OWW Blog

From licensed healthcare providers who are experts in their field

The Basics of Sports Nutrition

Nov 01, 2023

Written By: Lauren MacLeod, Registered Dietitian 


Athletes know the importance of having balanced nutrition to perform at their best–and have fun doing it! With all the information available on the internet, whether it’s online articles or TikTok videos, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. One of the basics of sports nutrition is understanding macronutrients and how they fit into your needs.

What are macronutrients?

The most important focal points of nutrition are Proteins, carbs, fats, hydration, and vitamins and minerals. They all play an essential role in fueling adventures big and small. You need all of them, but in this article we will focus on proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, also known as the macronutrients.


Protein builds and repairs your entire body, including muscles. It also keeps blood sugar balanced, helping you stay satisfied and energized all day long. High quality protein sources can be either animal- or plant-based.


(Click here for more information about becoming a plant-based athlete)


Recommendations for athletes are 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Spreading out protein intake to 0.3 g/kg over 4-5 daily meals may also support increased muscle mass.1 It is especially important to focus on proteins that are rich in Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), such as meat, tofu, dairy products, and whey protein.


Carbohydrates are stored in the muscle and liver. Carbs are stored as glycogen in the liver, which keeps blood sugar balanced. In muscle, glycogen acts as the primary source of energy for workouts, especially high-intensity. If all your stored carbohydrates get used up, this is called “bonking” or “hitting the wall” – ouch. The main goal of sports nutrition is to prevent the bonk.


Not all carbohydrates are created equal–they can be simple or complex, depending on the presence of sugar, starch, and fiber. It is also determined by how quickly the carbohydrate is digested and metabolized, or broken down for energy.


Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly, making them the perfect choice for pre-exercise fuel. However, when eaten alone and not around exercise, it can spike your blood sugar and lead to a “sugar crash”. When it comes to simple carbs, the goal is reduce these types of carbohydrate for daily consumption. Examples include:

  • White bread, white rice, fruit, dairy products, sugar and other sweeteners (honey, agave, maple syrup, corn syrup)

  • Fruit and dairy products contain simple carbohydrates, but also fiber (fruit) and protein/fat (dairy) to slow digestion.

  • Complex carbohydrates contain fiber and other starches. Fiber slows digestion and helps prevent the simple carb crash mentioned earlier. Examples include:

  • Whole grains (pasta, bread, brown or wild rice), potatoes (sweet and white), beans, peas, winter squash (ex butternut or acorn), corn

The recommended carbohydrate intake is 3-5g/kg per day for most athletes, spread evenly across the day. 


Fat prevents big spikes in blood sugar for maintaining continuous energy and is a dense source of energy. It slows digestion, making food even more satisfying. Fats also play a critical role in nervous system function and hormonal regulation and production. Some are pro-inflammatory, others are anti-inflammatory, meaning they either promote inflammation or fight it.


Saturated fat, a pro-inflammatory fat, increases blood cholesterol and triglycerides, which are predictors of cardiovascular disease risk. Sources of saturated fat include butter, lard, meat, dairy products, coconut oil, and palm oil. Some people think only animal products contain saturated fats, but that isn’t true. Be mindful of using coconut and palm oil if you are concerned about cholesterol levels.


Unsaturated fats are anti-inflammatory in nature and can reduce triglycerides and cholesterol. Good sources of unsaturated fats include:

  • Fish, avocado, nuts, seeds

  • Plant oils such as olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil

Recommended fat intake is about 30% of daily calorie needs. Fats come in naturally from cooking oils, spreads, and protein foods. It’s more important to focus on meeting your carb and protein needs first.

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