid in fueling the body for prolonged exercise
      • Examples: spaghetti, wheat, rye or pumpernickel bread, banana, apple, pears, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, carrots and peas
    •  2-4 oz. of lean protein: chicken, turkey, egg whites, pork, ham
      • Try to avoid nuts, seeds, high-fat cuts of meat, and full-fat dairy prior to a competition or workout.
  • Low –fat, carbohydrate and protein containing foods:
    • Chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils – eat only a small amount of these due to high fiber content
    • Low–fat dairy products: low–fat cottage cheese, skim milk, yogurt


For extra Credit read this article from Precision Nutrition about Workout Nutrition




Post-Exercise Nutrition: Recovery

3 Reasons to eat after exercise:

  1. Refuel for next bout of exercise
  2. Rehydrate
  3. Repair Muscles

**By adhering to the 3 R’s after every lift, practice and/or game, a player can ensure he is “triggering” the right adaptations for optimal recovery and improvements.


Athletes who should you eat after exercise:

  1. Engage in regular intense exercise
  2. Play tournament competitions or multiple qualifying round sports
  3. Involved in competitive events/sports with only 1-2 days for recovery


When to eat after exercise:

  • IMMEDIATELY: “Window of Opportunity” – first 2 hours post-exercise is when the rate of CARB storage in muscles is the FASTEST.
  • Eat small meals consisting mainly of CARBS and some protein every 2-3 hours.


What to eat after exercise:



  • Replenishing your CARB stores is vital to the recovery process and necessary for optimal energy levels during future workouts.
  • YOUR GOAL: EAT within first 15 minutes of ending exercise to initiate replenishment of CARB stores (glycogen) within the muscles.
  • For the endurance sports – Soccer, Cross Country, Field Hockey, Basketball, Lacrosse, etc…Continue to eat/drink 200-300 calories from CARBS every 2 hours after exercise: giving the body a steady stream of CARBS allows for optimal replacement of used stores.
  • Moderate to high glycemic index CARBS replace CARB stores the FASTER
    • Potatoes, Carrots, Honey, Corn, Peas, Pasta, Bananas, Oranges, Rice, and Bread


  • “Feeding” the muscle with necessary building materials helps stimulate muscle repair and growth
  • Aids in replenishment of glycogen when paired with CARBS post-exercise
  • Consume within 1 hour of activity


  • Drink even if you are not thirsty
  • For every 1lbs of sweat loss through activity = drink 16oz of water
  • Fluids with sodium, potassium, and magnesium help SPEED UP rehydration


For Extra Credit read this article about Post Workout Nutrition from Precision Nutrition




Muscle Gain Strategies

Eat more calories

How many?

  • 500-700 more calories than what you are currently eating
    • 50% carbohydrates
    • 50% protein
  • For Example: PB&J sandwich and a glass of milk or a turkey and cheese sandwich with a banana and chocolate milk


Total caloric intake

    • Need to increase the amount of calories you eat on heavy activity days.
    • If lean muscle is to be increased, the amount of calories you eat must exceed the amount of calories burned during exercise
    • You must take in enough calories to meet the physical demands of your day-to-day activities. If not, the body is forced to sacrifice lean muscle tissue for energy.


Nutrient dense diet:

  • Dairy products, vegetables, fruit, beans, meat, and grains must all be a part of your diet. Eating from only a few of the food groups doesn’t provide your body with all the nutrients that you need to perform at maximum capacity.


Post-workout snack:

  • Eaten within 2 hours of exercise, it should be both carbohydrate and protein rich.
  • The carbohydrate restores used muscle energy stores and the protein will stimulate muscle repair and growth.


Eat snacks throughout the day:

  • Fruit, nuts, greek yogurt, WHEY protein shake, quest bars


Bedtime snack:

  • One hour before sleep, have a nutrient dense snack like a sandwich with milk, protein bar, or left over from dinner.

How long until I see results?

  • Muscle growth is a slow process. A half pound to a pound of muscle growth a week can occur when extra calories are combined with weight training


Muscle Gain Foods

  1. Lean Beef
    1. On average, a three-ounce serving of lean beef is only 154 calories, yet it provides ten essential nutrients, including iron, zinc and B-vitamins. More importantly, it provides your body with high quality protein (not all proteins are equal), and a high level of amino acid that works with insulin to promote muscle growth.


  1. Milk
    1. High in protein, carbohydrates, Vitamins D, A, and calcium and is an easy way to take in the extra calories for muscle growth. Chocolate milk is highest in calories!


  1. Oatmeal
    1. Oatmeal is an ideal source of carbs due to both its low glycemic index (GI) value and the fact it is minimally processed.


  1. Sandwiches
    1. Peanut butter and honey sandwich for a snack. Add an extra piece of cheese to your turkey or ham sandwich for an extra 115 calories.  Make it a triple-decker sandwich with an extra slice of bread


  1. Lean protein
    1. Chicken, eggs, fish, pork, beans, and red meat.


  1. Cottage Cheese
    1. Not many people know this, but cottage cheese constitutes relatively pure casein protein. For those who don’t know, casein protein is a slow-digesting protein, which means it is perfect for muscle maintenance


  1. Eggs
    1. Eggs contain high quality protein, nine essential amino acids, choline, the right kind of fat, and vitamin D. To sum it up, they are the most value for money. And please note, eggs are not harmful for your health, as numerous studies have already shown.


  1. Salad
    1. Pile on the vegetables and protein choices like beans, eggs, ham, and cheese


  1. Pasta
    1. Rich in energy and when combined with meat sauce the meal would include three food groups: meat, grain and vegetable.


  1. Healthy Fats
    1. I know some of you shudder at the thought of consuming fats, but good fats are essential for muscle growth. In fact, they play an essential role in hormone production (testosterone and growth hormones) that is responsible for muscle growth and strength gains. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to your pasta or salads for an extra 120 calories!


  1. Peanut Butter
    1. 2 Tablespoons = 190 calories! Organic if possible.


Body Fat Loss Strategies

Eat fewer calories than what you are expending every day – 1 pound = 3,500 calories

  • 500 calories is the most you should cut back daily
  • If more than 500 calories are cut, then you could experience low energy levels during exercise.


Never Skip Meals – Why?

  • Lowered energy levels for exercise
  • Muscle break down for energy
  • May lead to overeating later


Cut out the unhealthy fat – Cut any full fat items from your diet and replace with low-fat food choices to ensure your body uses its current fat stores.


Avoid processed foods and “snack foods” like chips or pretzels.


Do not fry foods in oil or fat

  • Bake, broil, sauté, or microwave foods instead.


Eat plenty of vegetables throughout the day.


Increase dietary fiber to help satisfy hunger by choosing whole wheat breads, fruits, and vegetables.


Increase your water intake up to 1 oz per ½ lbs of body weight


Eat high-quality proteins that are low in fat.

  • Lean ground meat, chicken, turkey, pork, ham, Canadian bacon, fish, eggs, skim milk


Eat smaller food portions:   By decreasing the amount you eat at meals by ¼, you will decrease the number of calories you eat by ¼.


Eat slowly:

  • It takes time for your body to sense that it is full
  • This will help prevent overeating


How long until I see results? Only lose 1-2 lbs/week safely. This is to ensure that you maximize fat loss and minimize muscle loss.


1 lb. = 3,500 calories: 500 calories fewer a day for 7 days.  Losing weight is a DAILY awareness of calorie intake vs. expenditure.



Body Fat Loss Foods

  • Choose:


  • Skim milk versus whole or chocolate milk
  • Water instead of Gatorade or juice at meals or during the day
  • Plain Toast instead of Jam or butter on toast
  • No dressing or Extra Virgin Olive Oil w/ Balsamic Vinegar instead of full fat dressing
  • Broth-based soup instead of creamy
    • Soups are great because the high water content fills you up and keeps you hydrated!


  • Do eat


  • Fruits and vegetables as snacks
    • They are higher in fiber to help keep you full!
    • Lower in fat and calories
    • 2 pieces of whole fruit
    • 2 cups of sliced fruit or berries
    • Eat lots of fresh or frozen vegetables
  • Low-fat meats like chicken or turkey instead of bacon, sausage, or pepperoni
  • Whole grains – they keep you full longer due to the fiber content


  • Reduce intake of:


  • Fried foods such as French fries, chicken fingers, hash browns, onion rings
  • Sweets like cakes, cookies and ice cream


For extra Credit check of these additional 10 fat loss foods




Hydration Tips

  1. 2 Hours before exercise: drink at least 2 cups (16 oz.) water


  1. 5-15 minutes before: drink 1 cup (8 oz.) water


  1. Every 10-15 minutes during: ½ cup – 1 cup water


  1. In hot weather drink as often as possible


Sport Tips:

  • COOL fluids do DOUBLE DUTY:
    • Help COOL the body
    • Leaves the stomach FASTER for better hydration
  • Carry around a bottle of water during the day to keep you drinking
  • Drink even if you are not thirsty – Thirst is our body’s way of saying that we are already dehydrated
  • Sports drinks are great for long duration activities and hot weather – the CARBS keep you energized and fluid and electrolytes keep you hydrated


How to tell if you are dehydrated:

  1. Weight: Weight before & after exercise helps determine how much you need to drink.

Every 1 lb. of weight lost via sweat = 16 oz. of fluids

  1. Thirst = Dehydration … drink even if you aren’t thirsty!
  2. Urine: COLOR should be light yellow and not have a strong ODOR



Using Nutrition to Prevent Muscle Cramping

What is a muscle cramp?

A painful involuntary skeletal muscle contraction that will not relax

Why do athletes get muscle cramps?

  1. Dehydration – large loss of water and electrolytes
  2. Lack of minerals in food or drinks
  3. Muscle fatigue due to inadequate training

How you can AVOID them …

  1. Sip plenty of fluids before, during, and after exercise
  2. While exercising in the heat or for longer than 30 minutes, grab an electrolyte enhanced beverage, like Gatorade or PowerAde
  3. Devour foods high in electrolytes and minerals (fruits & vegetables)
  4. Stretch before exercise
  5. Gradually increase intensity and duration of exercise

Foods high in minerals

  • Calcium: spinach, kale, turnips, collard greens, dairy products: milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Magnesium: nuts, green leafy vegetables, milk, meat

Foods high in electrolytes

  • Potassium
    • Fruits and vegetables: bananas and potatoes
  • Sodium
    • Salt your foods with Sea Salt
    • Sports drinks or enhanced water
  • Chloride
    • Table salt: 60% chloride
    • Processed foods/canned goods

What to do if you get a cramp:

Stretch, ice, massage, and gradually begin to move it.  Make an Ice Roller HERE.



Include as many of these healthy choices into your diet








Take Home Points

  • Nutrition has the potential for the most positive effect on your body’s ability for growth outside the weight room
  • Your PRE workout/practice/game and POST workout/practice/game meals are the most important
  • Eat more quality carbohydrates and protein to gain muscle
  • Eat more salads, fruit, and lean proteins to lose body fat
  • Use the color of your urine to judge your hydration status
  • Dehydration compromises cardiovascular function, heart rate, temperature regulation, cognition, and reaction time
  • Expand your menu of healthy foods to prevent body fat gain and improve athletic performance


Proper nutrition is vital for an aspiring championship team.  As Vince Lombardi once said, “the difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”  Therefore, a player who trains hard but does not eat like a champion resigns himself to mediocrity.  A player who trains hard and does eat like a champion, however, sets himself up for success because he wills it so.



  1. Rutgers Football Performance Nutrition Manual. Dylan Klein, PhD student in nutritional sciences.  Please contact Dylan for nutrition consults at


  1. Inez Crismali, BS in Exercise Science, Concordia University