Sports nutrition errors commonly made by athletes and how to avoid making the same nutritional mistakes. Nutrition planning and management should be an integral part of an athlete’s training program. Yet athletes regularly report that they do not eat as well as they know they should; they admit that nutrition is often their missing link. Consequently, athletes may fail to attain the full benefits from their training.
The purpose of this article is to highlight the sports nutrition errors commonly made by athletes who want to avoid making these nutritional mistakes.
Equal-sized and Regularly Scheduled Meals
Too many athletes eat in a crescendo, with the biggest meal in the evening. A better plan is to divide calories evenly throughout the day, eating every 4 hours, so thee are always in the process of refueling.
Solution: A sports dietitian can help create a food plan for a balanced sports diet with the appropriate amount of calories at each meal. For example, a 2,400-calorie fueling plan for an active woman (or a dieting man) who trains after work might look like this:
The first three meals provide the energy needed for a strong workout. The last meal provides the nutrients needed to recover from the workout.
Beneficial Amount of Dietary Fat
Some athletes get too many calories from fats such as butter, oil, salad dressing and fried foods. The fat displaces the carbohydrates needed to optimally fuel muscles and replenish depleted glucose.
Solution: Athletes need to be taught how to balance the appropriate amount (about 25% of total calories) of primarily healthy fats into their sports diet (American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada 2000).
Athletes who believe they have no time to eat before their workout need to think again. Eating 100–300 calories in a pre-exercise snack even 5 minutes before exercise enhances performance.
Solution: Athletes need to train their intestinal tracts to be able to tolerate pre-exercise food. They also need to plan their sports diet to accommodate their training. For example:
- athletes who exercise in the morning can plan to eat part of their breakfast (such as a banana) before the workout, and then afterwards refuel with the rest of their breakfast (such as a bagel and a yogurt);
- athletes who exercise at lunchtime could eat part of their lunch (half a sandwich) before the workout and then enjoy the rest afterwards;
- for afternoon or after-work sessions, athletes could eat a muesli bar or some pretzels pre-exercise, and then refuel with chocolate milk.
Optimal Protein Intake
Some athletes eat too much protein (>2g per kg body weight per day); others eat too little (<0.5/kg)
This amount of protein equates to more than 2.5 g protein per kilogram of body weight, and is excessive. Some of the protein could be wisely traded for more carbohydrates to better fuel the workouts. In comparison, a vegetarian athlete on a reducing diet could easily consume too little protein as a consequence of restricting food intake. A typical reducing diet might include these protein portions:
Too little protein contributes to poor recovery, muscle wasting, and suboptimal results from hard training.
Solution: Athletes who have high or low protein intakes, or who are vegetarian, should consult with a sports dietitian. They can both assess the athlete’s personal protein requirements and teach the athlete how to translate grams of protein into an effective sports diet.
All athletes can benefit from sports nutrition education that focuses on the benefits associated with consuming a proper sports diet. These benefits include better performance, desired body weight/percent fat, and faster recovery. With nutrition education, athletes can learn to make responsible food choices that support the rigors of their training programs and competitive events. Every athlete will always win with good nutrition.
- Nutritional Demands of Rowing fact sheet [Sports Dieticians UK]
- SDA Rowing fact sheet [Sports Dieticians Australia]
- My dietician, Dr Helen O’Connor [Emma Rowing]
- Rowing nutrition fact sheets [Nutrition Assessment Canada]