Levent Ozturk
The Basic Diet

Athlete or not all the same, you should try to be aware of the general proportions of your diet.

A healthy diet is one that is high in carbohydrates, low in fat, and sufficient but not excessive in protein. That translates to about 60 percent of your calories coming from carbohydrates, 25 percent from fat, and 15 percent from protein. As in all things, of course, every individual is different and may respond better to slightly different proportions. Bbeware the faddish 40/30/30 diet and stick with a high-energy, high-carbohydrate diet. For most, the 60/25/15 diet is a good rule of thumb.

Carbohydrates should form the cornerstone of your diet. Since carbos are the most important energy source for long-distance running, it's probably no surprise that so many runners eat hefty portions of pasta, rice, bread and potatoes.

Carbohydrates are stored in the muscles as glycogen, the primary fuel keep you moving.

Carbohydrates come in two flavors: simple and complex. The complex carbos are the ones you're after. These are absorbed slowly into your system and give you a steady energy supply. These are the carbohydrates found in cereal, pasta, vegetables and bread (these foods are also generally high in fiber). These should make up the majority of diet.

Simple carbos, on the other hand, are basically sugars -- tasty and good for a quick energy boost since they are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. Unfortunately, the "sugar high" wears off quickly and usually leaves behind a sugar low, complete with reduced performance and energy. Even so, these sugars do have a place in your diet when they come from natural sources like fruit or juice. The worst offenders, though, are the refined sugars -- those typically found in candy, soda, doughnuts, etc. This is literally junk food; plenty of calories and fat, but no essential vitamins or minerals. A little bit of dessert in moderation is fine. If you find that you have a nagging sweet tooth, your body may be trying to tell you that you need more calories. Rather than indulging in a candy bar, you might do better to eat a bit more at meals or add a healthy snack in the afternoon (fruit, cereal, or a sportsbar).

Fat is not all bad. It's a necessary part of the diet, offering up energy. Fat should account for only 20 or 25 percent of caloric intake. Generally try to avoid fatty foods like whole milk, red meat, ice cream, mayonnaise, egg yolks, chocolate, butter and cheese.

Some fats can actually do you some good . These are the unsaturated fats, particularly monounsturated fats like those in olive oil, peanut oil and avocado oil. Unsaturated fats can actually reduce blood cholesterol. While margarine is made of unsaturated fats, it is also hydrogenated which negates the cholesterol-reducing benefits. Health wise, there's not much difference between margarine and butter; neither is particularly healthy, and both should be used sparingly (when push comes to shove, tub margarine may be your best bet for reducing cholesterol).

When it comes to fat, the real bad guys are the saturated fats. These come primarily from animal sources such as red meat and milk, but also from coconut, palm and vegetable oils. They are closely linked with heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and some cancers. Try to keep saturated fat down below 10 percent of your total calories, or around a third of your total fat intake.

Protein intake should be a bit lower, at 10 to 15 percent of total calories. Many of us grew up on the myth that high-protein diets were the essential building blocks for any athlete. In fact, your body stores excessive protein as fat. If you really overdo it, by taking too many protein supplements for example, you could even damage your liver or kidneys. They help bone and tissue to grow and repair, and they're the stuff that blood, skin, hair, nails and organs are made of. Proteins are literally body builders.

Since you burn some protein as fuel when you exercise, runners need a bit more protein than non-runners. Endurance athletes, for example, average one and a half to two times the RDA for protein. A good rule of thumb is to eat about half a gram of protein daily per pound of body weight. Good sources of protein are fish, lean meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, egg whites, low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, and some vegetables.

Stocking up on proteins (with cereals, whole grains, legumes, and nuts for example), vegetarians should also seek alternative sources for iron and zinc.

Pre-Training and Pre-Competition Snacks

What you eat leading up to a competition or training can affect your performance.

Snacks should be fairly light and easy to digest, but should contain enough food to prevent hunger pangs during training.

Eat a minimum amount of fat as it is more difficult to digest.

Eat most complex carbohhydrate foods.

Avoid foods high in sugar, as they will increase insulin levels within the blood, which will reduce the release of energy to the body. Hence your energy levels will actually decrease.

1. 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate each hour
2. Apparently Calories come from 3 sources, Carbs, Proteins and Fat. 1 g of protein or carbs = 4 calories while 1g of Fat = 9 calories.
3. An average male 180 pound Ironman triathlete will consume approximately 600 calories on the swim, 3802 calories on the bike and 3234 calories on the run
4. Should take in from 100 to 500 calories / hour
5. You should aim to drink from 600ml to 1.4L of fluids per hour
6. During the race, you need to take in about 1 gram of sodium per hour.
7. average triathlete can consume a maximum of 275 calories of carbohydrates per hour. = 68g of carbs/hour.


  • Baked beans on toast.
  • Spaghetti on toast.
  • Tuna in brine or spring water on toast.
  • Homemade, canned or packet soup with a bread roll.
  • Creamed corn on toast.
  • Tomato on a muffin.
  • Mushrooms on toast.
  • Low fat cheese grilled on toast or a crumpet.
  • Boiled or poached egg on a muffin.
  • Banana sandwich.
  • Savoury vegetable or cheese omelette.
  • Baked jacket potato with low fat filling eg:creamed corn or lean mince.

Athletes Fuel Up

The best eating plan for athletes should include adequate fluids and plenty of low-fat, high carbohydrate foods that provide energy and replenish the fuel and fluids used during physical activity.

Carbohydrates are one of the main sources of energy for working muscles. Some foods high in carbohydrate and low in fat include breads, grains, pastas, vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, and juice drinks. Muscles replenish stored carbohydrates most efficiently within the first two hours following exercise. Therefore, athletes should eat or drink 200 to 400 carbohydrate calories as soon as tolerable after exercise, and then again two hours later. Here are a few 200 to 400 calorie suggestions:

  • Two pieces of fruit such as a banana and orange or apple
  • 12 oz. fruit juice cocktail, like cranberry, or fruit juice like grapefruit or orange
  • 1 cup non-fat frozen or regular yogurt topped with 1 cup blueberries or raspberries
  • 1 cup of grapes and 1 bagel
  • 1 oz. of cereal with 1/2 cup skim milk and 1/2 cup sliced banana
  • 1 cup low-fat vegetable soup with 1 pita pocket
  • 1 bran, blueberry, or cranberry low-fat muffin with a cup of skim milk

When you are physically active, your body requires water or other fluids so it can cool itself, primarily through evaporation of sweat. A 150-pound athlete can lose as much as six cups of fluid in one hour of continuous activity.

Recommended Fluid Intake for Athletes
Timing Drink this Amount
2 hours before activity 2 cups
10-15 minutes before activity 2 1/2 cups
Every 15 minutes during activity 1/2 -3/4 cup
After activity 2 cups for every pound lost

For most athletes, water is the preferred source of fluid before and during workouts. For athletes working out for 60 minutes or more, diluted fruit juices and fruit drinks help to maintain the body's energy supply while replenishing lost fluids. Full strength juices and juice drinks are not recommended immediately before and during heavy workouts because they can cause fullness and cramping. After workouts, athletes should replace fluid lost during exercise by drinking two cups of water or other fluids for each pound of body weight lost. Juices and juice drinks are good after-workout choices because they not only help replenish fluids, but they also replace carbohydrates used during exercise.

When shopping for the most nutritious juice or juice drink,look for carbohydrate and vitamin C content.

What is the best source for sports nutrition advice?

Try this refreshing drink to help replenish carbohydrates and fluids after exercise:

1 cup cranberry juice cocktail
1/2 cup lemonade


Carbohydrate is one of the most important nutrients to athletic performance. Carbohydrate plays the major role in supplying your brain and body with power. The body cannot supply enough carbohydrate on its own and therefore it needs to come from foods. Exercising with low levels of carbohydrate leads to fatigue. Carbohydrates are the ideal fuel for muscular work.

Carbohydrate is stored as glycogen, which is stored in the muscles and liver. Liver glycogen is used to maintain blood sugar, which, in turn, fuels the brain, nervous system and other cells. Optimal blood sugar levels are important for clear, brain function and therefore critical to sharp, high speed mental performance. Low blood sugar results in weakness and fatigue. Muscle glycogen fuels muscle cells during exercise. Muscle glycogen and fat supply energy during endurance activities. Maximizing glycogen stores is one of the primary goals of sports nutrition.

When exercising hard there is a continual loss of glycogen from the active skeletal muscle during the prolonged exercise. When the glycogen stores become depleted the athlete will not be able to exercise intensely and will experience fatigue. A gradual decline in muscle glycogen is related to the chronic fatigue often experienced by athletes during repetitive strenuous training conditions. Chronic fatigue often limits an athlete’s ability to comply with a progressive training program and subsequently to compete at maximal potential. If you do not eat enough carbohydrates to refill the stores that are depleted in each workout, you may not have enough carbohydrates available during ensuing workouts. Therefore, consuming carbohydrates during endurance exercise can postpone fatigue and prolong peak performance.

Diet and endurance training influence the amount of glycogen stored in muscle and the time it takes to exhaustion. A high carbohydrate diet can raise the initial muscle glycogen concentration and thus there will be a greater time to exhaustion. Diet provides the body with the needed fuels, while training promotes muscles to store more carbohydrate and help improve the body's utilization of fuel. More muscle glycogen will help increase endurance. An individual that is more fit uses less glycogen, is better able to conserve the limited glycogen stores in the body, and utilizes more fat as a fuel source during endurance events.

Athletes who follow a high-carbohydrate diet can maintain high-intensity exercise for a longer period than those on a lower-carbohydrate diet. There is substantial evidence for a benefit of carbohydrate intake for the performance of brief, high power events if the competitor has been consuming a reduced energy diet.

Total carbohydrates are made up of simple sugars, complex carbohydrates, and fiber.

Simple carbohydrates are commonly known as sugars. Sources of simple carbohydrates include table sugar, candies and other sweets, sodas and bakery goods. These foods provide empty calories, i.e., calories that supply no vitamins and minerals and should therefore be minimized.

Complex carbohydrates include all the complex starches and fiber, such as those found in grains, cereals, breads and starchy vegetables like potatoes, corn, peas and beans. Milk, fruit and vegetables also contain carbohydrate.

Complex carbohydrates contain many essential nutrients and are the body's most effective source of energy to the athlete. Complex carbohydrates increase glycogen stores more efficiently than sugars, or simple carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates are ideal because they are quickly digested and absorbed into the bloodstream, leaving the stomach quickly so there is less chance of indigestion and nausea during the event.

Carbohydrates should make up the largest portion of the athlete's diet. Research suggests that to maintain adequate carbohydrate stores during heavy training, carbohydrate intake should range from 7-10 grams/kg of body weight/day or 55-70% carbohydrate.

Athletes who train exhaustively on successive days, or who compete in more prolonged endurance events, would benefit from a diet that contains 65% to 70% of total calories from carbohydrates.


Fats, like carbohydrates, are used by the body for fuel and are essential for the absorption of certain vitamins. The most important role of fat is to spare carbohydrates (which are in limited supply) in exercise of long duration and low intensity.

Fat is a valuable metabolic fuel for muscle activity. Endurance training significantly increases the ability of muscle to utilize fat. During aerobic exercise, fat serves as the preferred fuel source for muscle activity, however, this relationship is not necessarily enhanced by increasing the dietary intake of fat. The endogenous body fat stores are more than adequate to meet these needs. Even the leanest athletes have sufficient fat storage to meet the metabolic demands of strenuous exercise.

Consuming a high-fat diet will result in a larger proportion of fats used during exercise, but this limits the amount of carbohydrate storage, which ultimately limits endurance.

Therefore high dietary fat intakes should be avoided. Also too much fat can lead to heart disease, obesity, cancer and other health problems. Fat intake for athletes, as well as healthy adults, should comprise less than 30% of total calories. Fats in the diet may be of animal or vegetable origin. Selecting lean meats, nonfat or low fat dairy products and limiting added fats such as butter, margarine, salad dressing, cream sauces, gravies and fried foods will help you achieve this goal.

Carbohydrate Intake Targets for Athletes

However, in situations where maximal glycogen storage is desirable and/or the athlete must meet the fuel bill of prolonged exercise sessions, carbohydrate needs become more specific. In these cases, the muscle has an absolute requirement for carbohydrate (see Table below). Therefore, it is preferable to set definite carbohydrate intake goals for athletes, scaled to take the size of the muscle mass into account (i.e., the athlete's body mass). The guideline to consume 7-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body mass is not only considerate of the muscles needs, but is also user-friendly. It is relatively easy to use a ready reckoner of the carbohydrate content of foods to add up the fuel provided by a meal or a diet - for example, to reach a target amount of 50 g snack after training, or a daily intake of 400-600 g. It takes far more nutritional expertise to imagine what a dietary ratio of 50% or 60% or 70% carbohydrate looks like on a plate. With the advice of a sports dietitian, an athlete should be able to narrow their carbohydrate intake targets to specific levels for specific occasions.

The absolute amount of carbohydrate required for optimal glycogen synthesis is greater than the typical intakes of most people, including athletes. And it may require an athlete not only to eat more carbohydrate (in grams), but to devote more of their total energy intake to fuel foods to do so. Typically, athletes need to earmark 50-70% of their energy intake to meet their carbohydrate needs. This is a wide range, because in real life the total energy needs and the muscle fuel needs of an athlete are not always synchronized.  The "perfect" carbohydrate:energy ratio cannot be fixed. Athletes who have large muscle mass and heavy training programs usually have very high energy requirements. For these athletes, total intakes of 800-1000 grams of carbohydrate representing 8-10 grams per kilogram of body mass may be consumed from only 45% of their energy budget. Other athletes may need to devote 70% of a restricted energy budget to achieve a carbohydrate intake of even 6-7 grams per kilogram. This situation is particularly common in female athletes and others whose main dietary concern is to maintain lower body fat levels than seems natural.

There is an unfortunate tendency of those working with athletes to regard carbohydrate intake guidelines as rigid. Many judge the fuel intake of an athlete or a group of athletes to be deficient or inadequate based on the percentage of energy derived from carbohydrate. Some sports nutrition guidelines, even from recognized bodies such as the American Dietetic Association, maintain the confusion because they set their dietary guidelines for athletes based on energy ratios. However this is inappropriate if the goal is to judge fuel intake, and this doesn't track closely with total energy needs. In the first situation described above, an athlete might be consuming a high total intake of carbohydrate, adequate to meet their fuel requirements.  However, they will be judged to be following a low-  or moderate-carbohydrate diet from the perspective of energy ratio. This often happens in the assessment of the diets of individual athletes, but has also led to some questionable interpretations of research data.  Some studies have exposed athletes to so-called high or moderate (low) carbohydrate diets and compared metabolic and performance outcomes.  They have found no differences between responses to the diets and concluded that high carbohydrate diets are not important for athletes.  However, their moderate carbohydrate diets (40% carbohydrate) may have provided reasonably large amounts of carbohydrate, thanks to a high total energy intake.  So, even the moderate carbohydrate diet met the fuel needs of the athlete. A high carbohydrate diet (80% of energy) may be superfluous for this group.

Although total amounts of carbohydrate may be a better guide for assessing or setting goals for an athlete, they still must be regarded with some flexibility.  In all areas of nutrition, judgments of adequacy or deficiency cannot be made from a single piece of evidence, particularly when it comes from a food record or another dietary survey tool. Dietary survey methods suffer from many errors of reliability and validity which generally lead to an underestimation of true dietary intake.

For athletes who have important or increased carbohydrate needs, it is both more reliable and more practical to set guidelines in terms of a fixed amount of carbohydrate, rather an energy percentage.

Summary of carbohydrate intake goals for the athlete
Goal Carbohydrate Intake Target
5-6 hours of moderate intensity exercise, extremely prolonged and intense exercise. Very high total energy requirements, daily muscle glycogen recovery, and continued refueling during exercise. (Tour de France cyclists)

10-12+ g/kg daily

To maximize daily muscle glycogen recovery in order to enhance prolonged daily training, or "load" the muscle with glycogen before a prolonged exercise competition 

7-10g/kg daily

To meet fuel needs and general nutrition goals in a less fuel-demanding program - for example, < 1 hr of moderate intensity exercise, or many hours of predominantly low intensity exercise.

5-7 g/kg daily

To enhance early recovery after exercise, when the next session is less than 8 hrs away and glycogen recovery may be limiting. 

1g/kg+  soon after exercise, and continued intake over next hours so that a total of ~1g/kg/2hrs is achieved in snacks or a large meal. 

To enhance fuel availability for a prolonged exercise session (1 hr or longer) 

1-4 g/kg during the 1-4 hours pre-exercise. 

To provide an additional source of carbohydrate during prolonged moderate and high intensity exercise, particularly in hot conditions or where pre-exercise fuel stores are sub optimal. 

30-60 g/hr in an appropriate fluid or food form


Protein is measured in grams amount in food

Structure of protein

Amino acids

The building blocks of protein. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body. Must be supplied by the diet. a Lack of essential amino acids causes disease. Non-essential amino acids can be made in the body. Animal foods contain all the essential amino acids. Complete protein

Essential Amino Acids (Building blocks of proteins)

Non- essential amino acids can be made in the liver if protein is adequate. Used to make body proteins

example: phenyalanine can be changed into the non-essential amino acid tyrosine.This is a factor in the disease PKU

Other uses of amino acids

limiting amino acids- one is smallest quantity in the food

example: soybean limited in methionine and infant formula fortified with it

Amino acid supplements

May lead to nutritional imbalances

overload of a specific amino acid

may inhibit absorption of others

arginine, lysine and ornithine - taken to stimulate release of Human growth Hormone

Growth Hormone - may increase LBM but not strength os size

HGH or the amino acids arginine lysine and ornithine are not recommended

used at a high rate by high school students and can potentially be a hazardous drug

Tryptophan- studies do not show that improves athletic performance

Incomplete protein: lack one or more essential amino acids. Found in vegetable proteins. Cannot lead to growth without combination at the same meal. Examples of incomplete being combined to make complete protein

bread + peanut butter

rice + beans

seeds + legumes

Terms related to protein quality

high biologic value protein

best arrangement of amino acids for used by the body

found in eggs followed by milk

complete protein

contains all the essential amino acids

found in animal foods only

meat, milk, eggs,

leads to growth

Uses of protein in the body

growth - needs of children higher than adults

repair - increased following injury like broken bounds of wounds

blood proteins - albumin, fibrinogen

enzymes, hormones

water balance - albumin

acid-base balance - buffers

energy if calories inadequate

Digestion & absorption of protein

begins in the stomach with enzyme pepsin

continues in the small intestine with enzyme trypsin from the pancreas & protease from

the small intestine breaks down into individual amino acids

amino acids are absorbed into the blood stream first stop is the liver

amino acids can be stored temporarily in the liver

What happens in the liver?

can be used by the body for growth & repair

Amino acids can be organized into chains using the recipe provided by the DNA to make new proteins. This is the primary use for protein in the diet. If the body does not have a need for new protein or if the body needs energy amino acids can be taken further apart into carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen - deamination

Deamination: break down of amino acid takes place in the liver used to generate energy. Urea is a waste product from this process. Urea is eliminated from the body in the urine

What is protein restricted in liver failure?

because the liver if healthy makes urea

urea is made from nitrogen from excess amino acids

if a person eats normally with normal intakes of protein the liver will be unable to use the

excess nitrogen to make urea

the nitrogen remains in the blood and will cause problems for the patient

Why is protein restricted in kidney disease?

the liver continues to make urea from excess nitrogen from excess amino acids but the kidney cannot eliminate the urea

urea increased in the blood and will cause uremic poisoning

Recommended dietary allowance based on ideal body weight

first convert ideal body weight to kilograms

second multiple the weight in kg X .8grams/kg

this is the total daily requirement for protein of healthy adults

elderly need 1 gram/kg

What happens if you do not get enough protein?

Kwashiorkor: Over time the disease kwashiorkor can develop. Kwashiorkor is more commonly seen in the third world and in children. It is the disease the first child gets when the second child is born. Swollen belly, thin hair, skin loses pigment. Infection common, apathy and death

Marasmus: if both protein and calories are inadequate the disease is called marasmus. Total wasting of the body. No swelling. Seen in third world and can be seen in the end stages of disease such as cancer or Alzheimer's disease

The fuel you put in you body, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, can be compared to the fuel that you put in your car, Supreme, Super, and Regular, respectively. In terms of energy, Carbohydrates from unprocessed, unrefined grains, fruits and vegetables have a "Supreme" octane rating. Protein from lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, soy, and low fat dairy has a "Super" rating. Fat from fish oil, flaxseed, and unsaturated vegetable origin has a "Regular" rating.

The major difference here is that you should fill your body with all three sources of fuel at once. Consume "High Octane" carbohydrates first (unprocessed, unrefined), proteins second, and save the fat for last. As an athlete, your needs are unique. It is not enough to say that you need a certain percentage of carbohydrates and protein. Base your needs on body weight and level of training as follows (the more you train, the greater your needs):

Carbohydrates: 3.0-5.5 grams per pound body weight
Protein: 0.5-0.9 grams per pound body weight
Fat: 25% of your total caloric needs for the day

Similar to your training routine, you should have an eating routine. The off-season is the time to build a base, not only with strokes, revolutions, and strides, but also with carbohydrates, proteins and fats. You cannot expect your body to excel if you neglect proper nutrition until 2 weeks prior to a race. You may have the high-octane fuel to complete the swim and to coast on the bike, but chances are you will not have the stored fuel to prevent you from "bonking" on the run.

You will notice that I failed to mention the most important nutritional need for an athlete, water. I feel that you already know and have experienced the importance of being properly hydrated. I'll drink to that!!

In terms of Race Day, you want to stick with what got you to the starting line thus far. Practice eating strategies during training so you have a plan for race day and you do not have to experiment.

Recovery nutrition is vital. After those grueling workouts, you have a two-hour window to replace all the energy you just burned. Delaying carbohydrate intake past this window will impair recovery by reducing muscle glycogen. Although supplements may be more convenient and quick, there is no substitute for real food. You can base your needs on the following:

Fluids: Water first, than Sports Drinks for extra calories and to replenish glycogen stores
Drink 16 ounces fluid per pound lost
Carbohydrates: 0.75grams per hour for every pound body weight
Protein and Fat: Do not neglect, but carbohydrates should take precedence at this time

Consult a food coach, otherwise known as a Registered Dietitian who specializes in Sports Nutrition. (antioxidants, minerals, protein, and essential fatty acids)

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