Sports Nutrition for the Everyday Athlete

Today's post is from Nutritionist and "Hormone Whisperer" Krista Goncalves from Making Lemonade. Krista shares how sports nutrition concepts can and DO apply to any exerciser from the professional athlete to weekend warriors. Thanks for sharing Krista!

What is Sports Nutrition and how does it apply to YOU?

Sports Nutrition (also referred to as Exercise Nutrition) is the study and practice of nutrition & diet as it relates to athletic performance. It is most concerned with the type and quantity of foods & fluids taken in by an athlete, and deals with nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, targeted supplementation and of course the organic substances or macronutrients (i.e. Protein, Fats & Carbohydrates) [1].

Athletes and even those who exercise regularly but perhaps at a more intense level generally need a higher amount of protein, calories, carbs and electrolytes, not to mention much more water. In Sports Nutrition, there is usually quite a heavy emphasis on pre & post-workout eating and an athlete's specific nutritional needs - which will vary depending on the activity, but can generally be met with a varied (but often more voluminous) diet and sometimes with only minimal supplementation.

Whether you’re a professional athlete or just a weekend warrior, nutrition is fundamental to your athletic performance. A carefully balanced diet will optimize your energy levels and help your body recover more effectively.

Fuel your tank with the right stuff!

Fueling yourself properly by making healthful food choices is probably pretty obvious but how about having the ideal combinations of foods eaten at the most optimal times?

By ideal combinations, I’m referring to a balance of each of the macronutrients in meals & snacks = Carbs, Proteins & Healthy Fats.

More or less a daily intake ratio of 40 Carbs/30 Protein/30 Healthy Fats is suggested – but there’s some wiggle room in that and it’s going to be slightly different for everyone depending on your goals, your own body’s needs and how much of a “sports nutritional strategy” you may be engaging in.

Optimal timing for meals would mean they are spaced evenly and eaten frequently - about every 3-4 hours. This helps to keep blood sugar and insulin levels balanced – so it’s suggested to eat lighter & slightly more often. This does not mean you get to graze all day though!

So what are these “healthful foods” we should be eating?

For overall good health, we know those choices should include high-fibre whole grains (limiting processed flour products), high quality lean sources of protein, plenty of colourful fruit & veggies, nuts & seeds and other sources of healthy fats.

But what are some specific foods that may give us an edge in our athletic endeavors?

  • If you’re going for more energy & better performance during a workout:

  1. EFA’s (essential fatty acids) are needed to form healthy cell membranes and these will metabolize oxygen more efficiently, getting more energy to cells. [2]

From the “healthy oil” expert, Udo Erasmus:

“EFAs make red blood cells more flexible, which means that they can find their way through capillaries more easily. The result is that tissues and cells receive their supply of nutrients and oxygen more effectively, and stamina therefore increases. Older people who use fresh, EFA-rich oils (like hemp & flax oil) find that their energy levels pick up noticeably. They can increase physical activity; get tired less quickly; recover faster; feel more like being active; and stay alert later in the evening. This energy is not a buzz like you get from coffee, but a stable, sustained, extended energy.”

Good sources are free range eggs, fatty fish, walnuts, hemp & chia seeds and dark green leafy vegetables.

2. You can also incorporate more raw foods like almond butter, arugula, spinach, and beet roots & tops – which are all naturally rich in nitrates, which converts into nitric oxide, which helps muscles use oxygen more efficiently by dilating blood vessels, expanding arteries and hence, allowing for more blood flow [3].

  • If you want less muscle soreness after a workout, and avoid the dreaded DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness):

  1. You can try whey protein isolate or pea protein, plus calcium-, magnesium- & Vitamin C-rich foods. Montmorency/tart cherry juice or dried tart cherries are perfect for this, but be sure to look for the unsulphured variety.

2. Also try adding ginger, turmeric and other foods with anti-inflammatory properties like olive oil, almonds & walnuts. You can even make your own recovery drink that’s specifically “formulated” for enhancing recovery and decreasing muscle soreness.

  • If you’re trying to lose more body fat – you need more fibre!

My go-to natural daily fibre boosters have always been ground flaxseeds and chia - look for “sprouted” varieties, which also have plenty of Protein and EFA’s. Bonus!

Other foods packed with fibre - and overall superfood powerhouses, are legumes like beans and lentils - kapow!!

Additionally, because athletes are prone to certain factors like immune suppression, heightened sensitivity to foods, and/or gut problems – many feel that they benefit from a gluten-limited (or gluten-free) diet which would exclude wheat, rye, barley, and other gluten-containing grains like processed oats.

How should I eat around my workouts?

In general, when we consume carbs, the fat-storage & muscle-building hormone insulin is released into the bloodstream to help the metabolic machinery shuffle carbs into the liver for use as fuel later, or to muscle cells for storage.

These storage depots for carbs are finite. When they become full, as they do when we eat an excess of carbs, they are metabolized and stored as fat [4].

Overall, the key to carb consumption from a healthy insulin response standpoint, is to eat to the point of satiety (or being pleasantly full, satisfied) and to have enough fuel for workouts and energy balance, but not consuming so much that we get spillover into fat storage.

The fundamental goal of an effective sports nutrition strategy is to properly balance your meals with not only the optimal type and amount of Carbs but also with Protein & Healthy Fats. In addition, you will want to ensure that your pre & post-workout fueling meals are ideally timed to enhance the body’s recovery processes and your ability to train consistently.


About one hour prior to any workout, have a snack or meal that is high in carbs, lower in both protein & fat. Protein & Fats are harder to digest and extra oxygen and blood will be drawn into the gut for digestion instead of where it should be devoted – to your hard working muscles! Ample energy and a steady stomach is the name of the game.

For example, if you’ve got time to sit down, enjoy a small bowl of 1/2 cup plain oatmeal (or quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat), 1/2 cup blueberries (or other berries), 1/2 cup plain organic yogurt (or kefir or cultured coconut “yogurt”), 2 tsp pure honey or maple syrup – this yields nearly 5:1 carbs to protein.

If you’re on-the-go or if solid food just doesn’t sit well for you before a morning workout, try an easily digested energy smoothie with a scoop of high quality protein powder.

AFTER PURE CARDIO (like running):

Within the 30-60 mins after a cardio workout, especially endurance activities - have a snack that is high in carbs but moderate in protein – roughly 4:1 carbs to protein. You absolutely need the extra carbs to replenish your glycogen (muscle sugar) stores, ex. Slice of sprouted grain bread topped with almond butter & sliced bananas is perfect!

*Be aware that if you’re at all sensitive to Dairy, you may find that Dairy products are especially “irritating” to the gut after exercise – listen to your body!

AFTER RESISTANCE (or combined cardio/resistance/HIIT):

Within the 15-60 min period after a strength/resistance workout, you have a window that your body will readily utilize carbs & protein for the body’s recovery processes, so have a snack that is approx. 2:1 carbs to protein. Even better is consuming it right around the 30 minute mark.

Typically, when a meal is absorbed fast because it is high glycemic (or has a lot of simple carbs), there is a good chance your blood sugar will rise too fast, and the carbohydrates will be stored as body fat. But after a resistance workout, you've just primed the pump with an intense workout (with weights), and you have a one hour window of opportunity to shuttle in nutrients such as amino acids, and glycogen to help repair your damaged muscles.

This is really the only time you would want such a fast absorption rate from your food. If you miss this one hour window after an intense workout, the chances that your muscles will be able to adequately repair themselves (which makes them bigger and stronger) diminishes significantly [5].

Keep in mind that after a workout, your stomach and digestive tract do not function as efficiently. The reason is because your digestive tract is incredibly vascular and uses significant amounts of blood to do its job. The problem arises because much of your blood is in the muscles that you just finished training. So an adequate amount of blood is not available to digest food eaten after a workout.

For this reason, the best post-workout meal on resistance training days is an easily-digested smoothie containing a quality source of whey protein isolate, beef protein or a vegan protein (often comprised of pea protein, potato or hemp protein), plus a higher glycemic (fast released, starchy) carbohydrate like banana that contains plenty of potassium and other minerals for recovery.

Here’s my favourite and certainly one of the easiest post-workout shake recipes that fits the bill.

Should I reduce my recovery intake (calories) if I’m trying to shed some pounds?

NO! Never sacrifice good nutrition, sufficient calories and enough carbohydrates and protein post workout.

This is the most important time of the day for you to refuel and ensure your body will respond well to the workout and also to ensure you will go into the next workout strong instead of run-down, sore and low energy. If you need to reduce your intake, do so at other times of the day but keep your recovery nutrition intake high [6].

What about extra supplements?

Supplements, like high quality protein powders and whole food energy bars can be a healthy part of any athlete’s day, as they're not only convenient but can pack a nutritional punch for relatively few calories.

However, please be a savvy label reader and buyer beware! Avoid soy protein isolate/concentrate or other soy ingredients when you're making your protein powder or energy bar purchases.

Here’s my extra two cents about choosing a good quality protein powder…

Mind your protein source! It’s important to use a good quality protein powder that meets your nutritional needs and actually works with your body. If you find yourself bloated and gassy after drinking a smoothie containing a protein supplement – it’s likely the type of powder you’re using.

I’m not a big fan of whey protein powders as they’re sourced from cow’s milk and have a tendency to cause more reactions. But if you do choose whey, look for a high quality Whey Protein Isolate.

However, I always tend to stick to vegan powders like hemp, brown rice and pea protein blends. So if you’re bloated or gassy after a smoothie and have been previously using whey, my suggestion is to first try a fermented vegan protein like Fermented Vegan Proteins+ by Genuine Health - it’s not the best-tasting, but it’s effective. Then you could try a really clean vegan “all-in-one” like Core Daily Performance Shake by CanPrev or Vega’s family-friendly Protein ‘n Greens – it’s pretty tasty in my opinion.

If vegan-sourced protein powders are just not your thing, but whey’s not on the menu either, try beef protein! It’s been gaining popularity lately in the supplementation world and rightly so as it’s packed with BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) and naturally occurring creatine – both essential for muscle repair and building. PurePaleo (containing pure beef protein) by Designs For Health is a reputable product.

Again, acknowledging that taste & texture is certainly going to be a factor, it’s also about finding the one that not only meets your nutritional needs, but actually works for body – especially your gut!

Because athletes have the tendency to stress their bodies both physical and mentally, often creating weakness in the immune system and causing digestive complaints, this is where additional supplementation is likely necessary.

In my personal and professional experience, it is important to include high quality supplements that support muscle recovery, the adrenals (gotta keep that cortisol in check!), the immune system and are also supportive of good gut health.

These may include, but are not limited to, Vitamin C, Magnesium, Omega-3 fatty acids (fish oil!), Vitamin D, Probiotics (minimum 15 billion CFU) and Curcumin - to quiet inflammation & speed recovery.

What’s the Bottom Line?

You can’t out-exercise a bad diet and knowing how to fuel yourself properly not only in your athletic pursuits, but also for your work day and for long-term nutritional success, is much more comprehensive than just following the latest diet trend you saw on Dr.Oz or your Facebook feed!

Ultimately, find a plan that works for YOU. Strive for consistency, not perfection and enjoy the little divergences that will inevitably arise. Simply recommit to your goal, and get back on track with your next meal or at least the next day.

Eating well but your waistline still isn't budging?? Download My Fit Coach's 3 Step Guide to Belly Fat Freedom today and start pulling your skinny jeans from the back of your closet!

Krista Goncalves is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist (CHN), Registered Nutritional Counsellor (RNC) & Women’s Health Expert. She runs women’s health programs online and in her hometown of Kelowna, BC. She also blogs daily about current topics in Women’s Nutrition Health & Hormones at – empow(her) your health!

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