How to ensure your athletes eat healthily
Brian Mackenzie explains how to determine your nutritional requirements.
Food provides the nutrients to help
the body function properly. No single food contains them all in the amounts
needed so a mixture of foods has to be eaten. Food is broken down into food
groups of which there are five commonly accepted ones:
- Bread, cereals and potatoes
- Fruit and vegetables
- Milk and dairy foods
- Meat, fish and alternatives
- Fatty and sugary foods
To get the wide range of nutrients the body needs to remain
healthy it is important to choose a variety of foods from the first four groups
every day. Foods in the fifth group (fatty and sugary foods) are not essential
to a healthy diet but add extra choice and taste. The proportion of each food
group in the diet is shown by the different area occupied by each of the food
groups on the plate in the picture below.
This guide does not apply to children under the age of five and if
you are under medical supervision or with special dietary needs you should
check with your doctor to be clear if this guide applies to you.
Bread, other cereals and potatoes
||Other cereals mean things like breakfast
cereals, pasta, rice, oats, noodles, maize, millet and cornmeal. Beans and
pulses can be eaten as part of this group.
||Carbohydrate (starch), Fibre, some calcium and
iron, B Vitamins
|Try to eat
||Wholemeal, wholegrain, brown or high fibre
versions where possible
|Try to avoid
||Having them fried too often (e.g. chips)
Adding too much fat (e.g. thickly spread butter or margarine on bread)
Adding rich sauces and dressings (e.g. cream or cheese sauce on pasta)
Fruit & Vegetables
||Fresh, frozen and canned fruit and vegetables and
dried fruit. A glass of fruit juice can also contribute. Beans and pulses can
be eaten as part of this group.
||Vitamin C, Carotenes, Folates, Fibre and some
|Try to eat
||A wide variety of fruit and vegetables.
|Try to avoid
||Adding fat or rich sauces to vegetables (e.g.
carrots glazed with butter, roast parsnips)
Adding sugar or syrupy dressing
to fruit (e.g. stewed apple with sugar)
Milk & dairy foods
||Milk, cheese, yoghurt and fromage frais. This
group does not include butter, eggs and cream.
||Calcium Protein, Vitamin B12, Vitamins A and D
||Moderate amounts and choose lower fat versions
whenever you can.
|Try to eat
||Lower fat versions mean semi-skimmed or skimmed
milk, low fat (0.1% fat) yoghurts or fromage frais, and lower fat cheeses (e.g.
Edam, Half-fat Cheddar, Camembert).
Check the amount of fat by looking
at the nutrient information on the labels. Compare similar products and choose
the lowest - for example, 8% fat fromage frais may be labelled low fat but is
not actually the lowest available.
Meat, fish and alternatives
||Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and
pulses. Meat includes bacon and salami and meat products such as sausages,
beef burgers and pate.
These are all relatively high-fat choices. Beans,
such as canned baked beans and pulses are in this group.
frozen and canned fish such as sardines and tuna, fish fingers and fish cakes.
||Iron, Protein, B Vitamins - especially B12, Zinc
||Eat moderate amounts and choose lower fat
versions whenever you can.
|Try to eat
||Lower fat versions mean things like meat with
the fat cut off, poultry without the skin and fish without batter.
Cook these foods without added fat.
Beans and pulses are good alternatives
to meat as they are naturally very low in fat.
Fatty and sugary foods
||Margarine, low fat spread, butter, other
spreading fats, cooking oils, oily salad dressings or mayonnaise, cream,
chocolate, crisps, biscuits, pastries, cake, puddings, ice- cream, rich sauces
and fatty gravies, sweets and sugar.
||Some vitamins and essential fatty acids but also
a lot of fat, sugar and salt
||Eat fatty and sugary foods sparingly - that is,
infrequently and/or in small amounts.
|Try to eat
||Some foods from this group will be eaten every
day, but should be kept to small amounts, for example; margarine, low fat
spread, butter, other spreading fats, cooking oils, oily salad dressings or
Other foods from this group really are occasional foods, for
example; cream, chocolate, crisps, biscuits, pastries, cake, puddings,
ice-cream, rich sauces and fatty gravies, sweets and sugar.
How much do we need?
People differ in the number of calories they require each day and
that is what affects the amount of food, in total, that individuals should eat.
However, much people need, the proportions of food from the different groups
should remain the same.
The factors that affect people's daily energy
- Gender - women tend to need fewer calories than men
- Age - older adults need fewer calories than adolescents and
- Overweight - being heavier than their ideal weight means fewer
calories are required to achieve a healthy weight
- Physically active - the more active a person is, the greater
their calorie needs
Vitamin and mineral supplements
Vitamin and mineral supplements cannot replace good eating habits. Most people can get all the
nutrients their body needs by choosing a variety of foods, in the proportions
shown, from the five food groups.
Some people may need certain supplements. Women who are already,
or planning to become pregnant need folic acid, and, may need extra iron.
Elderly people may need extra Vitamin D and/or iron. People should consult a
doctor or dietitian if they think they need to take a vitamin or mineral
This article first appeared in:
- MACKENZIE, B. (2003) How to ensure your athletes eat healthily. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 6 / October), p. 8-9
If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:
- MACKENZIE, B. (2003) How to ensure your athletes eat healthily [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni6a6.htm [Accessed
About the Author
Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years' experience as an endurance athlete.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: