Firstly, sports nutrition is not about taking ‘quick-fix’ sports supplements, which can sometimes do more harm than good. It’s about knowing your sport and how that impacts, in terms of additional demands, on your body.

The core essential nutrients you need for sports include:

  • Carbohydrates are our main and most important source of energy for the working muscle. They also feed our brains to help us keep going mentally.
  • Proteins are essential for the repair and recovery of our muscles and other body tissues
  • Fats are essential for the delivery of fat soluble vitamins, protecting your organs, keeping your heart and brain healthy and for the production of hormones. Fats are also a source of energy when we exercise and train for long distance events.
  • Vitamins and Minerals are essential nutrients that our body can’t make. Our diet needs to provide these sparkplugs. They are critical for numerous chemical cellular processes and are essential for recovery after training.
  • Fluids are essential for temperature control. Fluids like water transports nutrients to the cells and waste from the body.
  • Fibre or roughage is essential for a healthy digestive tract, which effectively breaks down and absorbs nutrients for general health and keeping tummy trouble at bay.


Carbohydrate is the most important fuel for the working muscle. Another way to estimate your requirements for general regular exercise is that you need around 4 to 7 g of carbohydrate for each kg of your body weight. However the more you exercise or train, the more carbohydrate you need and for those doing endurance training or marathons you may even need up to 10g of carbohydrate per kg of your body weight.

Activity Level g carbohydrate/kg/day
Light activity 3 – 5 hours/week 4 – 5
Daily refuelling after exercise lasting 60-90mins/day 5 – 7
Daily refuelling after exercise lasting 90-120mins/day 7 – 10

But it’s not a case of eating just any old thing close at hand. You need to be fussy about your carbohydrates! For people who are trying to lose weight or who exercise up to seven hours a week, carbohydrates need to be primarily starchy and wholegrain where possible. People who have much higher energy requirements, like long distance runners or cyclists, can have some additional high sugar carbohydrate snacks from the second list below.

Nutritious starchy sources of carbohydrate

Eat high fibre or wholegrain versions regularly. Many of these carbohydrates have a lower Glycaemic Index (GI). They provide a gradual rise in blood sugar levels and help to spare muscle glycogen. This way you can minimise problems of low blood sugar levels during long training sessions.

  • Muesli, porridge, wheat biscuits and shredded wheat
  • Wholegrain bread, crackers and crisp bread
  • Rice and noodles
  • Pasta and cous cous
  • Potatoes
  • Peas, beans and lentils
  • Root vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Low fat popcorn
  • Low fat yogurts

Less nutritious sugary sources of carbohydrate

Eat less of these carbohydrates:

  • Jam, honey and marmalade
  • Sweets, fruit pastilles, gums and jellies
  • Soft drinks, fruit squash and sports drinks
  • Desserts and cakes
  • Biscuits and energy bars

Each athlete will have individual requirments, if you need additional advice about the type, amount and frequency of your carbohydrate intake you may need to contact a qualified sports dietitian or sports nutritionist.


What and when we eat in relation to our exercise / sport makes a big difference to our energy, our performance and how much body fat we burn.

There are certain nutrients that deserve our close attention when we want to get the best out of ourselves and our training, and in order to get the edge over the competition!

What you eat and when, varies depending on the type of sport you play and even the position you play. It depends on the frequency, duration and intensity of the training you do. What you drink is equally as important, because dehydration or inadequate dehydration after training, will impact badly on performance.

Packing enough stored carbohydrate (glycogen) into your muscle for your best performance is important, and replenishing those stores after training or competition is equally important for sustained functioning of the working muscle.

So meals should be regular with good balance and a variety of foods. How you snack may also help give you the edge over the competition.

A good carbohydrate rich snack with some protein and sufficient fluid after training can replenish energy stores, rehydrate you and reduce muscle damage and aid recovery. It doesn’t have to be a fancy expensive powdered drink. A granola bar together with a fruit smoothie containing yogurt, or a glass of low fat milk, a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts, can do the trick.

Success on the track, pitch or in the pool is due to a number of variables, including eating well, having talent, good coaching and the acquisition of skills, training and conditioning, and proper sleep and recovery. None of these can be replaced by sports supplements.


Our energy and nutrients come from a good variety of foods from each of the four main foods groups – foods high in carbohydrate, such as whole meal bread, pasta, potatoes and high fibre breakfast cereals; foods with lots of vitamins and minerals, such as fresh fruits and vegetables; foods containing calcium and bone minerals, such as milk, cheese and yoghurt; and foods high in protein, such as lean meat, chicken, eggs, fish, legumes and nuts.

Tips for sport

  • Eat breakfast every day! Energy is important.
  • Start the day with the right type. Include a wholegrain breakfast cereal, low fat milk or yoghurt and plenty of fresh fruit for the right type of easily burned fuel for the working muscle.
  • Make your snacks count nutritionally. Drink water, fruit or vegetable juices, low fat milk or fruit smoothies instead of fizzy drinks. Eat bananas, cubed pineapple chunks or any mix of fresh fruit salad, high fibre, oat based or granola bars with seeds, nuts and dried fruits rather than high-fat, high-sugar confectionary.
  • Eat a minimum of at least 2 servings of fruit and three of vegetables a day. These provide vital nutrients to help you release the energy from the carbohydrates, fats and proteins you eat.
  • Keep a food and fluid diary for a week and see how and where you can make some useful changes to the way you eat. What do meals and snacks look like from a ‘quality’ and ‘quantity’ perspective? Make a quick comparison to your goals, e.g. I want to eat 2 fruits and 3 veg every day.
  • The odd fast food meal or treat is fine, as long as you are meeting all your basic nutrient requirements too.

Your habits become your life and your destiny. Be careful what you practice everyday. Practice makes permanent, not perfect!

Here are some healthy sports snacks, combining good protein and good carbohydrate choices:

  • Salmon (tinned), rocket and chive sandwiches.
  • Breakfast cereal, topped with berries, chopped banana or raisins and low fat milk.
  • Fresh halved cherries  or strawberries and low fat yoghurt, topped with some granola.
  • Low fat rice pudding, with a grated apple or mashed banana blended through it.
  • Grilled sardines on top of thick tomato slices and crunchy seedy toast, drizzled with chilli oil.
  • Broccoli spears and pasta salad with low-fat yogurt dressing.
  • Custard made with low fat milk and stewed apple or rhubarb.
  • Mango smoothie made with low fat yoghurt.
  • Pancakes made with low fat milk, packed with fresh cubed fruit (banana, blueberries, mango or peaches) and a drizzle of honey.
  • Porridge with low fat milk topped with slices of plums or nectarines and a little cinnamon.
  • Hot milky drinks e.g. latte, cappuccino (made with low fat milk) served with carrot cake or blueberry muffins.

The vitamins and minerals found in fruit and vegetables can help your performance in sports, so it’s important to include a wide variety of these foods in your diet to ensure you are getting enough sparkplugs, as well as vital fibre and great carbohydrate for the working muscle.

Antioxidant vitamin and minerals in particular are very important when exercising.  Intense exercise can produce high levels of harmful free radicals in the body.  The antioxidants will help to mop up these free radicals and prevent them from causing damage.