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Basic Nutritional Principles

Glenn Kearney provides some nutritional advice for developing power athletes.

Eat frequent, small to medium-sized meals

Eating in excess at one single meal combined with infrequent meals throughout the day can lead to poor training gains and poor recovery. This feeding pattern can lead to loss of lean body mass and an increase in fat mass.

Eating frequently and choosing healthy food choices such as high-quality, low-fat protein, complex fibre-rich carbohydrates, and good fats are essential for all athletes who are training to gain lean body mass and maximal strength.

A small meal consisting of a complex carbohydrate, protein, and good fats should be eaten 5-6 times per day. This usually translates into a small meal every 2-3 hours throughout the day. This type of feeding pattern will help to keep your energy levels high and to give you the proper nutrients for recovery between hard workouts.

Eat protein with all meals

Protein is an essential nutrient, especially for athletes who are trying to increase maximal strength and lean body mass. There is strong evidence pointing to the importance of having a little bit of protein with each meal to assist with increased lean body mass.

You must choose good sources of protein. Some good examples are; milk protein blends and yoghurts, low-fat cottage cheese, whey protein, and casein protein. Other good sources of protein are chicken, low-fat beef, canned (or fresh) tuna/salmon, prawns turkey, egg whites, all fish, lean pork cuts, and finally nuts and seeds.

Remember, all your meals should contain some protein. Most experts recommend approximately1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass for healthy adults who are engaging in daily rigorous physical activity. There is evidence that high-performance athletes can achieve even better results, with 2.0 to 2.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass. To determine the appropriate protein intake, multiply your body weight (in kg) by 2.0. For example, an athlete weighing 80 kg would need:

  • 80 kg x 2.0 grams = 160 grams of protein/day

It is critical to mention that you do not need to eat excessive amounts of protein to gain muscle. Having small frequent meals throughout the day, and a good hourly energy balance is far more critical for gaining muscle.

Eat more food after training

During exercise, your body's protein structures are broken down, and carbohydrate stores are depleted. Following exercise, your body is "hungry" to replace these nutrients. It is critical that out of your six meals in the day that the biggest meals are eaten following your workout. Once again, choose healthy carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Zero tolerance for sweets and fatty carbohydrates

Your body is a temple. Eating sweets and fatty carbohydrates such as potato chips, high sugar juices, fizzy drinks, chocolate bars, ice cream, chicken wings, and most pizzas should be avoided by athletes.

Eating sweets and fatty carbohydrates will result in an increased fat mass, significant blood sugar fluctuations, and weak recovery. If you are serious about your training, you will have the self-discipline to avoid these items altogether.

Drink plenty of water

Throughout the day, you lose body water in sweat, breath, tears, and other fluids. For athletes, this is a massive concern because even a small change in hydration levels can cause decreases in performance.

Proper hydration is crucial for all athletes. You are advised to carry a water bottle with you throughout the day. Sip the water at frequent intervals to maintain hydration. As an alternative to coffee, drink green tea.

Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition


Evidence strongly suggests that the acquisition of muscle protein is a result of the workout stimulus PLUS the proper nutrition during the workout, and more importantly, during the 24 hours immediately after the workout.

General Recommendations

  1. Mix 0.8 g/kg body mass of carbohydrates with 0.4 g/kg body mass of protein in 1 L of water pre-workout. Drink this throughout your workout. For example, Sports drinks and whey protein.
  2. Mix 0.8 g/kg body mass of carbohydrates with 0.4 g/kg body mass of protein in 1 L of water post-workout. Drink this after your workout. A good mix is Gatorade and whey protein.
  3. Have 2-3 tbsp of flax oil or high-quality fish oil throughout the day. Essential fatty acids are for your health and recovery.
  4. MAKE SURE that you eat plenty of high quality, nutrient-rich food in the 24 hours post-workout. If you miss one meal, you are IMPEDING your recovery. Every workout contributes to an accumulation of proteins. If you eat poorly for 30% of your meals, you will be missing 30% of your results!

As a result of this evidence, you must begin to either: improve, refine or continue the use of proper nutritional recovery strategies.

Article Reference

The information in this article was provided to the coaches on the British Athletics Sprints National Coach Development Program (NCDP) in May 2011. Brianmac is a member of the sprints NCDP.

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • KEARNEY, G. (2012) Basic Nutritional Principles [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Glenn Kearney is a Senior Nutritionist with British Athletics. He advises many of Britain's Olympic podium athletes for British Athletics, including the sprinter Jeanette Kwakye, the 200m runner Christian Malcolm, the long jumper and 100m sprinter Greg Rutherford, and the current British indoor and outdoor long jump record holder Chris Tomlinson.