The Healthy, Balanced Athlete

The Healthy, Balanced Athlete. Articles.

The Healthy, Balanced Athlete

Endurance athletes spend hours training, and there are benefits to being fit: a lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, better sleep quality, and a calmer mind. But sadly, the ability to eat whatever you want without impacting your performance and body composition isn’t one of these perks. Before you reach for the cookie jar, read on for tips to make a balanced diet for athletes easier.

Contrary to popular belief, during exercise, the body doesn’t burn only carbohydrates or only fat. Instead, your body uses both of these fuel sources. During lower-intensity activity, the body burns a higher percentage of fat. During higher-intensity activity, the body relies more on carbohydrates. The more aerobically fit you are, the more efficiently you burn fat during exercise.

To maintain blood glucose levels and keep glycogen stores from hitting empty, supplementing with sports nutrition products is a good idea during long and/or intense training sessions. But most athletes burn far fewer calories from carbohydrates than they think they do, so high-calorie treats are stored as fat. For optimal recovery, a stronger immune system, and greater performance gains, we need to eat smart.


Did you know the makeup of the calories you consume is more important than the number? Bodies in training require a high-quality, balanced diet adequate in carbohydrate, protein, and fat—the three main macronutrients. To achieve optimal performance and recovery, athletes must match carbohydrate intake to the intensity and duration of a training session. Skimping to “lose a few pounds” will only backfire in uncontrollable cravings later in the day, overeating, unwanted weight gain, decreased performance, and a compromised immune system.


No, they are not created equal. Complex carbohydrates break down into glucose a bit slower than simple sugars and provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Carbohydrates are essential to performance and health, so make sure you’re getting the right balance.

Best choices:

Rice (brown and wild), potatoes (white and sweet), oatmeal, whole grain breads, lentils, quinoa, beans.


For a moderate training load: 5-7g/kg body weight*

*Remember as training volume and intensity increase so does the need for carbohydrates.

Fruits and Vegetables:

Fruits and vegetables not only provide a high-quality carbohydrate source but pack a big punch when it comes to disease-fighting nutrients. Both the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society recommend five or more servings daily to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and some kinds of cancer.

Best choices:

Fruits: Papaya, mango, kiwifruit, and guava, oranges, grapefruits, apricots, cantaloupe and nectarines. Vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, red peppers, spinach, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, kale.


Endurance athletes require a higher level of protein than their sedentary counterparts. Protein supports the growth, repair, and maintenance of muscles and plays an important role in supporting the immune system.

Best choices:

Lean meats, poultry, fish, and eggs; low-fat dairy products; soy products (tofu, tempeh); peas, beans, and lentils.


For a moderate training load: 1.1-1.6kg/body weight


Often shunned as a concentrated source of calories, fat plays several key roles in keeping your body healthy. From providing the essential fatty acids, to transporting and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), fat also provides flavor to our meals and increases satiety.

Best choices:

Unsaturated fats such as avocado, olives, nuts, nut butters, canola and olive oils.


1.0-1.1g/kg body weight

Frequency and Balance

If you’ve ever felt lethargic or moody after missing a meal or snack, you’re probably aware that how often and when you eat is key. But did you know it’s just as important as what you eat? Always start your day off with a balanced breakfast that includes carbs, protein, and fat. Aim to eat a snack or meal every 3-4 hours during your waking time. Incorporating a recovery snack within 30-45 min post exercise will facilitate a quicker recovery.

Keep in mind that a meal that seems healthy can be unbalanced, but a few simple changes can make a big difference. Just looking at your plate should give you a good indication of whether it’s balanced.

Here are a few examples:

Breakfast (unbalanced):

  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 cup skim milk

Totals: Carbs: 55g, Protein: 13g, Fat: 2g

Breakfast (balanced):

  • 1 cup cooked oatmeal
  • 1 small banana
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 cup skim milk

Totals: Carbs: 55g, Protein: 25g, Fat: 12g

Lunch (unbalanced):

  • 1 large salad with leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, strawberries, pineapple and few pecans, and non-fat raspberry vinaigrette
  • 1 whole wheat roll

Totals: Carbs: 40g, Protein: <1g, Fat: 5g

Lunch (balanced):

  • 1 large salad with leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, strawberries, 1/4 cup edamame, 1/4 cup corn, 1 oz. goat cheese, few pecans, 3 oz. grilled chicken breast, and non-fat raspberry vinaigrette
  • 1 whole wheat roll
  • 1 tsp. butter

Totals: Carbs: 55g, Protein: 36g, Fat: 22g

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