What about the right diet for athletes?

Protein, carbohydrates and fat: The athlete’s nutrition plan should be aligned with the training phase and goal in question.

There’s no question about it: If you want to get fit, you’ll need plenty of energy. But where it’s best to get this energy from is not always clear. Are carbs the be-all and end-all? Or is protein best for building muscle? And what about fat? The right diet for you depends to a large degree on the time of your training and your training goals.

If you’re preparing for the upcoming football season or a competition, you will generally need to build muscle mass, says Dr Mathias Frey, Team Doctor to the professional footballers at 1. FC Heidenheim. It is then that shifting to a more protein-based diet makes sense: A good half of your diet should then come from protein. And, of course, that doesn’t just have to come from eggs. Lean meat, fish, pulses and dairy products are all great sources of protein. Expensive protein bars are therefore not always necessary. 30% of your energy should then come from carbohydrates, with pasta, rice and wholegrain bread being ideal. The rest of your diet can be made up of fats. Fat is already contained in many foodstuffs, including meat, fish, dairy products and bread.

Don’t eat right before working out
During the season or if an athlete simply wants to maintain their status quo, the nutrition plan looks a little different. The calories should then be accounted for with 40% from protein and 40% from carbohydrates, and 20% from fat. So, if you eat roughly as much carbohydrate as meat, fish or dairy, and around half as much fat, you’re on the right track.

You should try not to eat too much before working out. “This puts pressure on the vagus nerve”, Dr Frey explains. This nerve is one of the biggest cranial nerves and runs to internal organs including the heart, lungs, stomach and intestines. “Eating before working out is rather like keeping your TV on stand-by.” Not the best way to recharge your batteries. It’s best to take your last meal three hours before working out and it should contain plenty of carbs and not too much fat. This provides your body with readily available energy for working out or for your competition, but your digestive system will not be kept too busy.