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A nutritious diet including a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat, fibre, fluids, vitamins and minerals is important for everyone. If you’re an athlete, bodybuilder or sportsperson, it’s even more important to fuel your body the right way.

Why is sport nutrition important?

In sports and fitness, what you consume – and when you consume it – affects your performance.

Your training outcomes can be significantly affected by diet, lifestyle and nutrition. The right nutrition plan will help you:

  • maintain optimum energy levels throughout your workouts
  • promote muscle performance, muscle strength and muscle growth
  • promote rapid body recovery
  • allow you to use sports supplements the correct way

How is sports nutrition different than regular nutrition?

The simple answer is – because athletes use their bodies in different ways to non-athletes. Therefore, the nourishment they require is different.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be a professional to be considered an athlete. Someone training for a marathon, triathlon or other endurance event would benefit from sports nutrition, as would a person performing strength training exercises such as weightlifting.

What is a good diet for sports? 

Different sports have different nutritional requirements, so there is no one-size-fits all approach.

Endurance training 

Endurance sports include running, cycling and swimming. Also known as aerobic exercise, endurance activities significantly raise the heart rate and breathing speed.

Endurance athletes require plenty of carbohydrates to offer quick and ready energy.

People partaking moderate exercise (around 1 hour per day) require around 5–7g carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight per day. Therefore, a 70kg person running for around an hour a day would require between 350g – 490g carbohydrate per day. 1 Those participating in moderate to high intensity exercise (from 1 – 3 hours per day) should get around 6–10g carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight per day. A 70kg person with this level of activity would require from 420g – 700g carbohydrate per day. 2 Marathon runners, competitive swimmers or long-distance cyclists generally need to consume plenty of carbohydrates for several days before a race. This is known to increase muscle glycogen stores resulting in performance improvement. 3

Long training sessions should be supplemented by a glucose snack and adequate hydration and electrolytes to avoid dehydration and dizziness.

Remember – ‘carbohydrates’ doesn’t mean plates of plain pasta. An endurance athlete’s carbohydrate intake could come from: 4
  • fruit
  • vegetables
  • wholegrains
  • low fat dairy

Resistance training 

For resistance training, such as weightlifting, rowing or CrossFit, key desired outcomes are generally increased strength, fat loss and lean muscle growth. To achieve this, a balance of wholegrain carbohydrates, low fat dairy and plenty of high-quality protein is required.

Protein contains amino acids – known as the ‘building blocks of protein’ – which are required by the body to help muscle cells repair and grow. 9 of these amino acids are called ‘essential’ amino acids as the body can’t make them on its own and must get them from food. 5

Therefore, a good strength training diet contains plenty of protein including:

  • meat and fish
  • legumes
  • eggs
  • tofu
  • nuts and seeds
  • low fat dairy
To build muscle, it’s generally recommended that you eat 2.2g protein per kilogram of body weight per day so, a 70kg person would need to be consuming around 154g protein each day.6 Magnesium is a key mineral for people who regularly resistance train. Magnesium has a key role in energy production, helping us convert the food we eat into fuel for our body’s cells. 7

If you’re a keen amateur athlete or sportsperson who wants to gain an edge on your existing performance, it might be worthwhile consulting a sports nutritionist.

What does a sport nutritionist do?

A sports nutritionist is qualified in clinical nutrition and uses this expertise to enable athletes to get the most out of their training.

This includes extensive knowledge on the foods, liquids, vitamins and nutrition supplements which can help optimise performance and recovery.

The services of a sports nutritionist might include:

  • personalised diet plans
  • supplement advice
  • advice and support based on the latest scientific research
  • tailored support for competitions/ races/ games
Ensure you find a sports nutritionist who is registered with the Nutrition Society or the British Dietetic Association. 8 9

Your guide to sports nutrition – before, during and after workouts

Before you workout

Your pre-workout nutrition should help stave off exercise-related fatigue before it’s even begun. Further, you should look for something to provide steady energy.
  •  Caffeine 

A nervous system stimulant, caffeine helps you avoid workout-hindering fatigue.

A cup of black coffee is a great, simple way to get around 100mg caffeine with no calories.

  •  Chia seeds 

These nutritional champions are a great source of protein, fibre and omega-3 fats as well as steady energy. Chia seeds have been shown to be as effective at boosting performance as carbohydrate-loading (using a sugary drink) before exercise. 10

The benefits of replacing high-sugar carb-loading with chia seeds includes athletes consuming less sugar and refined carbohydrates before endurance exercise while retaining the glycogen-boosting properties of carbohydrate-loading.

This pre-workout powder contains creatine, which is a natural by-product of the amino acids in the body which we get by eating protein.

We need creatine to help fuel our muscles, giving them superior strength during workouts. Supplementing with creatine in our sports nutrition products increases physical performance during bursts of short term, high intensity exercise.

This means we can exercise for longer, lift heavier weights, as well as improving performance in activities like rowing and football.

The PE Sour Berry pre-workout blend also contains magnesium, which contributes to normal energy yielding metabolism and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue during exercise.

During your workout

During your workout, the focus should be on replacing what you’re losing – predominantly water and sodium.

  • Water 

An obvious choice, but don’t forget to sip lots of plain water while you’re exercising. Particularly if your workout is less than 60 minutes, you usually don’t need any fancy re-hydration drinks as water will be enough to replace the fluids lost through sweating.

  • Salt

A long, sweaty workout can see you with depleted electrolytes, so add a small pinch (about ¼ teaspoon) of salt to your water to help restore your body’s electrolyte balance. 11

For intensive exercise of more than 60 minutes, try refuelling with a hydration sachet which includes the minerals and electrolytes you need to replenish after heavy sweat loss, including potassium, sodium and magnesium.

The XTEND Sport Sachet also contains the 3 branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) l-leucine and l-isoleucine and l-valine, types of easily-absorbable essential amino acid. These BCAA’s contribute to the maintenance and growth of muscle mass. 12

After your workout

After your workout is done, look for post-workout fuel:

  • Dairy 

Milk proteins, such as those found in Greek yoghurt, kefir and cottage cheese, are thought to  stimulate protein synthesis following a workout, leading to muscle mass gain. 13

Keep the dairy source low-fat to ensure the mass you gain is lean muscle.

  • Banana

Possibly the perfect post-exercise food, bananas are portable, quick, and provide you with the potassium, carbohydrates and vitamins you need to get your energy back quickly.

What you consume after your workout, including in the form of sports nutrition supplements, is important for muscle growth and recovery.

The PE Muscle & Size Gainer contains both milk and egg protein, 9 essential vitamins, including vitamins A, B, C, D and E and 6 essential minerals including calcium, magnesium and chromium.

This formula also contains a range of branched-chain amino acids (BCAA’s) along with peptide bonded amino acids, a combination designed for maximum protein absorption.

Shop Sports Nutrition

 Last Updated: 3rd December 2020

Bhupesh Panchal

Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.