The special sports diet is intended for people who practice high intensity physical activities. For athletes, the consequences of a poor diet can be multiple: reduced performance, lack of energy, poor recovery, risk of injury and hypoglycemia, etc. The athlete's diet must therefore cover the needs related to high energy expenditure and provide all the nutrients the body needs to perform and recover.

Special sports diet

The essential points of the sports diet :

Special sports diet

  • Focus on carbohydrates
  • Consume lean protein
  • Limit fat
  • Have a good hydration
  • Choose foods according to your tolerance
Benefits of the Sports Diet

The benefits of the sports diet are multiple, it allows you to :

  • To have enough energy
  • Covering energy needs according to expenses
  • Increase performance and endurance
  • Reduce recovery time
  • Avoid dizziness and hypoglycemia
  • Limit the risk of injury
  • Increasing coordination
  • Avoid muscle wasting and anemia
  • Prevent premature aging due to oxidative stress.
Sports nutrition is intended for athletes who practice sports sessions of more than 1 hour, at high intensity and more than 4 times a week. For people with moderate physical activity (sessions of less than 1 hour and less than 4 times a week), a balanced diet and good hydration are sufficient.

Furthermore, the exact amounts of water, carbohydrates, proteins and lipids depend on the type of activity and many other factors (gender, age, weight, height, etc.). It is therefore preferable to consult a registered dietitian for personalized recommendations.

Sports nutrition: dietary recommendations

Diet and sport are intimately linked, so it is important to follow a special sports diet for many reasons: better performance, reduced risk of injury and hypoglycemia, optimizing recovery time, etc. Diet is, in fact, one of the keys to sporting success.

Recommended diet for the athlete

Carbohydrates have the first place in the sportsman's meal, but they must be accompanied by the right nutrients for an optimal action. Thus, care must be taken to incorporate the right proteins, to have the right level of hydration at the right time and to incorporate sufficient antioxidants. We will also see that diet products for sportsmen and women can have a place of choice in the sportsman's diet, provided that they are well chosen.


In sports nutrition, carbohydrates are the basis of the diet. It is necessary to consume a lot of them because their storage is limited. They prevent hypoglycemia and provide the body with energy throughout training. After ingestion, they are stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. If these hepatic and muscle reserves are full, then better sports performance can be achieved because glycogen is the most rapidly available source of energy during exercise. Carbohydrates are an integral part of sports nutrition before, during and after exercise. They should represent 55 to 60% of the total calories ingested.

Care should be taken to promote complex carbohydrates that provide energy to the body over the long term. They also make blood glucose levels vary much less. Fast carbohydrates (white sugar, chocolate, honey, sweets, etc.), on the other hand, provide energy over a very short period of time and cause blood sugar spikes. In some cases, they can be consumed during exercise or during recovery.

The complex carbohydrates to be preferred in the sports diet are the following:

  • Wholemeal pasta, brown rice, bulgur, whole couscous
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Whole grains
  • Pulses
To obtain 15g of carbohydrates, you will need to consume :

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 bagel
  • 1/3 cup cooked pasta or rice
  • 1/2 cup cooked legumes
  • 1 fresh fruit
  • 1/2 cereal bar
  • 125ml of fruit juice

Lean proteins

Proteins must also be part of the sportsman's meals. They promote energy stability. They also contribute to the maintenance of muscle tissue and fibers. However, many protein foods contain fats that should be avoided. Low-fat proteins should therefore be favoured in the sports diet. Here are a few examples:

  • Poultry without the skin
  • Fish and seafood
  • Lean meats
  • Eggs
  • Low-fat cheeses and dairy products
  • Pulses
  • Tofu
  • Soy milk
8g of proteins are contained, on average, in :

  • 250 ml of milk
  • 1 yoghurt
  • 30g of cheese
  • 30g of meat, poultry, fish or seafood
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of legumes
Protein requirements by type of sport :

Types of sport                                                                Protein requirements
Sedentary                                                                        0.8g/kg body weight
Aesthetic sports (gym, dance)                                        1.2 to 1.7g/kg body weight
Endurance sports (cycling, running, swimming)           1.2 to 1.6g/kg body weight
Power sports (weightlifting, sprints, boxing)                 1.6 to 1.8g/kg body weight
Maintenance of muscle mass                                          1.2 to 1.6g/kg body weight
Development of muscle mass                                         1.6 to 1.8g/kg body weight


Since exercise alters the mechanism of thirst, you don't have to wait until you are thirsty to drink. The thirst reflex is often triggered when we are already 1% or 2% dehydrated. At this stage, our performance has already decreased by 10%.

In order to know the quantity of water to be taken before and during the effort, we must first evaluate the losses incurred during the activity in question. Here is how to proceed:

1. Weigh yourself before and after the effort (example: before 69 kg, after 67 kg).

2. Record the amount of water drunk during the exercise (e.g., 1 liter).

3. The weight lost during the exercise is the amount of water lost during the exercise (e.g. 1 liter).

(69 kg - 67 kg = 2 kg = at a loss of 2 liters of water).

4. The amount of water to drink is :

the quantity of water drunk + the quantity equivalent to the loss of 2 liters of water.

(1 liter + 2 liters = 3 liters).

5. 5. Divide the amount of water needed by 15 minutes of training.

e.g.: duration 3 h (12 x 15 minutes) so 3 l / 12 = 250 ml

You will then have to drink 250ml of water every 15 minutes and during the 3 hours of training.

Here is the type of drink to be included in the athlete's diet before, during and after the effort

Before the effort                   

During the effort                                                            

After the effort

Prefer water Avoid tea, coffee,                    

 soft and energy drinks.

Activity of less than 1 hour: drink water                         Activity from 1h to 3h: drink containing sugar                                         (maximum 8g/100ml)

Activity of more than 3h: sugar and salt based drink

 (300ml orange juice, 200ml water and 0.5ml salt)

If you choose a specially prepared sports drink, 

make sure that it contains no more than 8%                                              carbohydrates, otherwise dilute it with water. 

  Drink plenty of water                                                                                                                   to compensate for sweat losses.

Recovery drink with 1 to 1.5g of carbohydrates per kg and at least 7g of protein.

Example: 500ml of skimmed milk with 75ml of concentrated orange juice

This recipe was developed as part of a master's project at the Université de Montréal.

Beware of overhydration. Drinking too much can be as damaging to your health as not drinking enough. In fact, overhydration, more than 9.5 liters of water per day, can cause hyponatremia (too low a blood sodium level) which can lead to cerebral edema, even coma and death. Overhydration affects marathoners, triathletes and those who cycle and swim for long periods of time. To avoid overhydration, refer to the recommendations of the Sport Nutrition Advisory Committee2.


High intensity sport increases oxidative stress and premature aging of the body in the long term. Therefore, as part of the sports diet, it is recommended to consume sufficient antioxidants. They are contained in the following foods:

  • Red fruits
  • Goji berries and wild berries
  • Kiwi, grape, fig
  • Citrus
  • Colorful vegetables: peppers, spinach, eggplant, celery, broccoli
  • Artichoke
  • Garlic, onion
  • Parsley

Dietary foods for sportsmen and women

To meet their carbohydrate needs, some athletes will take carbohydrate gels or bars during long-duration exercise (e.g. mountain bike raids). This can be completely adapted. However, it is important to have tried them beforehand, as intense exercise can decrease the taste for solid and very sweet foods. It is also important to make sure you drink a lot by consuming these concentrated foods. Don't hesitate to ask a dietician for advice to make sure you choose your specialized foods as part of the sports diet.

Recovery drinks are also useful to great athletes to replenish muscle glycogen reserves and repair tissues. Long-lasting, high-intensity training depletes glycogen reserves. It is important to replenish them quickly, within 30 minutes of stopping the activity. The muscles will then have what they need to replenish their energy reserves. For people who are moderately active, a recovery drink is not necessary. It would cancel out the loss of calories caused by exercise. A good and timely full meal is more appropriate.

Other recommended foods :

  • Omega-3
  • Fractional feeding
  • Home cooking

Foods not recommended in a sports meal

In the overall diet of the sportsman, no food is to be banned. However, during training sessions, it is recommended to adopt the right reflexes for a successful sports meal. Thus, all foods that are difficult to digest or that may cause gastric discomfort should be avoided: fats, spices, coffee, etc.


Whether it's good or bad fat, it's best to limit its consumption before and during training. Lipids require a long digestive workout that promotes gastric discomfort during exercise. However, in the hours following exercise, it is highly recommended to consume good fats such as olive, flax, canola or walnut oil. Oleaginous and fatty fish are also particularly indicated because of their high content of Omega-3.

Food stimulating peristalsis

Spices or foods that cause gas can cause gastric discomfort during exercise. Therefore, they should not be part of the sports meal just before training. Before exercise, this is not the time to try new foods or to choose foods that have a history of causing discomfort. For example, legumes or cruciferous vegetables. Also, spicy or caffeinated foods can stimulate peristalsis and make you want to have a bowel movement during exercise. Save new foods and those that are harder to digest or irritating for after exercise.

Other foods not recommended :

  • Industrial food
  • Refined products
  • Sweet products
  • Alcohol, tobacco

Sports nutrition: practical advice for everyday life

  • Do not wait until you feel hungry or thirsty before eating or drinking during exercise.
  • Plan nutrition and hydration in advance, during and around workouts.
  • Get help from a registered dietician to build a personalized and adapted food plan.
  • As a snack, think about oilseeds to fill up on good fats (nuts, seeds, oilseed butter, soy products, etc.).

Recipe ideas for sports

The following menu is developed by and meets all of the above recommendations. To view a recipe, simply click on the name of the dish.

Sports meal for a woman, day without training at 2200 kcalories

Morning Breakfast            "Amsterdam" (wholemeal bread, peanut butter, orange and skim milk)

Snack                                 1/4 melon

Noon                                  Tuna and white bean salad, two slices of bread (whole wheat), orange wedges

snack                                  Yoghurt and berry

Evening                              Beet and Mango Salad, Slice of bread (whole wheat), Cod with olives and                                                     fennel, Barley and Pineapple glazed with rum

Sports meal for a woman, day with training at 2800 kcalories

Morning Breakfast              "Calgary" (yogurt, muesli, cranberries, apple, wholemeal bread, peanut butter                                                and skim milk)

Snack                                     Peach

Noon                                    Tuna and white bean salad, two slices of bread (whole wheat), applesauce

snack                                  Apple, yogurt and date

Evening                             Cream of roasted bell pepper and onion cream, A slice of crispy bread, Chicken                                             curry with fruit, brown rice and rum-glazed pineapple

These sample menus are suitable for a 35 year old woman, measuring approximately 1.70m tall and weighing 70kg, who trains 3 times 2 hours per week at high intensity.

To go further

Examples of pre-workout meals for athletes

Delay                                                        Examples of meals

3 to 4 hours before the effort                   Normal meal, without frying or fatty sauce

2 to 3 hours before                                   1 bowl of muesli with milk and 2 fruits

2 hours before                                          1 cottage cheese, 1 cereal bar and a fruit

1 hour before                                           1 homemade cereal bar and 1 fruit

30 minutes before                                     1 homemade cereal bar or 1 fruit

The roles of water in the body and in the sport regime

  • Water is a transporter of nutrients. It carries carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals to the sites of use. You need to drink it often because you can't store it up.
  • It also serves as a lubricant, ensuring, among other things, a smooth gliding motion between different tissues (e.g. synovial fluid in the knee).
  • It acts as a radiator by dissipating the heat produced by the evaporation of sweat.
  • Water helps to prevent performance losses caused by dehydration. It maintains body temperature, provides electrolytes and carbohydrates when added, such as when taking a rehydration drink.

How do you calculate your energy needs?

Energy Requirement (ER) = Basal Metabolism (BM) x Activity Factor (AF)

To calculate the energy needs of a 38 year old woman, measuring 1.71 m, weighing 69 kg and who trains 3 times 2 hours per week intensely, we used the following formula:

MB=247-(2.67 X age) + (401.5 X height (m))+(8.6 X weight kg)

BE=MB x FAFA=1.75

MB= 1425.51 kcal


BE= 2495 kcalories per day

Activity Factor (AF)

  • 1.35 = sedentary
  • 1.55 = weakly active
  • 1.75 = active
  • 1.95 = very active

In men: MB=293- (3.8 X age) + (456.4 X height m) + (10.12 X weight kg)

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