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  • Writer's pictureAshley Besecker, RDN, CD

The Top 5 Nutrition Mistakes Athletes Make

As an athlete, your body is your most important asset. That's why it's so important to fuel your body with the right foods to support your training and recovery. However, even the most dedicated athletes can make nutrition mistakes.

1. Not eating enough

Athletes need to consume more calories, carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats than the average person to support their high activity levels. If you're not eating enough of any of these nutrients, you'll be running on empty during your workouts and you won't be able to recover properly. In female athletes specifically, we need to watch for something called RED-S: Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) is a condition that can affect female athletes of all ages and levels of competition. It is caused by a chronic imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. This imbalance can lead to a number of health problems, including low bone density, menstrual irregularities, and impaired immune function.

Symptoms of RED-S can include:

  • Fatigue

  • Weight loss

  • Missed or irregular periods

  • Decreased libido

  • Frequent illness

  • Hair loss

  • Trouble focusing

  • Trouble staying warm

  • Irritability and depression

Here are some tips for avoiding the common mistake of not eating enough for both male and female athletes:

  • Fuel your body with the right foods before, during, and after workouts.

  • Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and fluids.

  • Listen to your body and adjust your diet as needed. There is no “one magic diet” for a professional athlete. All of you are different and your diets should reflect that individuality.

Here is a more specific breakdown of how many grams of carbohydrate and protein athletes should aim to have pre and post workouts:


  • Carbohydrate: 1-2 grams per kilogram of body weight (to get kg, divide your weight in lbs by 2.2)

  • Protein: 0.2-0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight


  • Carbohydrate: 1-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight

  • Protein: 0.3-0.5 grams per kilogram of body weight

For example, a 70-kilogram (154 lbs) athlete should aim to consume 70-140 grams of carbohydrate and 14-28 grams of protein pre-workout. Post-workout, they should aim to consume 70-105 grams of carbohydrate and 21-35 grams of protein.

It is important to note that these are just general guidelines. The specific amount of carbohydrate and protein that athletes need will vary depending on their individual needs and goals. We can get more detailed on these needs by looking at your genetics, and specific sport. It is also important to listen to your body and adjust your diet as needed. Your body is the best judge.

Here are some examples of pre- and post-workout meals and snacks that meet the above recommendations:


  • Banana with peanut butter

  • Oatmeal with berries and nuts

  • Yogurt with fruit and granola

  • Hard-boiled eggs with whole-wheat toast

  • Smoothie made with protein powder, fruit, and yogurt


  • Chocolate milk

  • Turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread

  • Wild salmon with brown rice and vegetables

  • Quinoa bowl with black beans, corn, and avocado

  • Omelet with vegetables and cheese

If you are struggling to meet your nutritional needs through diet alone, you may want to consider using supplements like collagen or protein powder. There are a variety of supplements available that can help athletes to fuel their workouts and recover properly. These supplements always need to be NSF Certified for Sport or Informed Sport Certified (for those of you playing in the USA).

2. Eating too many processed foods

Processed foods are often high in refined sugar and they can be low in nutrients. Eating too many processed foods can lead to weight gain, inflammation, and other health problems.

Here are some tips for avoiding the common mistake of eating too many processed foods:

  • Cook more meals at home. This will give you more control over the ingredients in your food - check out the cookbooks below to get started.

  • Choose whole, unprocessed foods over processed foods whenever possible. For example, instead of eating white bread, choose whole-wheat bread. Instead of sugary drinks, choose water or tea, coffee, kombucha or sparkling water.

  • Limit your intake of fast food and convenience foods!

Here are some good cookbooks for athletes to dip your toes in the water with cooking:

  • The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes by Allen Lim and Biju Thomas

  • Run Fast. Eat Slow.: Nourishing Recipes for Athletes by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky

  • Fuel Your Body: How to Cook and Eat for Peak Performance: 77 Simple, Nutritious, Whole-Food Recipes for Every Athlete by Angie Asche

  • The No Meat Athlete Cookbook: Whole Food, Plant-Based Recipes to Fuel Your Workouts―and the Rest of Your Life by Matt Frazier

These cookbooks offer a variety of delicious and nutritious recipes that are perfect for athletes of all levels. They include recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts. They also provide information on sports nutrition and how to time your meals and snacks to support your training and recovery.

3. Not timing your meals and snacks properly

What you eat and when you eat it can have a big impact on your athletic performance and recovery. It's important to time your meals and snacks properly to ensure that you're getting the nutrients you need when you need them.

Here are some tips for timing your meals and snacks properly:

  • Eat a meal or snack 2-3 hours before a workout. This will give your body time to digest the food and provide you with energy during your workout.

  • Eat a meal or snack within 30 minutes of finishing a workout. This will help your body to recover and rebuild muscle tissue.

  • Eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day as you are able. This will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable and prevent hunger pangs.

4. Not drinking enough fluids

Athletes need to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated, especially before, during, and after workouts. If you're not hydrated, you'll be more likely to fatigue and experience muscle cramps.

Here are some tips for staying hydrated:

  • Drink water throughout the day, even if you're not thirsty. Aim to drink 0.5-1 liter of fluid per hour of exercise

  • Drink sports drinks during long or intense workouts. Sports drinks can help to replenish electrolytes and fluids lost through sweat.

  • Avoid sugary drinks and alcohol, as these can dehydrate you.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that athletes drink enough fluids to maintain a urine color that is pale yellow or clear. This means that you should be urinating about every 2-3 hours.

Your hydration needs will vary depending on a number of factors, including the intensity and duration of your workout, the weather conditions, and your individual sweat rate. However, in hot or humid weather, or during long or intense workouts, you may need to drink more.

To determine your individual sweat rate, you can weigh yourself before and after a workout. Any weight loss is due to fluid loss. For example, if you lose 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) during a workout, you need to drink 2 pounds (0.9 kilograms) of fluid to replace what was lost.

Here are some tips for staying hydrated during hot or humid weather:

  • Start drinking fluids before your workout, even if you're not thirsty.

  • Drink fluids throughout your workout, every 15-20 minutes.

  • Drink sports drinks or electrolyte replacement drinks to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. Try Nuun, Drip Drop, Catalyte, Liquid IV, Skratch, or LMNT.

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these can dehydrate you. Caffeine may be used as an ergogenic aid in other specific situations.

  • Wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing.

  • Take breaks in the shade or air conditioning.

If you experience any signs of dehydration, such as headache, dizziness, or fatigue, stop exercising and drink fluids immediately.

Avoid the common nutrition mistakes many athletes make and fuel your body for optimal performance and recovery. Longevity in sport requires working smarter!

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