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The Effects of Diet on Sports

author image Stewart Flaherty
With a sport psychology master's degree and a successful coaching background, Stewart Flaherty has experience in improving performance in a number of areas. His articles specialize in sport psychology, nutrition and coaching.
The Effects of Diet on Sports
Two men playing basketball on an outdoor court. Photo Credit: Notorious91/iStock/Getty Images

The performance you get out of your body is directly impacted by the fuel you put into it. Sports performance is directly impacted by the foods you eat. Your body converts food to energy and requires proper nutrition to build the muscle that will increase strength and speed for an athlete.

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Complex Carbohydrates

Consuming enough complex carbohydrates will have a direct impact on the energy stores you have during sports performance. According to research published by Colorado State University, athletes benefit the most from the amount of carbohydrates stored in the body. In the early stages of moderate exercise, carbohydrates provide 40 to 50 per cent of the energy requirement. For up to 90 minutes, the body gets energy from glycogen stored in the muscles. After 90 minutes, the body calls upon glycogen stores. Jennifer Anderson of Colorado State University states that to maximize these stores, an athlete must consume a high-carbohydrate diet for at least two or three days before competition. Anderson cited that “long distance runners, swimmers and soccer players report benefits from a pre competition diet where 70 per cent of the calories come from carbohydrates." Good complex carbohydrate sources are spaghetti, rice, baked potato and whole-meal bread.


Protein intake does not have a direct impact on immediate sports performance but will impact your ability to develop muscles and gain speed and strength improvements over time. David Marmon, a speed and strength coach at the college of William & Mary, says protein intake is “the building block of muscle.” After strength training, an immediate protein intake will help your body repair and grow the muscles trained. Marmon explains that for an athlete, protein intake requirements are1.5 to 2.5 grams per kilogram of lean body mass. Good low-fat sources of protein include, fish, lean meant and beans.


Excess fat has a negative impact on sports performance and should be avoided. Although some essential fatty acids are good for overall health, fat takes a long time to digest and can slow you down during competition. You should eat a low-fat meal before and after competition to maximize your energy level. High-fat foods such as chocolate and fast food should be eliminated from the diet of an athlete.


The National Institutes of Health explains that water is the most important yet overlooked nutrient for sports performance. You should drink eight to 10 glasses of water each day and hydrate with water or a sports drink before, during and after competition. Being fully hydrated will delay fatigue during sports performance and maximize your physical capability.

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