Fueling the Athlete for Improved Performance

Fueling the Athlete for Improved Performance By Brittany Saxton

What coach, parent, or athlete doesn’t want to see the best performance possible out on the field? We all want that, so let’s make sure we are setting our athletes up to perform at their highest potential! In this blog, we are going to talk about how to fuel the athlete for improved performance.

Let’s keep it simple to start. Here are the three things to focus on when it comes to fueling the athlete for great performance:

  1. Eat Breakfast
  2. Consume Protein with each Meal
  3. Consume more whole foods and less processed/packaged foods

Focusing on the above will ensure the athlete is being fueled with plenty of nutrients AND plenty of food overall. Food gives us energy for our brain & muscles. Without it, our bodies and brains will struggle to perform and recover.

We are going to elaborate a bit on why each of the above are important things to focus on when it comes to nutrition and fueling an athlete.

Eating breakfast is going to be important for both athletes and non-athletes. It is what sets the tone for the day for our bodies. As a reminder, food is our fuel, which means it is our energy. It is what gets us going and keeps us going.  Keep in mind the last time one most likely ate was dinner (approximately 8-12 hours prior to breakfast). So it is important to start our day with some fuel in order to provide our bodies with the energy it requires for the day. Breakfast will be especially important for someone who is practicing or has a game in the earlier hours of the day.

Besides energy, the food from your breakfast is going to help minimize cravings for processed and less nutritious foods late in the day. A nutrient-dense breakfast will help an athlete hit their overall macro and micronutrient needs for the day. Last but not least, it will help support muscle growth and recovery which we know very well, is SUPER important for athletes’ overall performance and preventing injury.

Here are some examples of a sensible breakfast for athletes:

When there is time to cook:

  • Eggs / Omelet w/ Veggies or Fruit & Breakfast Meat
  • Eggs & Avocado
  • Greek Yogurt w/ Berries & Granola
  • Steel Cut Oatmeal w/ Nuts & Fruit
  • Toast with Avocado, Tomato & Feta (or your favorite cheese sprinkled on) & favorite seed (pumpkin, chia, flax, hemp, sunflower)
  • Toast with Egg & Avocado
  • Toast with Nut Butter, Banana/Berries Honey & Seeds (flax, hemp, chia, pumpkin)

On the go/Limited time to cook:

  • Smoothie (Protein Powder/Greek Yogurt, Banana/Avocado, Berries, Spinach/Kale, Water & Ice or preferred choice of milk)
  • Egg cups (pre-make & freeze)
  • Breakfast sandwich (pre-make & freeze)
  • Yogurt Cup w/ pre-cut berries
  • Yogurt Cup w/ seeds
  • Yogurt Cup w/ almonds (or favorite nut)
  • Oatmeal Cup w/ pre-cut berries
  • Protein Muffins (pre-make)


Note: this is not an exhaustive list, but just a few examples of many options an athlete has for their breakfast. 

Now that we have made it clear not to skip breakfast, let’s talk about the importance of including protein with each meal throughout the day. Protein keeps one full and satiated therefore reducing cravings and the need for less nutritious things. It supports recovery all throughout the day whether you’re performing in the morning, afternoon, or evening. Protein helps repair & strengthen muscle tissues. Lastly, consuming adequate amounts of protein will help maintain lean muscle mass.

Keep in mind that not only will protein help the athlete perform better, but they will recover better and minimize their risk of being injured.

Here are some examples of protein sources and foods to include in meals:

Whole Foods for Meals: Beef, Chicken, Fish, Shrimp, Tofu, Egg, Quinoa, Beans, Lentils

Snacks: Beef Jerky, Greek Yogurt, Smoothie, Nuts, Veggies w/ Nut Butter, Fruit w/ Nut Butter/Yogurt, Protein Bars/Balls, Turkey Roll-Ups, Cheese Stick, Hard Boiled Eggs

For the final thing to focus on for improved performance, let’s talk about snacks. A few sensible snacks were just mentioned, but let’s talk about why snacks are important and what types to eat the majority of the time.

Snacks are helpful in ensuring the athlete is consuming enough food overall throughout the day to support their training and recovery. They will fill nutritional gaps. They are easy & quick to have prior to practice. They are easier to digest than a full meal prior to practice/game but provide the body with the needed nutrients and energy to perform well.

It’s important to focus on more wholesome snacks and try to minimize the packaged and highly processed snacks to ensure the athlete is fueling their body with plenty of nutrients and avoiding lots of big spikes and dips in their blood sugar (which can lead to fatigue, poor performance, increases the risk of injury).

Some of these were already mentioned above, but here are some great examples of whole food, nutritious snacks for an athlete (and honestly their coaches and families will benefit greatly from these too!):

  • Veggies, Fruit, Beef Jerky, Greek Yogurt, Smoothie, Nuts/Trail Mix, Veggies w/ Nut Butter or Hummus, Fruit w/ Nut Butter/Yogurt, Protein Bars/Balls, Turkey Roll-Ups, Cheese Stick, Hard Boiled Eggs

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but is a great starting point!

What are you going to add to your athletes’ plate to ensure their daily fuel is setting them up for the best performance on the field and recovery off the field?


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