11 ways to use food as your performance advantage

Posted on August 1, 2018 by

There are no black and white rules in diet, as everyone will have slightly different needs and requirements specific to their goals and training schedule.

There are, however, some stand out areas which are relevant for athletes to keep in mind for healthy eating and effective training.

This list can act as a refresher or a refocus to think about some areas which are important to help maintain a consistent diet for training and health, and ensure you are using food as your performance advantage.


1. Eat well, earlier in the day. Have a good breakfast and morning tea to fuel the most active part of the day

2. Limit foods with excess saturated fats, fried foods, highly processed, artificial and refined foods

3. In most instances, if training has decreased, total energy intake through food and drink also needs to be reduced

4. Eat with structure to have balanced meals and snacks and eat well when you eat, and then have breaks between meals with no picking or grazing, especially on low nutrient foods

5. Have balanced meals and snacks which provide a variety of nutritional elements, include a lean protein, a wholegrain or high fibre carbohydrate; some good fats and vegetables at main meals (read this article on snack ideas for athletes)

6. Try not to eat until you are uncomfortably stuffed full, you should finish a meal comfortably full

7. When training regularly aim to eat 5-6 meals a day, which are a similar size, rather than 3 large meals with long gaps between the times you eat as this is more beneficial for muscle turn over and repair (read this article on the importance of timing your meals as an athlete)

8. Be conscious of the extra kilojoules in soft drink, alcohol, juice and full fat flavoured milk when you aren’t training as they can have the energy of a meal in itself and may challenge weight maintenance

9. Don’t skip meals during the day or go longer than 5-6 hours without eating, then overeat later in the day to compensate what you have missed, especially if this is at dinner or when you aren’t active

10. Try not to eat a large amount right before bed as it can interrupt sleep

11. Don’t just eat because there is food in front of you, think about what the body needs and the purpose of that food. Will it help you reach your goal? Is it the right food choice for you? Is it even the time to be eating?

If you need more individualised advice, ask for help from an accredited sports dietitian.


What to limit and what to include

LIMIT eating these foods, especially around training INCLUDE a variety of these foods in your meals and snacks
These foods have little nutrient benefit, can increase body fat levels and deplete energy. These foods should not take the place of an allocated meal or snack to fuel your day. Balanced food choices should be made up from a combination the following types of foods
  • Chips – Shapes / De-lites / Peckish type crackers
  • Lollies – snakes / jelly babies
  • Alcohol – all types
  • Biscuits – sugary and choc coated / cream filled
  • Fast food – KFC / Maccas / Hungry Jacks
  • Soft drink – all types
  • Chocolate – especially milk and white choc
  • Fried foods – battered / crumbed / finger foods
  • Creamy pasta and large portions of pasta
  • Chicken skin / fatty cuts of meat / processed meat
  • Some high sugar cereals = >25g/100g sugar
  • Fatty lunch meats – salami/ cabanosi / devon
Lean animal protein = grilled meats, tuna, fish, eggs, low fat dairy

Plant protein = nuts, legumes, tofu, lentils

Low refined carbohydrates = fruit, starchy vegetables, oats, quinoa, barley, legumes, brown or wild rice

High fibre foods = bran, oats, grainy crackers, grainy bread, vegetables and fruit – with skin on

Nutrient dense foods = vegetables, fruit, berries, seeds and nuts (nuts in smaller amounts)

Fluid = water mostly, low fat milk varieties, teas, coffee occasionally or 100% juice in small amounts


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