Sports nutrition

Whether you're a top athlete or a weekend rugby player, sports nutrition helps athletes achieve their sporting goals and lead healthier lives. Specifically, it helps athletes to maximize benefits from training, improve recovery and perform at their best in a competition. In addition, eating well helps to reduce the risk of injury and illness.

What is sports nutrition?

Sports nutrition is about healthy eating that focuses on improving health and sporting performance. Food provides the human body with the nutrients necessary to grow, develop and function effectively. While there are general guidelines for a healthy diet, nutrition requirements vary for each individual depending on age, gender, metabolic rate, genetics, lifestyle and physical activity levels.

For athletes, having the right balance of food groups (to give the right mix of vitamins, fibre, carbohydrate, fat and protein) is especially important as nutrition affects performance in sport. It affects an athlete’s ability to train and compete to their best, their ability to recover and adapt, their body composition, their energy levels and their long-term health. 

To perform at their best, athletes must ensure they consume the right foods and the right volumes of food. In addition, they must consider the timing of their food and fluid intake.

It'S important that athletes tailor their nutritional intake to the type and amount of training they're doing. This means that an athlete’s nutritional requirements will differ at different phases in the season and even different days of the week.

Who can benefit from sports nutrition advice?

Anyone looking to improve their health and performance can benefit from nutrition advice – from recreational exercisers to elite athletes. Examples include recreational or elite athletes with:

  • heavy training loads
  • specific dietary requirements e.g. gluten free
  • medical issues, e.g. diabetes
  • nutritional deficiencies, e.g. low iron
  • food allergies or intolerances
  • an injury
  • weight requirements for sport.

Other people who may benefit from sports nutrition advice include:

  • the young and/or growing
  • those thinking of taking sports foods or supplements
  • people travelling for competition.

Who you should talk to

If you’re looking for personalised sports nutrition advice, you can find a sports dietitian through the Find a dietitian section of the Dietitians NZ website.  (In the specialty column, choose 'Sports')

Learn more

Sports nutrition NZ Nutrition Foundation
Dietitians in NZ Dietitians Board NZ 
Sports nutrition Nutrition Australia
Range of scientific journal articles Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition

Author: Cardea Nutrition Dietitians. The team of registered dietitians at Cardea Nutrition are experts in sports nutrition and provide a range of articles and resources on their website or via online consultations. 
Reviewed By: Pat Flanagan, former dietitian, now a self-management consultant Last reviewed: 01 Jun 2017