Daily Meal Plans for Athletes

Athletic woman jumping over hurdle
A woman is sprinting over a hurdle. (Image: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

Performing at your athletic best starts with a healthy diet. Getting the proper nutrition is essential for your body to operate at its peak capacity. The key is to eat a well-balanced diet consisting of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, fiber and healthy fats. You also need to eat more than the average person, but be sure to make healthy food choices for the best results.

The Facts

When engaging in any sort of physical activity on a regular basis, you body will require additional calories to compensate for the calories burned during the activity. As an athlete, you need to consume plenty of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats for energy and increased muscle capacity. Teenage athletes may require anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 calories per day, according to the TeensHealth website. If you’re an adult athlete, your daily calorie requirements will vary depending upon your age, gender, body type and type of activity you're engaged in.

Significance

Eating healthy plays a significant role in how your body performs during any strenuous activity. Without an adequate amount of carbohydrates and fats in your diet, for instance, your muscles will not get the energy they need to perform at optimal levels. According to Colorado State University, endurance athletes need as many as 70 percent of their daily calories to come from foods high in carbohydrates, such as potatoes and cereals. CSU explains that carbohydrates supply 40 to 50 percent of your energy requirements during the early stages of exercise.

Meal Frequency

You can benefit from increased energy levels throughout the day by eating frequently. Eating every two to four hours, or the equivalent of four to six meals a day, is ideal for most athletes. By eating smaller meals more frequently, you can meet the daily calorie requirements your body needs to perform, keep your metabolism high and maintain a steady blood sugar level. Consuming foods and drinks filled with sugar, such as soda, can cause blood sugar spikes and is not ideal for athletes who rely on endurance or prolonged energy sources.

Breakfast

You need plenty of carbohydrates and protein for breakfast after a good night's sleep. Some good food choices include fruit, oatmeal, whole-grain cereals, skim milk, eggs, turkey bacon and, for vegetarians in particular, soy products. Breakfast will help give you energy right from the start of the day. Eat a small snack two to three hours after breakfast to keep your energy levels high.

Lunch

As an athlete, you need to eat a low-calorie meal for lunch that consists of fruits and vegetables. A light pasta dish is usually a good choice. A chicken Caesar salad is also a nutritious source of protein, vitamins and minerals that is low in calories. The key at lunchtime is to maximize the amount of nutrients you consume while not going overboard on your calorie count. Eat a low-calorie snack in mid-afternoon.

Dinner

Your final meal of the day should be well-balanced and rich in protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins and carbohydrates. An effective sample menu would include a chicken breast, green beans, whole-wheat bread or rice and a piece of fruit for dessert. Avoid eating late; if you eat a dinner high in fiber it will help curb your appetite before bedtime.

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