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Sports Diet

Nestlé Choose Wellness and the Australian Institute of Sport recognise that eating correctly is important for anyone playing sport.

Here are some questions from everyday Australians who want to ensure they have the right sports diet.

Q: I play netball at around 1.00pm on Saturdays. What and when should I eat before matches?

A: When playing at 1.00pm focus on having a nutrient-dense, carbohydrate-based breakfast. Recommended choices include cereal with fruit plus some toast, fruit and yogurt, spaghetti on toast or English muffins plus a milk smoothie. There are a number of possibilities. Top up your carbohydrate levels with a snack about 11.30am. Try fruit, yogurt, cereal bars or a sandwich with spread. Remember to include some fluid with your meal and snack. Sports drink, water, cordial and juice are suitable choices before the game.

Q: I exercise twice a day – a combination of aerobics and running. I eat three good meals a day but find I am constantly tired. What can I eat to improve my energy levels?

A: There are a number of factors which contribute to fatigue and tiredness. The first thing is to consider your carbohydrate intake. An inadequate carbohydrate intake will contribute to fatigue. Most active people find it difficult to consume sufficient carbohydrate in three meals a day. You may need to increase your intake by adding snacks such as fruit, yogurt, flavoured milk, sandwiches or cereal bars between meals. Another thing to consider is the timing of your food intake. You will find you get more out of your workouts if you eat both before and after exercise. Aim to consume a meal or snack 1-3 hours before exercise and 30-60 minutes after exercise. Dehydration can also contribute to fatigue. Drink during your workouts and regularly throughout the day. Iron deficiency can also contribute to fatigue. Have your iron levels checked by a doctor. Another consideration is that you may be over-exercising. Your body needs time to recover after exercise. Perhaps you need to schedule one day off a week or vary your workouts between light and heavy sessions.

Q: I have a short triathlon (300m/8km/2km) on the weekend at 4pm. What should I eat for lunch on the day and when should I eat it?

A: I suggest you start the day with a breakfast which provides carbohydrate. Cereal, toast, fruit and a drink is a suitable option. Follow this up with lunch at about 12 noon. You might like to have a meal along the lines of sandwiches with lean meat and salad, toast plus a milkshake, pasta with tomato sauce or spaghetti on toast. At about 2pm, have a light snack such as a cereal bar, banana or honey sandwich to top up your carbohydrate levels and prevent you feeling hungry. Remember to have fluid (water, sports drink, cordial, juice) with these meals and snacks.

Q: What are some good foods to take on long training cycling rides? 

A: On long training rides, you need foods that provide carbohydrate, are easy to eat and travel well. Suitable options include bananas, plain sandwiches (e.g. honey, jam,Vegemite), cereal bars, sports bars (e.g. POWERBAR), fruit bars, dried fruit, jelly lollies and sports gels (e.g. POWERBAR GELS). Also remember to carry plenty of fluid. A sports drink is the best option but water, soft drinks and cordial may also be used.

Q: I am an elite cyclist. Last weekend I suffered cramps and had to pull out. What causes cramps and how can they be prevented and treated?

A: The exact cause of cramps is still a puzzle to sports scientists. The most likely causes are dehydration, over exertion or a poor blood supply to the muscle. Some people believe that abnormal blood levels of potassium, magnesium or calcium may cause cramps but current research suggests that this is unlikely. The following tips may help to prevent cramps:

    • Drink plenty of fluid while exercising. Begin each session hydrated by drinking with meals and snacks leading up to the session. Have a large drink (300-600 ml) immediately prior to commencing exercise. This primes the stomach and improves stomach emptying during exercise. Begin drinking early during exercise and drink regularly (every 10-20 minutes). Sports drinks are the best option.
    • Stretch before and after exercise.
    • Wear comfortable, loose clothing and optimise your biomechanics.
    • Acclimatise to hot weather to help minimise dehydration.

Recommended Resources

Want further advice? It can be a great idea to see a sports dietitian for individual advice and information. Contact Sports Dietitians Australia (03) 9682 2442 or the branch of Sports Medicine Australia in your state, to find a sports dietitian in your area.


Burke, L. The Complete Guide to Food for Sports Performance, 2nd ed. Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1995.

Cardwell, G. Gold Medal Nutrition, 1997.

Hawley, J.and Burke, L. Peak Performance: training and nutrition strategies for sport. Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998.


Burke L. et al. Survival for the Fittest: the AIS guide to cooking for busy athletes, 1999.

Burke L. et al. Survival from the Fittest: A companion cookbook to Survival for the Fittest from athletes of the AIS, 2001.

Inge, K. and Roberts, C. Food for Sport Cookbook, 1997.

O’Connor, H. and Hay, D. The Taste of Fitness, 1998.


The Winning Diet for Sport. ASC Publication Services. PO Box 176, Belconnen, ACT. 2616. Tel (02) 6214 1795. Fax (02) 6214 1995. Email: pubs@ausport.gov.au. This video provides a visual presentation of the content of this ‘A Winning Diet’ booklet.


Department of Sports Nutrition : www.ais.org.au/nutrition

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