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Nutrition for Peak Performance


Submitted by Amy Sercel MS RD CD

Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Between the Australian Open, the Super Bowl, and the World Alpine Ski Championships, there are a lot of major winter sports competitions.  While the physical demands of these sports vary quite a bit, the athletes that play them all have something in common: their careers depend on their athletic performance, making it even more important for them to properly fuel up to achieve their maximum potential.

It’s crucial for an athlete to be well nourished going into an event.  The nutritionist for the Atlanta Falcons stresses that an athlete can’t correct a “low-energy and/or poorly hydrated state” right before a game, so instead the athlete needs to focus on meeting his or her calorie, protein, and carbohydrate needs every day.1

Within these guidelines, there are many ways to create a nutritious diet.  For example, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady says he largely avoids any white flour or sugar, instead focusing on whole grains and consuming a plant-based diet where vegetables make up around 80% of his meals.  On the other hand, his rival Matt Ryan of the Falcons eats a variety of fruits and vegetables, striving to make his plate as colorful as possible, while still enjoying the occasional slice of cake.  Like Brady, the fat in Ryan’s diet primarily comes from vegetable sources.2 Each quarterback has a unique eating plan that meets his energy, carbohydrate, and protein needs and provides some healthy fat.

No matter what the sport, athletes depend on carbohydrates stored as muscle glycogen for energy while they’re in a competition.  If an athlete doesn’t eat enough carbohydrates throughout each day, he or she will fatigue more quickly and not perform as well during a competition.3,4 Before an event, a meal should be high in carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, bread, and fruit, contain a good source of lean protein, and be lower in fiber and fat to promote easy digestion.1,4

During an event, it’s important to keep muscle glycogen stores high and maintain blood sugar levels in the normal range.  The nutritionist for the Falcons suggests that his athletes eat every 3 hours so they never get hungry.2 Blood sugar can drop within 30 minutes of vigorous activity, leading to difficulty concentrating and decreased neurological function.  To combat this during events, athletes eat fast-digesting sources of carbs, such as sports drinks that also help with hydration.1 Athletes usually avoid high-fat and high-fiber foods during prolonged exercise, as these are digested more slowly and may sit in the stomach and slow the athlete down.

After exercise, an athlete should strive to replenish muscle glycogen as soon as possible so his or her stores will be full for the next competition.  Within 90 minutes, the athlete should eat about 1 gram of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight.  Consuming protein right away will also help keep muscle glycogen stores high and aid in muscle repair.4 The New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons will usually be seen eating a recovery snack on the field immediately after a game.1 These recovery foods ensure that the athlete will be properly fueled and will achieve peak performance at every competition and practice!


  1.  Atlanta Falcons’ Team Nutritionist Dr Dan Benardot On Super Bowl Nutrition. http://www.cleanplates.com/know/people-places-know/atlanta-falcons-head-nutritionist-reveals-game-day-secrets/?utm_source=My+Sports+Dietitian+Connect&utm_campaign=4be72f173d-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_02_05&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c3aed6e419-4be72f173d-128820021. Accessed February 10, 2017.
  2.  Doheny K. Dueling Quarterback Diets: Matt Ryan vs. Tom Brady. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20170201/dueling-quarterback-diets-matt-ryan-vs-tom-brady. Accessed February 10, 2017.
  3.  Baranauskas M, Stukas R, Tubelis L, et al. Nutritional habits among high-performance endurance athletes. Medicina (Mex). 2015;51(6):351-362. doi:10.1016/j.medici.2015.11.004.
  4.  Klossner D. Nutrition and Performance Resources. NCAA.org – The Official Site of the NCAA. http://www.ncaa.org/health-and-safety/nutrition-and-performance/nutrition-and-performance-resources. Published November 22, 2013. Accessed February 10, 2017.

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