The Role of Nutrition in Sport

  • Post category:Performance

Sports nutrition is the specialised branch of nutrition that is concerned with food in relation to athletic performance. If you are training for a specific event or would simply like to optimise your training, learning more about the role of nutrition in sport will give you the upper hand.

“Evidence supports a range of dietary strategies in enhancing sports performance. Dietary strategies to enhance performance include optimizing intakes of macronutrients, micronutrients, and fluids, including their composition and spacing throughout the day.

Role of Nutrition in Sports Enhancement and Postexercise Recovery, Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, 2015.

The Basic Components of Nutrition in Sport


Carbohydrates (CHO)

What they do – Carbohydrates (CHO) provide the body with glucose, which is converted to energy for the body’s daily functioning as well as during physical activity.

When the body doesn’t need to use the glucose for energy, it stores it in the liver and muscles. This stored form of glucose consists of many connected glucose molecules and is called glycogen.

How much energy they provide – 4 calories per gram  

What foods they are found in

Unprocessed or minimally processed wholegrains, vegetables, fruits and legumes promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals fibre and important phytonutrients.

Highly processed carbohydrates such as bread, pastries and soft drinks contain easily digested carbohydrates that may contribute to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.


What they do – Fats are oxidised in the body to provide energy for cells and play an important role in the structure of brain and nerve tissues, as well as transporting fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants around the body.

How much energy they provide – 9 calories per gram

What foods they are found in – Foods that provide health-promoting fats include avocados, whole eggs, cheese and olive oil. Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, may be of particular interest to athletes due to potential effects on increased recovery and oxygen delivery.

Steer clear of partially hydrogenated fats, which are trans fats that have been manufactured to increase their shelf life. These are found in fried foods, baked goods, margarine, non-dairy coffee creamer and microwave popcorn.


What it does – Protein is important for muscle growth and repair and a variety of other functions in the body, including nutrient transport, hormonal functions and maintaining pH balance.

How much energy they provide – 4 calories per gram  

What foods they are found in – Protein is the most satisfying macronutrient, and is found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products as well plant-based foods such as nuts, legumes and beans.

Soon after exercising, it’s recommended that you have a serve of high-quality protein with a carbohydrate meal to help maintain your body’s protein balance. 


Micronutrients refer to vitamins and minerals. Vitamins are necessary for energy production, immune function, blood clotting and other functions. Minerals play an important role in growth, bone health, fluid balance and several other processes.


The purpose of fluid consumption during exercise is primarily to maintain hydration and thermoregulation, thereby benefiting performance.

Energy Production During Exercise

Anaerobic System

High-intensity exercise, performed in short bursts up to 90 seconds, relies on the anaerobic system for energy production. This system uses carbohydrate in the form of glucose or glycogen for rapid energy release without the presence of oxygen.

Aerobic System

Endurance activities such as running, swimming and cycling predominantly use the aerobic system. This is when the body breaks down a combination carbohydrates and fats for energy in the presence of oxygen.

The ratio of carbohydrates and fats will differ depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise bout. Higher-intensity aerobic exercise sustained for shorter periods is supplied by energy from a higher ratio of carbohydrates. Alternatively, lower-intensity exercise sustained for longer periods is supplied by energy from a higher ratio of fats.

Following a healthy eating routine and planning your fuel before, during and after exercise will optimise the benefits you get from training and boost your performance in competitions.

Learn more about maximising your nutrition in sport in our next blog post.

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