Food and Drinks for Sport

Find out what food and drink will help you get the most out of your sport and fitness activities.

Food for energy

Starchy and other forms of carbohydrate provide a source of energy for your body to perform at its best, no matter what your sport or activity. In general, the more you exercise, the more carbohydrate you need to include in your daily meals and around exercise.

A demanding exercise regime will use up your stored energy from carbohydrate quickly, so include some carbohydrate in most of your meals. A diet low in carbohydrate can lead to a lack of energy during exercise, loss of concentration, and delayed recovery.

If you want a lower carbohydrate diet for your sport, you should get specialist advice.

Healthy sources of carbohydrate include:

  • wholegrain bread
  • wholegrain breakfast cereals (including some cereal bars)
  • brown rice
  • wholewheat pasta
  • potatoes (with skins on)
  • fruit, including dried and tinned fruit

Food for muscles

Eating protein-rich foods alone will not build big muscles. Muscle is gained through a combination of muscle-strengthening exercise, and a diet that contains protein and sufficient energy from a balance of carbohydrates and fats.

Not all the protein you eat is used to build new muscle. If you eat too much protein, the excess will be used mostly for energy once your body has what it needs for muscle repair. Most fitness enthusiasts can get enough protein from a healthy, varied diet without having to increase their protein intake significantly.

Healthy sources of protein:

  • beans, peas and lentils
  • cheese, yoghurt and milk
  • fish, including oily fish like salmon or mackerel
  • eggs
  • tofu, tempeh and other plant-based meat-alternatives
  • lean cuts of meat and mince
  • chicken and other poultry

A source of protein should be included at most mealtimes to optimise muscle building.

Taking in protein before and after a workout has been shown to help kickstart the muscle repair process.

Training protein snacks:

  • milk of all types – but lower-fat types contain less energy
  • unsweetened soy drink
  • natural dairy yoghurt of all types – including Greek yoghurt and kefir
  • soy yoghurt and other plant-based alternatives
  • unsalted mixed nuts and seeds
  • unsweetened dried fruit
  • boiled eggs
  • hummus with carrot and celery sticks

Food before sport and exercise

Allow about 3 hours before you exercise after having a main meal, such as breakfast or lunch.

An hour before exercising, having a light snack that contains some protein, and is higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat, can help you perform during your training and recover afterwards.

Choose a snack that you’ll digest quickly like:

  • porridge
  • fruit, such as a banana
  • a slice of wholegrain bread spread thinly with a nut butter
  • a plain or fruit scone with low-fat cheese
  • yoghurt or non-dairy alternatives
  • cottage cheese and crackers
  • a glass of milk or non-dairy alternatives

Snacks to avoid before exercise

Some food may cause stomach discomfort if eaten just before exercising.

For example, fatty foods like:

  • chips or french fries
  • avocados
  • olives
  • crisps
  • full-fat cheeses
  • large amounts of nuts

Also, high-fibre foods like:

  • raw vegetables
  • high-fibre cereals
  • raw nuts and seeds

Food and drink during exercise

If you’re exercising for less than 60 minutes, you should only need to drink water.

If you’re exercising for longer, have a quick-digesting carbohydrate and some electrolytes (salts and minerals), such as:

  • an isotonic sports drink
  • a glass of milk
  • a banana
  • dried fruit
  • a cereal or sports bar
  • carbohydrate gel

Make sure you’re drinking enough water (or similar) during your effort.