Sports nutrition

If you’re physically active, the right diet and proper hydration can greatly improve your athletic performance and exercise recovery.

Good sports nutrition fuels the sports performance potential and results that athletes of all types around the globe seek. Our orthopedic and sports medicine specialists can help you manage the ideal intake of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, supplements and hydration to help you reach your athletic goals.

Smiling male swimmer at edge of poolSmiling male swimmer at edge of pool

The basics of sports nutrition

Optimal sports performance results from following a well-balanced diet every day to ensure you are getting proper amounts of macro and micronutrients. Timing of meals and fluids are also very important. Your plan will guide you when and how to make these tweaks to help you reach surpass your goals. The four basic components are:

Hydration. Water is the most important nutrient for athletes. You should drink at least two quarts (64 oz.) of water each day, and even more before, during, and after a competition or exercise. Sports drinks deliver electrolytes and are generally advised for exercise lasting longer than 1 hour. Your plan will recommend what’s best for you.

Carbohydrates. Aim to get 60% to 70% of calories from carbohydrates, as this is your body’s most important source of fuel. Carbohydrates can be found in foods such as:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Pasta
  • Healthy bread like whole wheat
  • Healthy cereal like oatmeal
  • Rice

Your body turns carbohydrates into energy (glucose) or stores it in your liver and muscle tissues (glycogen), giving you endurance and power for high-intensity, short-duration activities.

Proteins. You should get 12% to 15% of your daily calories from foods like:

  • Lean red meat, fish and poultry
  • Eggs
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts
  • Low-fat dairy

Your body turns dietary protein into amino acids that enable your body to build new tissues and fluids.

Fats. Aim to get 20% to 30% of calories from fat. Focus on consumption of unsaturated fats (found in plant foods such avocados, nuts, seeds, and oils). Minimize intake of saturated fats (found in animal-based foods such as meats, eggs, butter, and dairy).

Include Omega-3 fats as much as possible, as these can help to reduce inflammation. Good sources of Omega-3 fats include fatty fish (tuna, trout, halibut and salmon), flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.

Your body uses fat for energy depending on the intensity and duration of exercise. Too much fat can be unhealthy, so it’s important to stick to your plan.

Sports nutrition tips

During training, before a competition, and during recovery.

The timing and composition of your meals, snacks, and fluids are crucial for performing well at athletic events. Every athlete, from a novice to a professional, can benefit from the following tips:

  • While in training sessions. Follow a well-balanced meal plan that includes carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Carbohydrate intake may need to be increased a few days prior to your athletic event.
  • Before a competition. Your pre-event meal should be higher in carbohydrates, with some protein but lower in fiber than you eat on a daily basis. Eat three to four hours beforehand. Drink 20 oz. of water one to two hours beforehand, and an additional 10 to 15 oz. within 15 to 30 minutes of the event.
  • During your event. Focus on replenishing fuel with easy-to-digest carbohydrates like gels, sports drinks and chews. Everyone is different, but most people can digest 200 to 300 calories an hour during activity. Drink three to six ounces of water or diluted sports drink every 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Exercise recovery. Post-event, you need good carbs to replenish your glycogen stores, good protein sources to help muscle repair, and some healthy anti-inflammatory fats. If this meal is not going to happen right away, eat some carbs and protein within 30 minutes and make sure you eat your recovery meal within 90 minutes.

What to expect from your sports dietitican

UCHealth sports dietitians are highly trained in clinical nutrition, sports nutrition, exercise physiology and much more. They are experts in creating a specific sports nutrition plan for your specialized performance needs.

Our sports dietitians are comfortable working with athletes of all levels and in all areas of sports. They can help you treat nutrition as a fun and vital part of training and performance.

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United States Department of Agriculture. Eating for Exercise and Sports (

Orthoinfo: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Sports Nutrition (

United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Sports Nutrition Guide (