What a personal trainer needs to understand about athletic nutrition

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Personal/Fitness Training Blog

Athletic prowess on the sports field involves a lot of facets. Not only do athletic and fit people have to be the best at their game, they need to spend hours upon hours at the gym to make sure that their muscles are balanced so that they can deliver the best sporting performance out.

To help them along their fitness journey, an athlete will turn to a personal trainer. As the trainer is functions as an expert to guide people along the path of fitness and health, they are the perfect person to help the athlete achieve their fitness goals.

As an athlete performs a lot more physical activity than your usual office worker, they will need to have a vastly different eating plan. In the article which follows on from this, we look at what a personal trainer needs to understand about athletic nutrition and why this is.

What is athletic nutrition?

‘Athletic nutrition’ – or ‘sports nutrition’ as the discipline is called in various parts of the world – is the study as well as practice of nutrition and diet in relation to improving any athlete’s performance.

Having the correct nutrition is a significant part of many sports training regimes. Athletic nutrition is prevalent in:

  • Strength sports (such as weightlifting and bodybuilding), and
  • Endurance sports (for example cycling, running, swimming and rowing).

Athletic nutrition focuses on the type, as well as the quantity, of fluids and food that is consumed by an athlete. In addition, athletic nutrition deals with the consumption of healthy nutrients such as vitamins, a variety of minerals, supplements and organic substances such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats.

Athletes have different nutritional needs from the rest of us as their physical activity level is that much greater than a person who sits and works behind a desk all day.

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in anyone’s diet. It’s been stated that carbohydrates should make up the majority of your diet, however, as athletes need more energy than most they will need to consume more carbohydrates than your average human being.

Protein’s main function is in building and repairing muscles. So, athletes such as bodybuilders and weightlifters will need to consume more protein as their sports require them to have a higher muscle mass than others.

A sports conditioning coach’s main job is to ensure that his/her athlete performs at the best of their ability. Part of this includes keeping a close eye on what they eat so that their eating does not negatively affect their performance and only enhances it.

Important nutrients for athletes

The five food groups


Carbohydrates give us energy, calcium and B vitamins. Wholegrain carbohydrates – such as whole-wheat bread and bran cereal – help to keep our digestive systems healthy.


Protein is known for its ability to help repair muscles. Colloquially, they are known as the building blocks of the human body.

Milk and dairy products

Milk and dairy products keep our bones and teeth healthy. They are responsible for providing us with – among others – essential nutrients such as vitamin B12, vitamin A and vitamin D

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are responsible for giving us umpteen minerals such as antioxidants which keep our bodies healthy. These foods keep your digestive system functioning well and studies have shown that the minerals in fruit and vegetables may even function in helping to prevent certain cancers.

Fats and sugars

All fasts are not bad for you. Good fats – such as Omega 3s found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel – have a lot of benefits.

What are sports supplements?

Sports supplements are a multi-million dollar industry. Active adults and athletes are often tempted by efficient supplement marketing. The assurances of improved performance, among other claims, are factors which motivate them to purchase these supplements in order to achieve results. Every day, professional athletes are exposed to intensive physical strain. In order to deliver on the energy demands, the athletes take in various food supplements.

As athletes exercise regularly, they need a bit more protein than those of us who are sedentary. There are many excellent sources of protein with each of these sources having their own specific pros and cons.

One of the most wide-spread sources of protein is whey protein. Athletes and bodybuilders use whey protein for building muscle, losing weight and increasing immunity:

  • Whey makes up 20% of the protein in milk.
  • This substance consists of several complex peptides.
  • It contains all the essential amino acids.
  • Whey is especially rich in essential amino acids, BCAAs, leucine and cysteine.

Whey protein is rapidly digested owing to the fact that protein is water soluble at a low pH. If you do decide to take this protein, consume between 10 and 30 g at least 30 minutes before your workout. Take another 10 – 30 g at least 30 minutes after your workout. However, as whey is a by-product of milk this type of protein isn’t suitable for people who are lactose intolerant.

Another type of protein powder on the market is casein protein which is considered to be a protein which is long lasting.  What many people don’t realise is that casein is the principal protein which is found in cow’s milk. Casein contains all the essential amino acids. In addition, it is especially rich in tyrosine and proline.

It is digested at a very slow rate owing to the formation of micelles (which are clusters of casein molecules) in the stomach at a low pH. We don’t advise that you take casein before a workout as it stays in the stomach for longer. Take casein one hour after a workout (10 – 30g).

Nutrition is important for athletes as it provides a source of energy that is required to perform the activity. Not only is the type of food important for sports nutrition but the times that they eat throughout the day also have an impact on their performance levels and their bodies’ ability to recover after exercising.

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