General Nutrition for Athletes

General Nutrition Plan

Performance Coach Steve Davis, has a minor in Nutrition and a Diploma in Sports Nutrition. He has written this nutrition summary to help guide athletes in their choices, and provide a base for them to dig deeper and learn more about what suits their own specific needs. If you would like to know more about the needs of your body and nutritional requirements, Coach Steve recommends professional nutritionists on the Davey Black Tri Club Support Team page.

General Nutrition

Every day you should be aiming to eat 1800-2200 calories (varies with gender, age, weight, height, activity etc), plus any energy you burn at training (ie 4km easy run = approx 200calories burnt). If you are a training athlete, you have a fair scope to eat whatever you like, HOWEVER, in order to get the best out of your body, you should be aiming to eat QUALITY CALORIES. An example here is you could eat a snack of a 200cal donut with very little nutritional value, or you could eat a quality 200cal of fruit that is packed full of vitamins, minerals, fibre etc.

The body burns nutrients for energy in the following order: Alcohol then Carbs then Fat then Protein. The most efficient fuel for your body to convert to energy is carbohydrate, so your diet should consist of approx 60% Carbs, 30% Protein and 10% Fat. Carbohydrates are especially important for endurance athletes.

  • Minimise alcohol intake so your body can utilise its carb sources
  • Eat QUALITY CARBS from fruit and veg, multi grain breads, brown rice etc (avoid sugar, highly processed foods)
  • Vary your protein sources (especially important for female athletes to maintain their iron levels) to include fish, chicken, tofu, red meat , Quinoa & other grains, and vegetables like beans and spinach.
  • Fat is still essential for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins so don’t cut it out of your diet completely. A little bit each day is important, but choose vegetable based fats rather than fat from animal sources.

If you train a lot, then you need to eat a lot. If you have a diet high in variety, you will generally acquire all your vitamins and minerals from your food sources. A general multivitamin (such as Swisse multivitamins) can be used to top you up and make sure you aren’t missing out on anything.

There is no harm in keeping a food/training diary. When I was a training athlete I didn’t have the luxury of apps like Training Peaks of My Fitness Pal. As such, I have 10 years worth of hand written notes about what I ate and how I trained each day! If you add in little notes about your weight and your energy levels, you can then look back and use this information to select the best diet that suits you perfectly for your weight goals and mood/energy levels.

Pre Training: The age old debate; to eat or not to eat?

There are many schools of thought on this topic and it is one that you will just have to practice and fine tune for yourself.  The table below shows the pros and cons for both options which can aid you in making your own choices. Just remember that if you do choose to eat before your sessions then choose foods that are easily digestible, low in fibre and won’t repeat on you.

Pro’s of eating before training: Wakes you up.
Provides you with initial energy.
You need to carry less nutrition with you on long sessions.
Con’s of eating before training: Blood will be directed to the stomach for digestions and away from the muscles.
It may initiate bowel movement

Pro’s of NOT eating before training: All your blood can be used to fuel your muscles with oxygen.
Burn fat* after your stored blood glycogen is used up.
Con’s of NOT eating before training: Feeling hungry might distract you.
Stored glycogen will be used up quickly & you may move into fat burning* if nutritional intake is not adequate

*Fat burning can be a pro or a con depending on your personal situation. If you are trying to maintain your weight then avoid moving into this zone. If you are looking to loose weight then this zone is OK but fat is a less efficient source of fuel so will not provide you with the same energy output.

Post Training: The Window

The most important thing to remember post training is your EATING WINDOW. After exercise your body is biologically programmed to take on nutrients to replenish the damaged muscles. You have 30minutes after you finish training where your body will absorb the nutrients at its optimum level. After this optimal 30minute period, you then have a further 90minutes where this window begins to gradually close and then plateau out to normal daily absorption rates.

Based on this process, it is important that you eat something as soon as you finish training, and research suggests the best post training nutrition to replenish damaged muscles and restock blood glycogen levels is a food that is 70% Carbohydrate and 30% Protein. Most people think of high carb snacks, but forget to include the very important protein required for rebuilding muscle. enIQ Wellness have an all natural, electrolyte/protein drink that is an ideal post training drink to make use of your 30 minute window until you get home and have your dinner, which you will ensure is full of Quality Calories!

Pre Race: Carb loading. The night before. The morning of.

This could be a novel in itself, and is a very individual thing so I will keep it simple and broad, and you can research your own protocols to find out more.

If you are doing a race that will go for longer than 2.5hrs you can carb load. Under 2.5hrs I wouldn’t bother, just stick you your normal training diet.

2 days before a race eat Quality Calories up to your normal daily intake (or carb load level). Then in my opinion, the day before a race, eat normally up to 3pm, then from 3pm up until the morning of the race eat only small snacks that are easily digestible.

Dinner the night before a race should be light and something that is easily digestible. My pre race dinner has always been a salad with tinned fish. Stay clear of heavy foods like steak or pasta with loads of sauce, or anything salty (you need to keep well hydrated).

Post Race: What’s with all this watermelon?

Post race shouldn’t be a free for all. You can celebrate a job well done, and you deserve to eat whatever you like… but just remember that the body burns quality calories into quality energy so the better you eat, the better you feel and perform the next day.

Try and hit your 30minute window by eating whatever the event organiser has dished up. Generally this will be watermelon as it is very high in sugar (carbohydrate – fructose), but also remember the golden ratio of 70% Carbs & 30% Protein… so if they give you fruit salad and Icecream, take it!!

Race Day

There is a lot of information out there on race day fuelling, and a lot of it is very individual. So if you are new to it and have yet to figure out an exact equation for yourself, then for now just remember two simple equations for eating and drinking during the race:

1g CHO/KG/hr = 1 gram of Carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour of racing & 600 – 800ml water per hour

Training Days

For long training days that will require fuelling, you can use the above equation as a rough guide, and add an intensity factor. For example, if you are doing a long training ride at 80% of your race day effort, then you would take with you (1g CHO/KG/hr)/0.8.

Always err on the side of more though. It’s always better to take more than you need and not eat it than not have enough.


Minerals are inorganic chemical compounds other than Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen and Oxygen, that living organisms require for cellular function. If the human body requires a daily intake of greater than 100mg of an inorganic compound, it is said to be an essential mineral. If the body requires less than 100mg per day, it is called a trace element*.

Essential minerals:

calcium chlorine magnesium phosphorus
potassium sodium sulphur  

Trace elements are also essential nutrients that the body requires to work properly, but in much smaller amounts than vitamins and minerals.

Trace elements:

boron chromium iron selenium
cobalt fluoride manganese silicon
copper iodine molybdenum zinc

The general function of dietary minerals are; as constituents of bones and teeth, salts that regulate bodily fluids, and as components of enzymes and hormones.

Calcium occurs mainly in the teeth and bones, but a small amount is found in blood plasma and other body fluids, where it influences nerve transmission, blood clotting, and muscle contraction. Dairy products and green leafy vegetables, fish bones and blackstrap mollasses are good dietary sources of calcium. An adequate intake of vitamin D is required for calcium absorption.

Chlorine is found in extracellular fluid, where it helps maintain normal fluid-electrolyte and acid-base balance, and in the stomach, where it forms hydrochloric acid that provides the acidic environment necessary for digestion. Table salt is its main dietary source.

Magnesium, also present in every cell, is necessary for carbohydrate and protein metabolism, cellular reproduction, and smooth muscle action. It also aids in the absorption of calcium, sodium, potassium and vitamins C and B groups. Dietary sources include nuts, dried apricots and figs, and wheat germ.

Phosphorus is present in every cell in compounds such as nucleic acids and adenosine triphosphate. It plays a major role in mitosis. Good dietary sources include meat, fish, eggs and sunflower seeds. Twice as much calcium as phosphorus is required in the human body to maintain a balance.

Potassium, which is found in intra- and extracellular fluid, plays a major role in fluid and electrolyte balance and in heart muscle activity, and is also required for carbohydrate metabolism and protein synthesis. Its sources include avocado, legumes, whole grains, and bananas.

Sodium is in the skeleton and extracellular fluids and is necessary for fluid and acid-base balance, cellular permeability, and muscle function. Sodium chloride from table salt is the main dietary source.

Sulphur, which is important in the formation of proteins, is also necessary for energy metabolism and enzyme function. Sulphur is found in foods high in protein, such as meat, eggs, and legumes.

* Iron and Zinc hover in between being minerals and trace elements. For the average adult consuming a 2000 calorie/day diet, the recommended daily intake (RDI) for these two elements is 15-20mg (and up to double this for a training female athlete). This is well below the 100mg stated above to class them as an essential mineral, however, it is far greater than that of the other trace elements who’s RDIs are measured in micro-grams.

Iron is essential for haemoglobin and myoglobin formation and acts as a coenzyme in energy metabolism. Good sources of dietary iron include red meat, fish, poultry, lentils, beans, leaf vegetables, tofu and chickpeas.

Zinc is found in up to 100 specific enzymes and is essential for all of the functions that those enzymes catalyse, and it plays a major role in reproduction and fertility. Good dietary sources of zinc are lamb, liver, oysters, lentils, almonds, pumpkin seeds and whole grains.


So as you can see, there’s a lot to consider. What suits someone else may not suit you, so seek out professional advice. Practice often what you will do on race day, and remember that food is simply fuel for your body. If you want quality energy out, put quality energy in!

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