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Q&A: Nutrition Recommendations for Athletes

We receive several comments and questions on our nutrition blog regarding working out. Despite their vigorous workouts, many athletes are finding it hard to boost their metabolism or maintain a healthy weight.   When these types of questions arise, we turn to our nutritionist and fitness guru, Cindy Marasigan, for some tips. Although her suggestions would vary based on the individual needs of each person, one recommendation is to start with a nutrition therapy for endurance athletes.

Since this seems to be such a common concern, we’d like to share our response to this frequently asked question. If you have any questions, please post them below or contact us privately.


I am only 16 years old and I am a very active person involving myself in sports such as swimming, running and bicycling, as well as my rifle team, I am also 5″4 in height, and I believe I weigh at least 130-136 the most, my main purpose right now is to lose 15, 16 lbs, but I’m mostly concerned with helping my metabolism increase, so that way I can be able to maintain a healthy diet at my age, and keep that healthy diet when I grow older. But I also want to know if this is the right place for me to start? Thank you.


Answer byCindy Marasigan– Skinny Gene dietetic intern, nutrition counselor, fitness instructor, and culinary chef

It sounds like you are very active with sports and you are also concerned about your health and nutrition. The best way to start in your case is nutrition therapy for endurance athletes. Since you do a lot of sports that are focused on endurance it is very important that you get the proper nutrition.

Why Was Nutrition Therapy Prescribed?

With endurance training, the main goal is to provide calories for daily activity and those expended through exercise in addition to replenishing glycogen (energy) stores and repairing lean muscle mass. Focusing on eating often as well as nutrition pre-exercise, during exercise, and post-exercise is key to training and performing at an optimal level and keep you metabolism functioning properly.

Meal Planning Tips:

  • Eat frequent meals and snacks throughout the day
  • Do not skip meals
  • Include a whole grain carbohydrate and a lean protein/healthy fat with all meals and snacks to increase satiety.
  • Include non-starchy vegetable and fruits with meals and snacks
  •  Carbohydrate intake should range from 5 g/kg to 7 g/kg for moderate-duration and low intensity training, 7 g/kg to 12 g/kg for moderate to heavy training, 10 g/kg to 12 g/kg for extreme training.
    • Choose whole, high-fiber grains as your carbohydrate meal choices (breads, bagels, tortillas, cereals, oatmeal, granola bars, crackers, pastas, rice, potatoes, etc.)
  • Protein intake should range from 1.2 g/kg to 1.7 g/kg
    • Choose lean proteins such as chicken or turkey without skin, lean cuts of red meat, fish, low-fat dairy, eggs, beans, tofu, edamame, or whey or soy protein powder
  • Fat intake should range from 0.8 g/kg to 1.0 g/kg
    • Increase intake of healthy fats (peanut butter, nuts, seeds, flaxseed, olive oil, salmon/tuna) and decrease intake of saturated fats (fried foods, baked/packaged goods, and white, thick, creamy sauces/spreads)
  • Hydration should be adequate so that urine color is pale yellow throughout the day
    • Rely on water throughout the day and water/sports drinks during exercise
  • Consume post-exercise snack as soon as possible (within 45 minutes) after training


Recommended Foods

Pre-Exercise Eating

  • Meal timing: 3-4 hours before exercise
  •  Meal composition: High in low-glycemic carbohydrate (200 g to 300 g) and lean protein, low in fiber and fat.
  • Meal hydration: Four hours before activity, consume 5 mL/kg to 7 mL/kg (2 mL/lb to 3mL/lb) or 17 oz to 20 oz water or sports drink
  • Snack timing: 30 minutes to 1 hour before exercise
  •  Snack composition: High in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, low in fat and fiber
  •  Snack hydration: 5 oz to 10 oz water or sports drink

During-Exercise Eating

  • Carbohydrate intake should begin shortly after the onset of activity
  • Timing: Consume 30 g to 60 g carbohydrate/hr spaced every 15-20 minutes
  • Composition: High-glycemic carbohydrate such as sports drinks/gels/blocks/beans, fruit, high-carbohydrate bars with moderate protein, crackers, etc.
  • Hydration: Dependent on sweat rate
    • Average: 5 oz to 10 oz water or sports drink every 15-20 minutes
    • Sports drinks should contain 6% to 8% carbohydrate
    •  Replace electrolytes lost via sports drink or foods high in sodium/potassium

Post-Exercise Eating

  • Snack timing: Within 30 minutes post-exercise
  • Snack composition: 4:1 ratio of high-glycemic carbohydrate to lean protein
    • Recommended amount: 1.0 g to 1.5 g carbohydrate/kg
  • Meal timing: 2 hours after exercise (Continue meals in 2-hour intervals up to 6 hours)
  • Meal composition: High in low- to moderate-glycemic carbohydrate and lean protein, low in fiber and fat
    • Recommended amount: 1.0 g to 1.5 g carbohydrate/kg
  • Hydration: 16 oz to 24 oz water or sports drink for every pound lost during exercise


Foods Not Recommended


  • High-fat foods (high-fat meats, heavy sauces/creams, fried foods, buttery foods, desserts)
  •  High-fiber foods (cruciferous vegetables, whole grains extremely high in fiber, beans)
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Sugary beverages
  • Alcohol

During Exercise

  • Low-glycemic carbohydrates (high-fiber whole grains)
  •  High-fiber foods (cruciferous vegetables, whole grains extremely high in fiber, beans)
  • High-protein foods (meats, dairy, high-protein energy bars)
  • High-fat foods (high fat meats, heavy sauces/creams, fried foods, buttery foods, desserts, large quantities of nut butters, nuts, seeds)
  • Fluids containing more than 8% carbohydrate (juice, soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, etc.)
  • Alcohol


  • High-fiber foods (cruciferous vegetables, whole grains extremely high in fiber, beans)
  • High-fat foods (high-fat meats, heavy sauces/creams, fried foods, buttery foods, desserts, large quantities of nut butters, nuts, seeds)
  • Fluids containing more than 8% carbohydrate (juice, soda, sweet tea, energy drinks, etc.)
  • Alcohol

Sample 1-Day Menu

(2,500 calories, 60% carbohydrate, 20% protein, 20% fat)



Breakfast (500 calories) ¾ cup low-fat cottage cheese with 2 cups chopped fruit1 slice whole wheat toast with 1 Tbsp peanut butter and 1 Tbsphoney
Snack (250-300 calories) Sweet-n-Salty granola bar½ scoop whey protein powder in 8 oz 1% milk1 fruit
Lunch (500 calories) Sandwich on whole wheat bread w/ 1 slice 2% cheese, 3 oz meat, lettuce, tomato, 1 Tbsp light sauce15 whole wheat crackers or pretzels1 fat-free Greek yogurt1 small fruit
Pre-Workout Snack (300 calories) 1 serving reduced-fat crackers1 serving 2% string cheese1 light yogurt mixed with ¼ cup whole grain cereal
Post-Workout Snack (300 calories) 16 oz 1% chocolate milk
Dinner (500 calories) 1 cup pasta w/ marinara sauce and 3 oz chicken breast2 cups grilled vegetables1 wheat roll or 2″ x 2″ piece cornbread
Snack (150 calories) 1 fat-free vanilla puddingMix in 1 cup berries and 1 Tbsp nuts


*Important Points to Remember!

  • Puberty usually starts when you’re between 9 and 13 years old. But it can start earlier or later. Thanks to hormones like estrogen, you’ll notice changes like your breasts starting to grow and new curves forming on your body. You might notice that you start to get taller, and eventually you’ll get your period.
  • During puberty, your body will change and continue to grow — and sometimes the growth happens quickly. This is called a “growth spurt.” During this time you can grow as much as 4 inches in a year. Growth spurts usually start between ages 9 and 11. Most girls reach their full adult height by 18. But just like everything else in puberty, you might grow faster or slower than this. Your nutrition needs will change as you get older.

Growing and Gaining Weight

  • Most girls experience growth spurts early in puberty, while most boys have them later in puberty. That’s why many girls are taller than boys in middle school.
  • Increased body fat is also a normal part of puberty. “You may go from 8% to 21% body fat,” says Kathy McCoy, MD, a psychiatrist who co-wrote The Teenage Body Book and who was a columnist for Seventeen magazine.
  • Don’t go on a diet to try to lose this weight. “It’s not bad fat,” says Melisa Holmes, MD, who co-wrote the Girlology book series. “Women just have to have a certain amount of body fat for reproduction and the health of our menstrual cycles.”
  • So don’t make losing weight your main focus. Just try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, follow the guidelines for nutrition for endurance athletes, and keep a positive attitude on self-image.


Hope this helps! Best of luck on your journey to a healthier you!











  1. Charney P, Malone A, eds. ADA Pocket Guide to Nutrition Assessment., 2nd Ed Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-88091-421-5
  2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutrition Care Manual. Sports Nutrition. Available at: Accessed May 14, 2012.



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