Refueling with chocolate milk for mid-workout break.

A Competitor’s Nutrition Guide

Competitor's Nutrition Guide - Tara WhitonThe number one mistake I see when working with all athletes of all levels is under-fueling. I think most people feel that in order to perform better, they need to keep a slim figure and that this can be achieved by eating the bare minimum needed to sustain performance.

Nutritional Guide for Runners and Athletes

Long-term athletic success is not sustainable without proper nutrition, and eventually the body will break down, whether it is from injury or other health issues. Athletes need to eat enough to sustain their bodily functions (based on how much lean muscle mass they have) and then eat to perform on top of that. Performance nutrition does not come out of your body’s energy to live and often people confuse these two things.

By fueling enough for your body, brain and your performance level, every running foot strike, every rep, every soccer ball kick, etc., can be utilized more efficiently with an optimized nutrition plan.

This plan is based on 4 personal nutritional questions for athletes to ask themselves in order to improve their overall health and performance:

  • Am I fueling enough with my current diet?
  • What are my macronutrient choices? (carb, protein, fat amounts)
  • What is my nutrient timing through out the day?
  • What daily and performance supplements do I take?

These questions are important to address because often athletes will mistakenly focus solely on macronutrient choices without knowing if they are actually consuming enough in the first place. Depending on the desired length of performance, if you don’t consume enough fuel to sustain you, the type of food you eat will not matter as much.

Another common mistake is that people think that supplementing will help them perform better. I always say, until you know you are dialed into the first 3 steps above, a supplement of any kind will not do anything to help and you may end up wasting your money.

So how do you know if you are eating enough or too much? Linking up with a Certified Sport Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian is a good place to start.

It is helpful to find a professional who can assess how much lean muscle mass you have through anthropometric measurements. Typically they will assess how much body fat you have, and be able to indirectly calculate your lean muscle mass from there.

Assessing lean muscle mass through anthropomorphic measurement

By assessing your unique physiology and training goals, the right professional will be able to customize a nutrition plan that will sustain your lean muscle mass and support your daily training and competition schedule. A hint for finding the right help: if you are training regularly, your nutrition plan should not be the same day to day. Just like training, your nutrition plan should also be periodized toward your daily training goals.

If hiring a professional nutritional support is out of reach, the next option would be to eat a balanced diet – meaning items from each food group (or substituting if you have a food allergy) – and eat frequently. I like to tell clients to aim for 6-7 meals per day, each meal containing carbs, fats, and proteins, and to aim to eat every 2-3 hours. This will at the very least ensure that your body is fueled at all times and not going through periods of energy depletion. While this may sound daunting, it is very easy when you break it down like this:

  • Breakfast
  • Pre/Post Workout fuel
  • Snack
  • Lunch
  • Snack
  • Dinner
  • Snack

People fright at the thought of eating “this much,” but this is what is takes to perform whether it is in sport, exercise, mentally at work, in relationships, etc. Your body and brain will thank you and you will achieve far more than you ever thought you could!

A good summary of this guideline is found in a favorite quote of mine: “I don’t diet, I just eat according to my goals”. I think if people regularly adopt this mindset they can overcome a lot of the biases that are out there in regard to nutrition and what is “healthy.”

— Text & Photos: Tara Whiton. Tara has her PhD in Sport Physiology and Performance and a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Nutrition. She is a certified strength and conditioning coach (CSCS), Certified Exercise Physiologist, Certified Anthropometrist, and Certified Sport Nutritionist. She can be reached at or her Instagram @timandtara for more information.

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