Sports Nutrition Trends to Take or Leave

Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
by Lori Russell, MS RD CSSD
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Sports Nutrition Trends to Take or Leave

As a new year begins, many athletes reevaluate how they can make the most out of the 365 days to come by scoping out new workouts and the latest gear, making big goals and generally revamping their healthy habits. Part of this annual refresh includes overhauling your diet to align with health and fitness goals.

Jumping on the nutrition bandwagon for new trends can be inspiring, motivating and fun, as long as the right trends are followed and potentially harmful ones are avoided. Here are a sports dietitian’s picks for six fit nutrition trends to try, and a few to avoid in 2021.


Functional foods refer to anything that attaches a health benefit or purpose to the food or ingredient, this is nothing new, but it is ramping up in popularity for 2021. For example, a yogurt is just a yogurt until it’s fortified with probiotics, and then it transforms into a potential health-boosting functional food. Functional health is all about targeting your health and fitness goals by eating a diet rich in high-quality foods that go above and beyond. While some of this is fluff (will that pinch of collagen and spirulina in your latte really promote well-being?), ultimately it places the focus on choosing ingredients that have high-quality nutrients and eat with purpose. Add apple cider vinegar to your water to help regulate blood sugar levels, choose omega-enriched eggs to stimulate cognitive health, and sip a mug of bone broth to promote gut healing.

So long fasting! Goodbye grab-and-go muffins from the coffee shop. If 2020 gave us anything, it was more time to cook and eat at home. This leads to an appreciation for full breakfasts that isn’t going to leave anytime soon. Athletes should get on this trend. Fueling fully post morning workout helps stimulate recovery and prevent large calorie deficits, meaning you’ll be more likely to make healthy choices, have stable blood glucose, be more focused, and enjoy controlled hunger levels all day long. Opt for a big bowl of warm muesli with Greek-style yogurt and fruit, create a loaded breakfast burrito with roast potatoes, eggs, avocado and salsa, or pile your plate with whole-grain pancakes and berries.

Forget Paleoketoflexitarian or even being vegan, 2021 is the year to go climatarian; adopting an eating style that focuses on reducing your environmental footprint and promoting environmental well-being. This eating style includes a range of food habits such as choosing more local ingredients, supporting brands that give back to the land, reducing food waste or cutting out foods with big environmental impact like beef. While the foundation has little to do with personal health, it is a benefit of the climatarian lifestyle as you’re likely to be eating more plants, less processed packaged foods and cooking more at home.

Ketchup is so 1985. Now your condiments should come with a heath purpose or flavor enhancement. Small-batch makers are bringing unique options such as FreakFlag Organic’s beet ketchup, Humble NutButter’s sundried tomato cashew butter and Cleveland Kraut’s fermented dressings to make sure your plate is never boring. If these sound too fancy for you, try stocking your pantry with global condiments such as marmite, coconut aminos, harissa paste, lime pickle, kimchi or gochujang. Since most of these condiments use fermentation, vegetable ingredients, umami, heat and herbs/spices, the benefits go beyond flavor to promote digestion, gut health and an indulgent satisfaction from your standard burger, rice bowl or omelet.

Check the coffee you’re drinking and jerky you’re eating because there’s a good chance they’re both made out of mushrooms. This sustainable fuel source is taking over as people become more cognizant of the connection between food, health and the environment. Mushrooms are packed with B vitamins, antioxidants, fiber and vitamin D and have been used in medicinal practices for centuries. They also contain adaptogen properties, meaning they help your body better internalize stressors, therefore leading to improved cognition, immunity and athletic endurance (at least this has been shown in rat studies). Bottom line: It won’t hurt and might help to add more mushrooms to your diet, whether that’s in the form of whole fungi in a fit recipe, or stir a powdered version like OmMushroom’s FIT blend into your morning porridge.

But you’re an adult… Sure, yes, you’re an adult, but you’re also an athlete who utilizes food trends to fuel a lifestyle on the go. Baby food has long been used by climbers, campers, hikers and ultra athletes of all sorts to pack whole-food nutrition into travel-ready meals. While these packages have traditionally been blends of minimally processed fruits, vegetables and grains, new brands are revamping boring baby nutrition. Now you can grab a package of grass-fed beef with kale and sweet potato from Serenity Kids or pinto bean burrito bowl from Tiny Organics. It might seem silly to stock up on these foods, but they provide whole-food nutrients with minimal additives, and since the ingredients are broken down for baby palates, they are easier on an athletic gut.


Adopting any of these food and nutrition trends is likely to promote good health, or at least boost the flavor of your meals, without causing any harm. With any new trend, watch out for excessive ‘too good to be true’ claims, specific dietary labels and ‘paid partnership’ popping up every time you see someone using a new product. To avoid jeopardizing health goals (and not wasting money), here are three 2021 food trends to pass on.

It’s impossible to go on social media without seeing a post of delicious looking desserts claiming to be healthy. Most of these recipes have only swapped the sugar source, from granulated sugar to a variety such as maple sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar, etc., with the rest of the eggs, flour and butter remaining the same. All of these sugars are broken down from another plant, leaving an easy to absorb, energy-spiking carbohydrate source. Pick whichever you prefer the taste of, but don’t be fooled into thinking one is any healthier than the other.

Sure this helps lower your carbon footprint, but it won’t help your health. Many new meat replacements on the market are essentially nothing more than chemically treated oils formed into a meat-like texture. The ingredient label reads more like a chem lab than a food. Do your body and the planet a flavor by subbing your meat for beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh and more natural meat substitutes like veggie burgers made from actual vegetables.

Thankfully the overly sweet and super caffeinated dalgona, whipped coffee craze came and went quite quickly. Unfortunately, several other coffee-related trends have popped up since. Many of these rely on adding high amounts of sugar or processed ingredients to your otherwise healthful cup of Joe. Avoid the artificially flavored sweeteners and creamers that disguise junky additives, high sugar and unhealthy fats with attractive labels like keto, Paleo or non-dairy. Instead, drink it black or enjoy a latte spiked with natural sweetness and flavors from spices and herbs such as a maple turmeric or a brown sugar rosemary variety.

Discover hundreds of healthy recipes — from high protein to low carb — via “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.

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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