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When choosing a diet plan or meal delivery service, people should consider their unique needs. Certain diet plans or services may particularly benefit athletes.
Athletes may have different dietary requirements depending on the type and intensity of their chosen form of exercise. Often, they will need more calories and macronutrients than other people to maintain their energy levels. Some athletes may require additional vitamins and minerals for optimal health and performance.
This article explains what athletes need in a diet plan and what the latest research says. It also looks at diet brands that may be suitable and discusses further considerations.
Athletes should look for a diet plan that supports both their general health and their training needs. Experts suggest that there are particular considerations for an athlete’s diet.
In 2018, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) published a review that looked at updated evidence for sports nutrition. In the review, they made several recommendations for athletes to bear in mind when determining whether a particular diet plan meets their needs.
The ISSN’s recommendations include:
Consuming enough calories to offset energy expenditure
The ISSN state that athletes who train intensively may expend 600–1,200 calories or more per hour during exercise. Therefore, athletes who train for 2–6 hours per day on 5–6 days of the week will need a higher-than-average calorie intake.
The ISSN note that athletes weighing 50–100 kilograms (kg) may require 2,000–7,000 calories a day, while athletes who weigh 100–150 kg may need 6,000–12,000 calories a day. The ideal amount will depend on the volume and intensity of different training phases.
The correct ratio of macronutrients
According to the ISSN, athletes involved in moderate amounts of intensive training — such as 2–3 hours per day on 5–6 days of the week — typically need to consume 250–1,200 grams (g) of carbohydrate to maintain liver and muscle glycogen stores. For increased amounts of exercise, they may need up to 1,500 g of carbohydrate a day.
For moderate or intensive training, athletes may need more than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein. The ISSN review suggests that an athlete weighing 50–150 kg may need 60–330 g of protein per day, depending on their weight, among other factors.
Athletes can consume fat as 30–50% of their total daily calories. Some athletes consume more fats if they eat a ketogenic diet, but the review suggests that there is limited evidence to confirm the diet’s effectiveness, with different studies providing conflicting results.
The ISSN review suggests that athletes consume meals 0–4 hours before exercise and 0–2 hours after it. These meals should consist of carbohydrates plus protein, or protein on its own.
The size and timing of the pre-exercise meal may affect how much benefit the post-exercise meal gives someone. Some people find that eating too close to training causes digestive discomfort.
The ISSN also advise that athletes space their protein intake evenly throughout the day — ideally, every 3–4 hours.
Vitamins, minerals, and water
Athletes should ensure that they consume essential vitamins and minerals for general health, recovery, and performance.
They should also maintain adequate hydration. According to the ISSN review, losing 2% or more of body weight through sweat can significantly impair exercise performance.
The following diet brands may support athletic training needs. People can use a meal delivery or meal replacement service as part of an overall diet that meets their calorie and macronutrient requirements.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information is purely research-based.
Trifecta offer a meal delivery service that provides customers with macro-balanced meals that chefs have prepared.
People can use Trifecta’s mobile app to track their nutrition and exercise progress. The company also offer free access to a nutrition coach.
On their website, Trifecta give examples of bodybuilding, CrossFit, and Ultimate Fighting Championship athletes who use their meal plans.
Huel provide nutritionally complete meals and snacks. Their products include drinks, powders to make shakes, and snack bars. They claim that each meal contains:
- 27 vitamins and minerals
According to the company’s website, Huel powder contains a balanced macro split of 37:30:30:3, meaning that it contains 37% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat, and 3% fiber. The product contains all of the essential amino acids.
Huel claim that their products are easier to digest than solid foods. Liquid food may be useful for athletes, particularly if they suffer digestive symptoms or need to consume more calories.
Using Huel as a meal replacement for some meals may be a convenient way for athletes to fuel their energy and training needs.
Allplants provide a plant-based meal delivery service. Their in-house nutritionist designs the meals to make sure that they are balanced and delicious.
Athletes can choose single or double portions to suit their target calorie intake. They can also keep meals in the freezer to use at their convenience. The meals contain 300–600 calories, so athletes who need more calories could use some meals as snacks.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a plant-based diet provides all the nutrients that the body needs for training and competition. The authors of a 2019 review concluded that plant-based diets are cardioprotective for endurance athletes.
Currently, this brand only delivers to the United Kingdom, though they state that they are looking to expand internationally.
Athletes with a higher body mass and those who do high intensity training can find it challenging to consume enough food to fuel their body. Research suggests that an energy-deficient diet during training often leads to unwanted physical and psychological effects, including loss of fat-free mass, illness, and heightened stress.
When choosing a meal delivery service, people should consider how many meals they might need a day. Using brands exclusively for all meals and snacks could prove impractical or expensive.
Instead, an athlete could batch cook and freeze home-prepared meals or make shakes and snacks in advance. This approach could be useful for those with a busy lifestyle, as they may need to pack up a day’s meals and preportioned snacks and transport them in storage containers.
People should also consider whether a particular diet is right for them. Some diets, such as keto, may be challenging to maintain for more extended periods and may cause adverse effects.
An athlete may need to take a nutritional supplement to support their training. Supplements may be essential if someone chooses a restrictive diet, such as plant-based or keto.
A person could consult a registered dietitian to find out which diet is likely to suit them best.
Using a meal delivery service may save an athlete time, especially if they have a busy training program. Brands that offer nutritional expertise and meal planning could make it easier for an athlete to ensure that they get the right nutrients.
Consuming shakes as meal replacements or additional snacks may be a useful approach for athletes.
Someone who is doing moderate or high intensity exercise needs to consume enough calories to meet their energy expenditure. Not doing this could cause side effects or health issues. Using a meal delivery service exclusively may be impractical or expensive for some athletes due to the number of meals they require to meet their target calorie intake.