Athlete diet plan: overview of different research-based approaches

By Aynur Nuriev, 27 December 2022

Take a look at the cover image we have attached intentionally here. It is a default diet/food plan for many youth sports camps in the USA. We can assure you, it is a disaster in the making. Please, never do this.

As a top-performing athlete, your nutritional intake plays a critical role in determining your athletic prowess. Your body requires the appropriate fuel to perform at its peak, and a well-structured athlete diet plan can aid you in reaching your goals. Whether you're an Olympic medalist or a professional sportsperson, the principles of a successful athlete meal plan remain the same.

The health establishment recommends “low fat”,  AVAP (as vegetarian as possible). As a result, you get a nation of obese people, especially the younger ones. For better results, do the opposite “low carb”, strength training,  eating meat. 

The Importance of an Athlete Diet Plan

A well-crafted athlete diet plan is vital for various reasons. Firstly, it furnishes your body with the energy and nutrients necessary to perform optimally. When you engage in training or competitions, your body expends a substantial amount of energy, and it's imperative to replenish these stores with the right fuel. A properly planned athlete diet can help you maintain your energy levels, hasten recovery from workouts and injuries, and promote muscle growth and repair.
Additionally, an effective athlete diet plan can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Athletes involved in weight-sensitive sports must pay close attention to their weight and body composition. A balanced athlete diet can assist in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, which is crucial for optimal performance.

Key Components of an Athlete Meal Plan

A comprehensive athlete diet should comprise a wide range of nutrient-dense foods that provide your body with the necessary energy and nutrients. Here are some essential elements of an effective athlete meal plan:

Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates serve as the primary energy source for athletes, and they should make up the majority of your caloric intake. Choose complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, which provide sustained energy and are abundant in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. It's recommended that athletes consume 45-65% of their daily caloric intake from carbohydrates.

Protein: Protein plays a crucial role in muscle growth and repair and should form a significant portion of your athlete diet plan. Select high-quality protein sources, such as lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, and plant-based proteins like beans, nuts, and tofu. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.

Fats: Fats are a critical energy source and are necessary for the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. Opt for healthy fats found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil, and limit your intake of unhealthy fats such as trans fats and saturated fats. It's recommended that athletes consume 20-35% of their daily caloric intake from fats.

Hydration: Proper hydration is indispensable for athletes, as it helps regulate body temperature, transport nutrients, and eliminate toxins. Aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, and increase your fluid intake if you're training or competing in hot or humid conditions. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes drink 17-20 ounces of fluid 2 hours before exercise and 7-10 ounces every 10-20 minutes during exercise.

Additionally, if you cannot take enough nutrions from your food intake, consider adding sports supplements for athletes to your diet plan. 

Olympic Athletes Diet Plan

The grueling training and competition schedules of Olympic athletes demand a well-thought-out, nutrient-rich diet. A diet that provides a proper balance of energy and nutrients is crucial for Olympic athletes to perform at their peak level. Every athlete has unique dietary needs, and an Olympic athlete diet plan should be tailored to the individual athlete.

Studies have shown that a diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods such as complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein sources, healthy fats, and an abundance of fruits and vegetables can meet the energy needs of Olympic athletes (Luhovyy et al., 2007). Additionally, Olympic athletes must also be mindful of their hydration levels and aim to consume adequate amounts of water to maintain optimal hydration (Shirreffs et al., 1996).

For athletes who participate in weight-dependent sports, paying close attention to body composition is crucial. These athletes may need to modify their diets to ensure they reach and maintain a healthy weight (Burke et al., 2011).

Proper timing of meals and snacks can also play a crucial role in an Olympic athlete's diet. The following tips can help optimize the timing of meals and snacks for professional athletes:

Within an hour of completing a workout or competition, consume a balanced meal or snack. This is the window in which the body is most receptive to replenishing glycogen stores and repairing muscle tissue (Ivy et al., 2002). Consume a balanced meal or snack every 3-4 hours throughout the day to maintain consistent energy levels and support muscle growth and repair (Luhovyy et al., 2007). Before training or competition, have a small, high-carbohydrate snack to top off glycogen stores and provide energy (Burke et al., 2011). After training or competition, have a small, high-carbohydrate snack to replenish glycogen stores and support muscle recovery (Ivy et al., 2002).

In conclusion, a customized Olympic athlete diet plan, which takes into consideration the athlete's unique needs and the proper timing of meals and snacks, is key to achieving Olympic excellence.

athlete diet plan

Best diet for athletes

Athletes have diverse nutritional demands, dependent on the demands of their sport. Although the fundamental principles of a healthy athlete diet remain constant (i.e., supplying the body with enough energy and essential nutrients), variations can occur in the diets of athletes in different sports.

Consider the following examples:

Endurance Sports: Athletes in endurance sports such as running or cycling may require a higher intake of carbohydrates to fuel their prolonged training and competition. They also need to be mindful of hydration levels.

Strength Sports: Weightlifters and bodybuilders may have increased protein needs to facilitate muscle growth and repair. Maintaining adequate caloric intake to support muscle growth and energy levels is also crucial.

Power Sports: Football and basketball players may require higher energy and carbohydrate levels to power their intense movements and training. Additionally, they should prioritize protein intake for muscle repair and recovery.

Weight-Dependent Sports: In weight-dependent sports such as wrestling and boxing, athletes need to be cautious about their weight and body composition. They may have to adjust caloric intake and macronutrient ratios to achieve a healthy weight.

It's worth noting that these are general guidelines, and the unique needs of an athlete will depend on various factors like their training and competition schedule, intensity level, and personal goals. Consulting a sports dietitian or a qualified professional is always recommended to design a diet plan that meets your specific needs.

There are many popular athlete meal plans and strategies that have been supported by professional athletes. 

The Zone Diet: Developed by Dr. Barry Sears, the Zone Diet emphasizes a balance of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) in each meal. It is a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that aims to regulate blood sugar levels, which could promote weight loss and enhance athletic performance. Basketball player LeBron James and tennis player Serena Williams are among the athletes who endorse the Zone Diet.

The Paleo Diet: Also known as the "caveman diet," the Paleo Diet encourages consuming whole, unprocessed foods like meats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, while avoiding grains, legumes, dairy, and processed foods. Football player Arian Foster and mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre are among the athletes who follow the Paleo Diet.

The Vegan Diet: A plant-based diet excluding all animal products, the Vegan Diet is high in carbohydrates and fiber and low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Football player Tom Brady and ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek attribute their athletic performance to the Vegan Diet.

The Mediterranean Diet: Inspired by the traditional diets of people from Mediterranean countries, the Mediterranean Diet comprises of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and healthy fats (e.g., olive oil) and includes moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and dairy. Basketball player Kobe Bryant and tennis player Novak Djokovic are among the athletes who follow the Mediterranean Diet.

For example, take a look at the interview of Novak Djokovic and the importance of the diet that fits your specific needs:

It's important to note that while these diet plans and strategies may have been endorsed by professional athletes, they may not be suitable for everyone and it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before making any major changes to your diet.

If you are interested in more robust research-based information on this topic, we made a brief list of some of the key papers regarding the importance of balanced food while developing a professional athlete diet plan:

  1. "The Role of Nutrition in Athletic Performance" by the American Dietetic Association (

This review paper discusses the role of nutrition in athletic performance and highlights the importance of a well-planned athlete diet plan. The authors note that "proper nutrition can help to optimize training, enhance recovery from training and injury, and improve overall health and well-being in athletes."

2. "Nutrition for Health, Performance, and Recovery in Competitive Sport" by the Australian Institute of Sport (

This review paper discusses the role of nutrition in health, performance, and recovery in competitive sport and emphasizes the importance of a well-planned athlete diet plan. The authors note that "athletes require a higher intake of energy and nutrients than sedentary individuals due to the additional energy and nutrient demands of training and competition."

3. "Nutrition and Athletic Performance" by the American College of Sports Medicine (

This review paper discusses the role of nutrition in athletic performance and emphasizes the importance of a well-planned athlete diet plan. The authors note that "adequate nutrition is essential for optimal athletic performance and is particularly important for athletes undergoing heavy training loads."

4. "Nutrition and Athletic Performance" by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (

This review paper discusses the role of nutrition in athletic performance and emphasizes the importance of a well-planned athlete diet plan. The authors note that "proper nutrition is crucial for athletes in order to maintain optimal health, enhance performance, and support recovery from training."

Additional mentions: 

5. Burke, L. M., Hawley, J. A., & Wong, S. H. (2011). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(sup1), 17-27.

6. Ivy, J. L., Portman, R., & Sherman, W. M. (2002). Muscle glycogen synthesis before and after exercise. Sports Medicine, 32(8), 551-559.

7. Luhovyy, B. L., Akhavan, T., Anderson, G. H., & Flores-Mateo, G. (2007). Whey proteins in the regulation of food intake and satiety. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 26(6), 704-712. 

8. Shirreffs, S. M., Merson, S. J., & Archer, D. T. (1996). Post-exercise rehydration in man: effects of volume consumed and drink sodium content. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28(9), 1260-1271.