Nutrition and Hydration for athletes

Hopefully this will prove a helpful guide in what to eat and when, with regards improving your training and competition. I know there are a few of the kids at 3 Ways A.C. who would gladly live on chips, chicken nuggets and fizzy drinks (well I definitely know one – his name begins with “O” and ends in “Hamilton” !!), but good nutrition and hydration is the key to success on the track and in cross country and road running. By all means have a take-away now and again as a treat, but for general health, not just for athletes, the following is a good guide for healthier nutrition.

Kids, show this to your parents!

Parents, show this to your kids!



First of all we will take a look at the most important nutrient of all: Water. We know that as humans, 70% of our body is made from water, but do we know how much we’re supposed to drink, or how important it is to our athletic performance?

How much?

If I were to ask how much water you should take on a day, how much would you say? Many would say around 2 litres, that’s a common statistic. And you would be wrong. Adult females should be drinking 2.7 litres a day, and adult males 3.7. The main key however, is that you should not  wait until you are THIRSTY.

If you are thirsty, your body is already dehydrated. You should be taking on enough water that you hardly ever get thirsty.

But beware, you don’t want to be at either extreme, there is such a thing as over hydration, so stick to the rules: little and often.



When you exercise, you sweat. As you sweat, your body loses fluid. And fluid needs replacing. Studies have shown that losing just 2% of your body mass through sweat will lead to a major decrease in athletic performance. So the goal: Matching the fluid loss by taking on the same amount.

Is there a perfect way to do this? Well no, not really. Not unless you have time to weigh yourself every couple of minutes, work out how much you’ve lost and then drink that exact amount. In certain events of course, you don’t even have the opportunity to take on fluids.

So what to do:

Before you perform, make sure you have been well hydrated throughout the day; maybe even take on a little extra.

Take on water at every opportunity whilst training or competing. Again, it doesn’t have to be a lot, just a small amount whenever you can.

And finally, REHYDRATION! Make sure you replace what you’ve lost.

What to drink?

There are a million adverts out there on why this certain sports drink will be so much better than this one, how this one can provide this extra benefit etc…but for the most part, good old water is what you need.

No sports drink is definitively proven to provide extra effects than plain water. Not that they’ll do you harm. If you like them, have them. If you don’t, don’t worry about it, you’re not short changing yourself.

There is some evidence to show that skimmed or semi-skimmed milk is more beneficial for juveniles than water for recovery.


Remember, it all comes down to helping performance. Without proper hydration, the body overheats very quickly, and immediately becomes less efficient. Power cannot be produced at the same rate, mental concentration decreases, blood volume decreases, and therefore oxygen delivery is also compromised.

With proper hydration, not only are these problems eradicated, but improved, and your performance will go right along with it. You can train better, be healthier all around, allow other nutrients to do their work, and be a better athlete.

Water is something we instantly take for granted, but there is no bigger building block for the body.



Carbohydrate is biggest part of your diet and one of the biggest contributions to athletic performance.


Carbohydrate essentially equals energy. Without getting too scientific, when you ingest carbohydrate, it is converted into glycogen, the energy store, which is then converted into pure energy (ATP) through the three different energy systems. We don’t need to go into the science of all three, but it’s pretty simple really:

Carbohydrate= energy.

Fat and sometimes protein contribute to energy too, but nothing like carbohydrate. There’s a reason it is recommended it makes up about 50% of your energy intake.

Carbs are found in pasta, potatoes, oats, cereals and many other foods. Have a look at this website for more examples of “good” carbs”à

How much?

We all see Recommended Daily Allowances on packets etc, but how much someone should be eating needs to be more personalised than this, and that’s why this formula has become so prominent in recent years:

Grams per Kilogram of Body Weight per day

So, looking at every day, you work out your bodyweight in kilograms, and then that is how many grams of that particular nutrient you should have a day. For example, if you weigh 70kg, the formula is 5G per KG of BW a day, you’ll need 350 grams a day.

So now that’s covered, what do we need to support training? Burke and her associates give these recommendations for different levels of activity.

  • For light activity : 3.5g per KG of BW 
  • Moderate (1 hour a day) 5-7g per KG of BW
  • High 6-10 g per KG of BW
  • Very high 8-12g per KG of BW

Considering the more you do, the more you burn, and the more you need to replace, but it’s important to remember, you should find what works specifically for you in terms of comfort and choice.


Carbohydrate Timing and event strategies.

The pre-event meal, carb-loading, there are a lot of theories out there on how to prepare for performance, but again there are some specific guidelines for how to best prepare.

Carbohydrate loading: For the 36-48 hours prior to the event, an increased rate of ingestion of 10-12 g per KG of BW.

On the day: 1-4 hours prior to performing, 1-4 g per KG of BW. It may be a good idea to avoid foods high in fat/protein/fibre to promote comfort, and taking on carbs through small, regular snacks might also provide benefits.


We’ve established that carbohydrates need to be ingested to prepare for peak performance, but it’s just as important to refuel after exercise.

The glycogen stores must be replenished properly to allow for more exercise in the future, to prevent injuries, and to promote the body improving from whatever exercise you’ve just undergone.

It’s also been found that mixing protein and carbohydrate together and ingesting as soon as possible after exercise will have more beneficial effects than just one or the other

Without proper refuelling, the exercise you’ve just done won’t be as effective at improving your body, glycogen stores will be lessened meaning not only will you be more tired in general, but you won’t be able to train or perform at your maximum ability next time, and as that is always the goal, make sure you are doing it.

You would be doing absolutely nothing without the carbohydrates, the myths of it being responsible for body fat are simply myths. The idea of it being a HUGE building block for athletic performance are spot on!!



What do we know about protein? We know it’s important, but do you know all the facts, what it does and does not do?

Ok, on with the white lab coats and put on the safety goggles. We’re going to get all scientific.

What is protein? It is made up of 20 different amino acids. Eight of these are essential. 12 are non-essential. They have their individual roles, and they come from different sources, but let us simply worry about protein for now. A chain of protein is made up of these different acids, and in an average 70kg athlete, there will be around 12kg of amino acids in them.

But let’s get to what it does, especially in exercise. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy, but protein can contribute a small amount of energy (2-8%) although the breakdown of protein is nowhere near as efficient and doesn’t provide as much energy.

But even that is not really what we’re bothered about. The important part of protein, is protein synthesis: the act of repairing muscle damage and building muscle mass. Athletes are constantly training, and needing to recover from training. Without protein, recovery is not as efficient.

Where do we find protein?

  • Eggs
  • Cheese
  • Beef, lamb or pork
  • Chicken
  • Fish
  • Tuna
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Some seeds and nuts.

It’s readily available in a lot of foods, so just have a look around the internet and you can get some ideas. And remember that it’s a good idea to have a bit of variety to get all of those essential acids in.

 A lot of protein sources are from meat or fish, and a common problem for most vegetarians is a low amount of protein in their diet. Because of this, vegetarians should make an extra effort to have some protein in every meal, and possibly combining two protein sources such as nutty muesli or a cheese sandwich in order to reach their requirements.

How much?

Unfortunately, recommendations on protein haven’t been as well researched as carbohydrate, but we do have some guidelines –

Activity grams per kilogram of body weight per day
Elite Endurance 1.6
Moderate Endurance 1.2
Resistance training 1.7

For example – if an athlete weights 70kg, then they should intake 1.2g multiplied by 70kg for Moderate Endurance training.

It’s also important to remember that protein should be responsible for about 30% of your energy intake, so there is no way you should be eating more protein than carbohydrate for example.


We want protein to repair the damage and to aid the improvements of training. So when’s the best time to eat/drink protein?  As soon as possible after activity/training/performance. The sooner it’s ingested, the sooner it is used, and the sooner and the bigger the effect is. (And make sure it’s combined with some carbohydrates, to make the effect that much better).

Ingesting after exercising will increase the amount of protein the muscle will uptake, and more Amino acids will be retained. For older athletes, it also decreases the chance of muscular wastage.


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