Balanced nutrition for athletes: what you have to pay attention to

For many, sport and nutrition go hand in hand – and there’s a good reason for that. A targeted diet does not make you directly a world champion or Olympic champion, but in the end it can make the millisecond to the podium place or the extra centimeters for the gold medal for high performance athletes. Even recreational athletes can effectively influence their performance and regeneration with a balanced and healthy diet. Often dietary supplements are used and especially in weight training there is a lot of advertising of special preparations. Basically, any healthy athlete can meet his or her macro- and micronutrient needs through a healthy, whole-food, balanced diet.

Our lecturer Julia Brockherde has compiled the most important tips for you.

Special features of sports nutrition

Basically, you should start every training and competition with an optimal energy, nutrient and fluid balance in order to maximize your physical and mental health as well as your performance. The German Nutrition Society (DGE) also recommends that athletes eat a healthy, whole-food diet that meets their energy and nutrient needs. Healthy and wholesome means the following: 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day (3 hands of vegetables, 2 hands of fruit), more often resort to the whole-grain variety (for pasta, rice and bread, for example), balance fluid intake with water and tea, cut down on sugar and salt (especially fast food), eat healthy or. Prefer vegetable fats (olive oil, nuts, avocado, fish) and enjoy a varied diet.

Energy requirements are higher for athletes than for non-athletes due to higher energy consumption, but depend on intensity, duration, physical and external factors. A dart player, for example, has a lower energy requirement than a triathlete or a rower. In addition, even during the annual cycle of an individual athlete, energy needs may vary depending on the phase of competition and training.

What energy requirements do you have?

Too little energy intake, dehydration and regular consumption of alcoholic beverages can not only negatively affect an athlete’s strength and regeneration, but also reduce coordination, stamina and responsiveness. In addition, the risk of injury increases.

Differences in requirements are related not only to the type of sport, but also to training intensity, physique, external environmental factors and, above all, to training duration. While strength athletes usually perform shorter loads and sprints, training sessions and competitions for endurance athletes such as long-distance runners and cyclists often last several hours. In the following you will find suitable tips for your nutrition depending on whether you do endurance or strength sports.

Nutrition tips for endurance sports

Unlike strength athletes, endurance athletes need increased energy intake over a longer period of time. For optimal energy supply, it is therefore important that the carbohydrate stores are completely replenished beforehand. A diet rich in carbohydrates is recommended here. Pasta with tomato sauce, bread with cheese, but also muesli with fruit and vegetable wraps represent examples of the basis of a carbohydrate-rich, balanced diet.

According to ca. 90 minutes, your carbohydrate stores are depleted and you can use carbohydrate-rich fluids or food to provide new energy during the session, which can be used quickly and could optimize performance. Isotonic drinks, fruit or dextrose are often used for this purpose. However, you should test these before a competition to prevent possible digestive problems.

The protein requirement is also somewhat higher in endurance athletes due to the increased total consumption at ca. 1.2 – 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Hydration is also an important factor, especially for long-duration activities. During training sessions that last longer than 60 minutes, you should drink fluids in between to compensate for the loss, especially through sweat. For workouts lasting longer than 90 minutes, hydration with sodium and carbohydrates is also recommended to replenish carbohydrate stores and restore electrolyte balance, which can be imbalanced by high sweat production.

The right nutrition for weight training

For strength athletes, the main focus is on protein intake. The goal of a strength athlete is usually hypertrophy, i.e. muscle building. Necessary for this are mainly amino acids, i.e. the composition of proteins. After training, you should ideally replenish your energy and nutrient stores after 30 minutes to 120 minutes at the latest, in order to give your body a basis for muscle building. Recommended for strength athletes are approx. 1.2 – 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. In comparison: non-athletes need approx. 0.8 g per kg body weight recommended.

Protein intake is really not only about quantity but also about quality. The muscle cannot directly utilize more than 20 to 25 g of high-quality protein, and the body would convert the rest into fat reserves for later. Therefore, you should eat protein throughout the day in order to be able to use it optimally for muscle building.

Optimal sources of protein are mainly animal proteins, as they are most similar to human proteins. The quality of the protein sources can be expressed with the biological value. This indicates how well the protein ingested from food can be converted into the body’s own protein.

Protein sources with a high biological value include mainly animal products such as dairy products, eggs, fish or meat. This does not mean, however, that vegetarian or vegan diets have to compromise on biological value. By combining several foods you can increase the biological value and thus the protein quality. The combination of beans and corn, for example, has a higher biological value than beef, chicken eggs or cow’s milk.

To cover your protein needs quantitatively and qualitatively, you do not necessarily have to resort to meat, tuna and egg, but can also optimally cover the need with a balanced, wholesome diet.

In addition to proteins, carbohydrates are also important for strength athletes in order to replenish glycogen stores. A cup of curd cheese or yogurt with oatmeal, fruits and nuts, a loaf of bread with egg or a chicken pan with rice are suggestions for quick and optimal energy supply after training. Vegans can often meet their protein needs with legumes such as kidney beans, chickpeas or lentils, but soy products such as tofu are also protein-rich alternatives.


Sports nutrition is not only interesting for high-performance athletes, but can also be an important factor for recreational athletes to achieve health and physical goals. In principle, the DGE guidelines for macro- and micronutrients are sufficient for a recreational athlete who wants to maintain his or her health. A balanced, whole food diet and sufficient fluids are optimal for performance.

In competitive sports, it is especially important for endurance athletes to replenish their carbohydrate stores before – and, in the case of longer sessions, during – exercise. As a power athlete in the performance range, on the other hand, the protein intake should be increased spread over the day in order to optimize muscle building. In addition to the quantity, the quality of the proteins is also important here. Additional nutritional supplements are not necessary for most athletes, and especially for healthy recreational athletes who follow a balanced diet, and should be discussed with a physician.

The following table shows you the differences in nutrition between endurance and strength athletes at a glance, including examples of food.

Fill up carbohydrate stores (120 min before: pasta/bread/rice; 30min before: muesli bar, banana)

Replenish energy stores (rice with chicken, trout salad, falafel with vegetables)

>60 min water intake
>90 min Sodium and carbohydrate intake (isotonic drink, dextrose)

You can learn many more facts about nutrition (also for non-athletes) in our nutritionist training. Look inside:

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