Nutritional practices of elite athletes. Practical recommendations

Sports Med. 1993 Dec;16(6):381-99. doi: 10.2165/00007256-199316060-00004.


The nutritional intake of elite athletes is a critical determinant of their athletic performance and ability to compete both physically and mentally. However, their demanding training and travel schedules in addition to a possible lack of nutritional knowledge may prohibit them from maintaining an optimal dietary intake. Sound scientific data about the nutritional habits of elite athletes are limited and, therefore, it is not clear as to whether elite athletes are following nutritional recommendations and maintaining nutritionally sound diets. This review takes a comprehensive look at 22 recent dietary intake studies, including 50 groups of elite athletes. The time period for food record collection ranged from 3 to 7 days except for 2 studies which collected records for 21 and 22 days. Energy intakes of > 50 kcal/kg/day for male athletes who train for > 90 min/day and 45 to 50 kcal/kg/day for female athletes training for > 90 min/day are recommended. Bodyweight should be monitored frequently as a check on calorie intake. With a sufficient calorie intake (1.2 to 2.0 kg/kg/day) protein supplementation is not necessary. Ingested carbohydrate stored as glycogen serves as the primary fuel for muscle performance. Athletes in training should consume 70% of total calories as carbohydrate. Athletes on low energy diets (< 2200 kcal/day) should have a diet of < 25% fat, and athletes with large energy needs should consume 30% fat in their diet. In general, fat intakes should be reduced and carbohydrate intakes increased. Athletes should also restrict alcohol intake during training and competition periods. Athletes with low calorie intakes should consume foods with high contents of iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc and vitamin B12. Athletes with high calorie intakes should consume foods that are naturally high in or fortified with B-group vitamins. Fluid, electrolyte and energy supplementation is desirable to support circulatory, metabolic and thermoregulatory functions. There is no special food that will help elite athletes perform better; the most important aspect of the diet of elite athletes is that it follows the basic guidelines for healthy eating.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Body Composition
  • Caffeine / adverse effects
  • Diet
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Drinking
  • Energy Intake
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Sports Medicine*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Caffeine