Nutrition Recommendations for Track and Field
Due to the demanding training required by track & field athletes, daily energy expenditure is generally high. Therefore, more calories are needed each day to keep up with training and recovery. Unfortunately, reported intakes are often less than estimated needs. That puts track & field athletes at a higher risk of low energy availability, which can negatively impact sports performance. To make sure athletes get adequate energy, they need to consume adequate carbohydrate, protein and fat at each meal and have snacks throughout the day.
Carbohydrate is the preferred source of energy for the muscles and brain, making it an important component of a student athlete’s diet. The amount of carbohydrate consumed will vary depending on what phase of training the athlete is in, pre-season, competition, or off-season.
Both track and field athletes should be consuming between 5 and 7 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight each day. For a 165-pound (75 kg) athlete, that equates to between 375-525 grams of carbohydrates spread throughout each day. The range takes in account the different events as well as each phase of an athlete’s season.
Pre-season is when training demands are the highest. Therefore, athletes should focus on getting the higher end of their carbohydrate needs to perform and properly recover. While some training typically continues in the off or rest season, the intensity and duration is generally lower, allowing athletes to shift to the lower end of their carbohydrate needs. It is important to understand that carbohydrates are important during all phases of the season. Carbohydrates are found in a wide variety of foods, including grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, yogurt, beans, and simple sugars.
Protein is a key component of a track & field athlete’s diet. Consuming adequate protein is critical for a number of body functions, including repairing and building muscle tissue. The recommended intake for both track & field athletes is between 1.2-1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. For a 165-pound (75 kg) athlete, this would be 90-128 grams per day spread evenly throughout meals and snacks.
When choosing protein sources, variety and quality is important. Aim to eat a variety of high-quality protein foods, such as dairy, like milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as eggs, lean beef, poultry, fish, legumes, and beans. Relying heavily on protein bars and shakes can put athletes at risk of missing key nutrients.
Fat has a variety of roles in the body, one of them being a source of fuel for athletes. While carbohydrates are the main source of fuel for track & field athletes, fat is also a valuable energy resource. Many track & field athletes fail to get adequate fat in their diet, which can also lead to low-energy availability and long-term health concerns. Because track athletes tend to be more at risk of low body fat than field athletes, it is especially important for them to consume at least 1 gram of fat per kilogram of body weight each day. For a 165-pound (75 kg) athlete, that is a minimum of 75 grams of fat each day.
While eating enough fat is important, an emphasis is placed on including heart-healthy fats. A few examples include avocados, nuts, nut butters, seeds, and olives.
Below is an example of how much carbohydrate, protein and fat a 165-pound (75 kg) track and field athlete would need, and how they can spread their intake throughout the day.