5 Sports Nutrition Rules to Learn From the Pros

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
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5 Sports Nutrition Rules to Learn From the Pros

Many recreational athletes trying to boost fitness and performance look to the professionals in their sport for inspiration. Watching pro athletes perform in competitions, reading their bios and following their social media goes beyond entertainment. It can be extremely motivating and provide insight on how to live, eat, sleep and train to improve your own performance.



The best athletes eat a fairly simple, routine diet of whole foods and easy preparations (Think: oatmeal and banana or roast chicken, sweet potatoes and veg). Put this into practice on your own by adhering to a nutritious well-designed meal plan using limited, minimally processed ingredients.

With savvy product marketing, it’s easy to assume the best in sport are utilizing the trendiest, priciest supplements and foods to boost performance through product claims, but it’s far from reality. Top-level athletes undergo frequent drug testing and many supplements are not tested for quality control which could result in a false positive. Professional athletes constantly travel and need to rely on a diet they can consume anywhere. They also want consistency in results and that comes, in part, from habitual eating; trying new foods could result in gastric disturbances that could interfere with solid training.



Recreational athletes are often guilty of switching from one diet to the next based on the latest trend or whatever they see a pro doing. Each individual responds differently to diets and nutrition, and you need to tailor your diet to your specific needs. Professional athletes implement a diet that works for their training, metabolism, preferences, schedule, tolerance and local availability. If you imitate anything, copy that mindset and implement a diet that works for your body because that’s what ultimately matters.



Professional athletes are not fans of surprises. They prefer to have a set routine for pretty much every aspect of their day as leaving anything to chance could be a missed opportunity for good performances. When it comes to eating, most follow a pretty strict plan of what to eat and when to eat to get the most out of their days. This allows the focus to stay on performing their best, eliminates chances of stomach issues during training sessions and reduces decision fatigue — a condition where the mind becomes tired and stressed from constantly having to make choices. They also want consistency in results and that comes from habitual eating. Trying new foods could result in gastric disturbances that could interfere with solid training. Grab a daily planner and jot down your schedule, adding in meal ideas and eating times.



While an everyday athlete can fit training into their busy schedules and leave nutrition to chance, pros can’t. You’ll rarely catch a top performer making excuses that they didn’t feel like eating, forgot their recovery nutrition, didn’t have time to eat, etc. They know having properly implemented sports nutrition can make or break their performance. Follow suit by adopting the mindset that healthy eating and good nutrient timing (eating before, during and after workouts) is a vital part of your performance.



The best athletes make eating well look easy. What you rarely see is the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making a healthy diet happen. Most have a team of coaches, dietitians and physicians who work to track intake, advise changes and perform tests to ensure the athlete is getting the nutrients and energy needed. You might not be a professional athlete, but you can buy into their support team. Use smartphones, watches, training metrics and apps like MyFitnessPal to watch energy expenditure, intake and evaluate need. If you are unsure of where to start making diet changes, schedule a consultation with a sports dietitian. Another way to know if you’re eating a diet that is working for your body is to schedule a complete blood count, ferritin, nutrition and hormone blood test. With a few test tubes of blood, you can see if any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances need to be addressed.

The ideal protein-fat-carb ratio depends on your goals. Go to “Plans” in the MyFitnessPal app and try the Intro to Macro Tracking plan to learn which breakdown is best for you.

About the Author

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD

Lori, MS RD CSSD is an accomplished sports dietitian; she holds a Master’s Degree in Human Nutrition and Certification as a Specialist in Sports Nutrition. As a current professional road cyclist and previous elite marathoner and ultra-runner, Lori knows firsthand that food can enhance or diminish performance gains. She understands the importance of balancing a quality whole food based diet with science-backed performance nutrition and strives to share this message with others. Learn more about her @HungryForResults.


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