Designing Your Diet to Become a Better Athlete: 8 Tips
Dieting is hard. Most athletes agree that eating the right foods in the right quantities is much more difficult than any workout. Putting together the ideal eating plan for your sport and long-term goals isn’t easy, but it will boost your performance and improve your fitness level.
Here are eight tips to help you design your diet to become a better overall athlete.
- Establish Your Caloric Requirements
Every athlete should know their caloric requirements. How many calories does your body need to maintain its current weight and composition? The average person needs somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 calories daily, but athletes who spend all day moving around need 2,000-8,000 calories to sustain their active lifestyles.
Setting a daily benchmark is crucial for sticking to a long-term diet. You can’t expect to follow strict eating restrictions without any concrete numbers to aim for. Structure is the key to your diet’s success, so start by setting a number for your daily caloric intake.
- Track Your Macronutrients
Macronutrients — or “macros” for short — are the other diet metrics athletes should know. Macros include protein, carbohydrates and fats. These are the three pillars of your diet, regardless of your sport or calorie intake.
- Protein: Athletes and anyone looking to build muscle need at least .8 grams of protein per pound of body weight every day to ensure proper recovery.
- Carbs: Carbs should make up about 45%-55% of the daily food intake for moderately active people. Athletes should lean closer to 55% or exceed 60% if their sport has higher energy requirements.
- Fats: About 20%35% of your diet should consist of healthy fats. That’s a wide percentage range, but that’s because some athletes want to gain weight while others try to lose it.
Tracking your total calories and macros is a fantastic way to observe your progress and avoid cheating. However, you should not obsess over your daily measurements. Playing a constant numbers game with your eating habits can lead to a poor relationship with food. You won’t hit the exact numbers every day, and that’s fine. Just get within the ballpark.
- Consider Your Sport and Position
There is no universally effective diet for athletes. You have vastly different caloric and nutritional needs from most people in other sports. For example, football players need lots of calorie-dense foods like beef and pasta. Participants in tennis, pickleball and other court-based sports need to stay speedy and flexible with leaner energy sources that won’t weigh them down, such as chicken, whole grains and fibrous vegetables.
Athletes also need to consider the positions they play. Basketball players with massive height and weight discrepancies also have bigger diet differences. Some football players weigh less than 200 pounds, while others weigh more than 350 pounds. You need to eat to achieve the expected body composition of your particular position on the court or field.
- Be Careful With Fluid Intake
You might not realize it, but liquid calories could make up a significant portion of your daily intake. Soda, milk, coffee and sugary sports drinks are packed with calories. You don’t have to eliminate these beverages altogether, but you should consume them in moderation. Have a protein shake or electrolyte drink as a healthier alternative.
- Try Meal Prepping
If you’re struggling to find time to prepare your food, meal prepping might be the solution for you. Instead of making time to cook every day, you take a few hours over the weekend to prepare all your meals for the upcoming week. This strategy requires some extra kitchen accessories to be successful, but it might be necessary if your current schedule is too busy.
- Stick to Familiar Foods Before the Game
When preparing for a big game, you need to stick to familiar foods your body is accustomed to digesting. Since you’re already nervous, it’s easier to upset your stomach with unfamiliar foods. Pro athletes across all sports have their favorite pregame meals. For example, every NBA team eats peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before each game. It’s important to establish a routine you’re comfortable with.
- Refuel and Recover
Your postgame meal is arguably more important than what you eat beforehand. You need to help your muscles and ligaments recover. Don’t eat junk food just because the game is over and you want to relax. Have a filling meal with at least 30 grams of protein and two servings of carbs. You just burned a lot of calories, so you must have lots of healthy food to meet your daily requirements.
- Chew Like You Mean It
Athletes have busy schedules but should still take their time when eating food. Thoroughly chewing makes digestion easier, preventing an upset stomach and improving your performance. Break down every bite so each meal feels more sustaining and you maximize its nutritional benefits.
Fix Your Eating Habits for Good
Nobody is perfect when it comes to dieting. Everyone succumbs to the temptation of junk food now and then. The occasional indulgent meal is OK, but athletes must understand the stakes. Every time you cheat, you’re taking a step backward on your journey to success. These dieting tips will help you stick to your routine and unlock your full potential.
Author Bio: Oscar Collins is the managing editor at Modded, where he writes about food, fitness and more. Follow him on Twitter @TModded for frequent updates of his work.
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