Sports Nutrition

Sports nutrition is the study and practice of diet and nutrition with regard to improving athletic performance. While the term “athlete” embraces a wide variety of sports professionals, those who compete in weight training, runners, and endurance sports are all considered athletes as well, and can benefit from uniquely-tailored nutrition.

Different from basic nutrition, medical nutrition therapy, and nutrition geared toward weight loss, sports nutrition is carefully planned to enhance performance.  A registered dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition, or CSSD (Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics), can plan not only adequate nutrition and hydration, but also help plan the timing of these elements to help athletes perform at their peak.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the benefits of sports nutrition?

    The benefits of sports nutrition are multifaceted and include: improved performance, reduced recovery time, reduced muscle soreness, improved sleep quality, reduced injury risk, and decreased stress levels. In short, a sports nutrition protocol can help an athlete perform their best.

  • Why is nutrition important in sports?

    Nutrition is important in sports as it impacts performance. Proper nutrition can also enhance recovery and sleep, two factors that closely impact performance. Timing of meals is more important for athletes than the general population—consuming food too close to activity can hinder performance, and it is important to consume the proper combination of foods so as not to cause digestion issues.

    An individualized nutrition plan can aid athletes in achieving specific goals while also adhering to their food preferences. Sports nutrition helps to assess hydration status and prevent and treat injury.

  • What do athletes typically eat?

    The diet of athletes varies from sport to sport. While the proper balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, and fat), and their timing, is crucial, athletes also benefit from diets rich in antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress on the body and to aid in repair. Other nutrients, such as iron, vitamin D, and electrolytes are key in an athlete's diet.

    A registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition, or a qualified professional who has earned their CSSD, can plan adequate nutrition and hydration, while educating on the timing of these elements for peak performance.

  • How is sports nutrition different from general nutrition?

    Sports nutrition differs from general nutrition in that it is performance-specific and therefore, at times, time-specific. Most athletes benefit from more carbohydrates than the general population, and have higher hydration needs.

  • What foods should athletes avoid?

    Athletes will likely want to avoid foods that may negatively impact performance but can generally enjoy all foods within a balanced plan that meets their individual needs. For example, athletes may choose to avoid high fatty foods, such as fried foods, which take longer to digest and may negatively impact performance. Fiber intake should also be planned strategically to avoid digestive issues before or during performance. The types of foods that should be limited will be athlete and sports-specific.

Key Terms

Page Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Beck K, Thomson JS, Swift RJ, von Hurst PR. Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and postexercise recoveryOAJSM. 2015;6:259-267. doi:10.2147/OAJSM.S33605

  2. Doherty R, Madigan S, Warrington G, Ellis J. Sleep and nutrition interactions: Implications for athletesNutrients. 2019;11(4):822. Published 2019 Apr 11. doi:10.3390/nu11040822

  3. Kerksick CM, Wilborn CD, Roberts MD, et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendationsJ Inter Soc Sports Nutr. 2018;15(1):38. doi:10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y