We are what we eat. Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've all heard that one before.
Yet, if you're a serious athlete, this is the one area where it's easy to fall down.
Workout routines, practices, video sessions, etc. are all executed with a plan. Why, then, do so many athletes not have a plan when it comes to what they eat?
Your diet should be a part of your overall training plan. If you're lifting to gain strength, what you eat should be supporting that. If you're running to lose weight, the same philosophy applies.
People are not robots, so simply writing down a plan and then executing it every day isn't realistic. However, it's impossible to execute anything if you don't have a plan to begin with.
What is Sports Nutrition?
Sports nutrition refers to the dietary and nutritional practices followed by athletes and active individuals to optimize their athletic performance and recovery. It involves consuming the right types and amounts of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, before, during, and after exercise, as well as staying hydrated to maintain optimal performance. Proper sports nutrition can help enhance endurance, strength, and overall athletic performance while reducing the risk of injuries and improving recovery times.
Why Should You Read A Sports Nutrition Book?
Before diving into the best sports nutrition books for athletes, it's essential to understand why reading these books (or just one) is crucial for athletic success. Here are some reasons why athletes should consider digging in:
Personalization: Everyone's nutritional needs are different, and what works for one athlete may not work for another. Reading sports nutrition books can help athletes personalize their nutrition plans to meet their unique needs.
Science-backed: Sports nutrition books are typically based on scientific research, which means athletes can trust the information they receive.
Performance-boosting: Proper nutrition is critical for athletic performance. By reading sports nutrition books, athletes can learn how to fuel their bodies optimally and improve their performance.
What Should You Expect To Learn?
In a nutshell, you'll learn about some of the most important elements in sports nutrition, namely:
1. Proper hydration: Athletes need to stay hydrated before, during, and after exercise to maintain optimal performance and prevent dehydration.
2. Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy, and athletes need to consume enough carbohydrates to fuel their workouts and replenish their glycogen stores.
3. Protein: Protein is essential for building and repairing muscles and tissues, and athletes need to consume enough protein to support muscle growth and repair.
4. Vitamins and minerals: Vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in maintaining overall health and athletic performance. Athletes need to consume enough vitamins and minerals to support immune function, energy production, and muscle function.
5. Timing of meals: The timing of meals and snacks is essential for optimal athletic performance. Athletes need to consume the right nutrients at the right time to fuel their workouts and promote recovery.
6. Sports supplements: Sports supplements such as creatine, caffeine, and beta-alanine can help athletes improve their performance, but they should be used judiciously and under the guidance of a sports nutritionist or healthcare provider.
You'll also learn that strategies can (and should) differ depending on your gender, age, sport, and goals. The outcome here shouldn't be simply copying and pasting a plan from one of these books. Rather, you should customize it based on what you learn. A runner's nutrition plan, for example, can and should look very different that an athlete training for football.
Here are our best books on nutrition for athletes, coaches, dietitians, and others involved in sports. Rather than rattle off a list of 20+ books, we're going to keep this one short and sweet because if you actually read these 5 books (or even just one of them), you'll have a good understanding of why it matters, and most importantly, what you can do to improve.
The Best Nutrition Books For Athletes
PEAK by Dr. Marc Bubbs
PEAK by Dr. Marc Bubbs is a book that explores the latest research on human performance and provides practical tips on how to optimize your health and performance. Dr. Bubbs draws on his clinical experience working with professional athletes to offer insights into the key factors that contribute to peak performance, such as nutrition, sleep, stress management, and exercise. The book is aimed at anyone looking to improve their performance, whether it's in sports, business, or everyday life. Many would consider this book to be one of the best of all time when it comes to sports performance.
Sports Nutrition for Young Adults by Jackie Sloman
Sports Nutrition for Young Adults by Jackie Sloman is a comprehensive guidebook that focuses on the unique nutritional needs of young athletes. The book covers a wide range of topics, including the basics of good nutrition, the importance of hydration, pre- and post-workout nutrition, and sports-specific nutrition for various types of activities. Sloman, who is a professional sports dietician, also provides practical advice on meal planning, grocery shopping, and eating on the go. The book is written in a clear and concise manner, making it easy for young adults to understand and implement the recommendations. It is an excellent resource for anyone looking to improve their athletic performance through nutrition.
Advanced Sports Nutrition by Dan Benardot
Advanced Sports Nutrition by Dan Benardot is a comprehensive guide to sports nutrition for serious athletes, runners, and fitness enthusiasts. The book, written like a sports nutrition textbook, covers advanced topics such as energy metabolism, nutrient timing, and optimal hydration strategies. Benardot also provides detailed information on the nutritional needs of different sports and athletic activities, as well as specific recommendations for pre, during, and post-workout nutrition. In addition, the book includes practical advice on meal planning, supplementation, and the use of sports drinks and recovery beverages. Overall, "Advanced Sports Nutrition" is an essential resource for anyone looking to take their athletic performance to the next level through optimized nutrition.
Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook
Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook is a comprehensive resource for anyone interested in improving their athletic performance through nutrition. The book covers a wide range of topics, including the basics of good nutrition, the importance of hydration, and sports-specific nutrition for different types of activities. Clark, a sports nutritionist, also provides practical advice on meal planning, grocery shopping, and eating on the go, as well as guidance on how to fuel properly before, during, and after exercise. In addition, the book includes information on sports supplements, weight management, and eating disorders. This book is often listed as one of the best nutrition books ever written. and it's easy to see why. I would absolutely recommend it for runners, cyclists, and others who are looking to implement an individual nutrition plan.
Bigger Leaner Stronger by Michael Matthews
Bigger Leaner Stronger by Michael Matthews is a comprehensive guidebook for anyone looking to build muscle, lose fat, and improve their overall fitness. Frankly, it could go in a list of overall best books for athletes given how many have used it to better themselves. The book provides a science-based approach to training and nutrition, focusing on the principles of progressive overload and proper macronutrient intake. Matthews covers a wide range of topics, including weightlifting techniques, cardio strategies, and meal planning for optimal results. In addition, the book includes practical advice on supplementation, recovery, and the importance of mindset and motivation. If your goal was to find a book on bodybuilding or strength training nutrition, this would be a good one to start with.
A Quick Tip on Cooking
Some people will prefer to read one or several of the books first to educate themselves. Totally fair (and frankly, I'd do the same thing). Others may start reading one of the books and think to themselves "I know I need more protein, but I always cook the same things."
If you're in that camp, I'd suggest checking out a healthy cookbook to complement what you're reading. There are a lot of good ones out there (and very specific cookbooks as well for various diets and goals). If I had to pick one to get started, I'd choose this The Athlete's Palate Cookbook below. This will help reinforce what you're reading, provide some new ideas, and help weed out some of the junk in your pantry.
One of my favorite recipes is this one:
Grilled Salmon with Sweet Potato and Broccoli
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 salmon fillets
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the grill to medium-high heat.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the sweet potato cubes for 10-15 minutes or until tender.
In a separate pot of boiling water, cook the broccoli florets for 3-5 minutes or until tender but still firm.
Brush the salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Place the salmon fillets on the grill and cook for 4-5 minutes per side, or until cooked through.
Serve the grilled salmon with the cooked sweet potato and broccoli.
This recipe provides a balanced combination of carbohydrates from the sweet potato and broccoli, healthy fats and protein from the salmon, and a variety of vitamins and minerals from the vegetables. Additionally, it is easy to make and perfect for a post-workout dinner.
But What If I Eat Plant Based?
Great question. As a flexitarian myself, my wife and I have used Matt Frazier's The No Meat Athlete Cookbook to bring some fun new ideas into our household.
For additional cookbooks that I'd recommend, check out our article on best cookbooks for athletes here.
Hydration Is Incredibly Important
If you read this far and haven't take a sip of water, you're probably not drinking enough. The amount of water you actually need will vary depending on your gender, weight, and activity level. However, according to a recent survey of 3,000+ adults, 75% of them were dehydrated!
If you have a hard time remembering to drink water, check out one of those large water bottles on Amazon. Some have motivational tag lines on them. Others have the time of the day to help you keep pace.
I also really like the water bottles from The Coldest Water. Cold water for up to 36 hours? Yes, please.
Nutrient Timing Matters
If we use the old adage of comparing your body to a car, your body needs fuel to operate. Equally important, your muscles can't properly grow or recover after a tough workout without any nutrients. Simply changing the way you fuel before a workout/game or after may radically affect your energy and recovery.
Protein timing: Consuming protein within 30 minutes of exercise may enhance muscle protein synthesis and improve recovery. Research shows that consuming 20-30 grams of protein within this timeframe can lead to increased muscle protein synthesis and reduced muscle damage.
Carbohydrate timing: Consuming carbohydrates before and/or during exercise can help improve endurance exercise performance, as well as enhance glycogen replenishment and muscle recovery. Studies suggest that consuming 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during prolonged exercise can help maintain performance and delay fatigue.
Fat timing: The timing of fat intake is less well-studied than protein and carbohydrate timing. However, some research suggests that consuming fat after exercise may help improve recovery and reduce inflammation.
What books did we miss? If you have a favorite athlete nutrition book that helped you in your journey, please let us know so we can share it with the community. In addition, below is a video of Jonathan Tanguay, MS, RDN, LD, Assistant Director of Performance Nutrition at Texas A&M University. If you've ever wanted a glimpse into the role of a sports dietician training elite athletes, this a good, short clip into a day in the life.
In a related post, I recently ran every day for a month and documented what happened here.
We previously wrote Does Running Increase Your Metabolism?
For more books that athletes should read, please check out our Recommendations tab here.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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