Fueling an Athlete for Peak Athletic Performance


It is no secret that in the modern world of elite sports, nutrition has become a vital variable that can influence the performance of an athlete and a sound nutritional plan is essential for achieving and maintaining optimal athletic performance.

Evidence supports a range of dietary strategies in enhancing sports performance. It is likely that combining several strategies will be of greater benefit than one strategy in isolation. Dietary strategies to enhance performance include optimizing intakes of macronutrients, micronutrients, and fluids, including their composition and spacing throughout the day. The importance of individualized or personalized dietary advice is becoming increasingly recognized, with dietary strategies varying according to the individual athlete’s sport, personal goals, and practicalities.

Maximizing muscle glycogen stores prior to exercise

Arguably the most important macronutrient in any athletes’ diet, carbohydrates act as the main energy source for any physical activity. Generally speaking, carbs should be 55% to 70% of the energy source for an athlete. This is due to the fact that carbohydrates are the main source of glucose. Glucose is converted by the body into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscle tissues. Stored glycogen is then used as energy to fuel athletes during physical activities.

Carbohydrate loading is a tool used with the aim to maximize an athlete’s muscle glycogen stores prior to endurance exercise lasting longer than 90 minutes. According to articles by the Journal of Sports Medicine, benefits of pre-competition carb-loading include delayed onset of fatigue of up to 20% and improve performance of up to 3%. Recommendations suggest that for sustained or intermittent exercise longer than 90 minutes, athletes should consume 10–12 g of carbohydrate per kg of body mass (BM) per day in the 36–48 hours prior to exercise.

We caught up with Richard Allison, Sports Performance Nutritionist, who gave some insightful pieces of information with regards to fuelling for performance. Here’s what he had to say.

Match day -1

Preparation is the key to match day, and this starts the day before your match. Often referred to as Match Day -1, the primary aim is to maximise both muscle and liver glycogen to ensure adequate carbohydrate availability to effectively prepare and recover for the match.

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for muscles during high-intensity activities; it is therefore a key macronutrient when preparing players for match play.  

It is well documented that exercise performance is greatly influenced by nutrition. The key factor in coping with the heavy demands of exercise faced by elite athletes seems to be carbohydrate intake.  

Carbohydrate recommendations range from 6–10 g/kg of bodyweight depending on gender and physical fitness level of the individual, total training load, energy expenditure, type of physical activity and environment.

Players who begin a match with low glycogen stores will typically cover less distance and complete less high-speed runs, particularly in the second half, which can have huge ramifications on individual and potentially team performance and may contribute to the outcome of the match. This emphasises the importance of prioritising a balanced diet that will improve an athletes physical performance on gameday.

Match Day

Carbohydrates are essential for optimal match day performance as it is the primary fuel for muscle during high intensity activities. It is the key macronutrient for proper preparation for match day.  

Below is an example of what a typical athletes game day nutrition should look like with Kick Off @15:00 according to Richard Allison.


When it comes to match day, the hard work is done…

From the carbohydrate loading to having a balanced healthy diet in the weeks and days building up to gameday.

The endless miles and hard work put in on the training ground.

Getting sufficient sleep to aid recovery as well as staying hydrated to fuel your performances.

Its now time to go show what you can do!


With proper hydration, your body will be able to perform at its best. Water lubricates your body so you can regulate the body’s temperature through sweat and joints so that you can move better. Hydration for athletes is essential to maintain normal blood circulation because this aids the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to every working muscle in the body. As water is involved in the majority of chemical reactions involved in athletic performance it is therefore important that athletes are hydrated before, during and after physical activity to achieve their maximal physical performance.

  1. Hydration enhances your motor neurons. Your muscles move only when they receive commands from your brain. These commands move through neural pathways, which depend on adequate hydration to function at their best. When exercising, you need your motor neurons at their top potential — otherwise your speed and strength can decrease.

  2. Your body needs fluids to transport energy nutrients. Without fluid, your body can’t move essential macronutrients, which would be your fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. You use these macronutrients for energy, and if your muscles don’t get enough of them, your muscles will fatigue. Your body also needs fluids to remove the metabolic waste created when you’re exercising intensely

  3. Hydration helps regulate your body temperature. Your body is put under stress when its core temperature rises above normal. This stress interferes with the energy systems your body uses, which has negative effects on performance and recovery.


Good sleep is essential to an athlete for maintaining high performance, body composition and general good health. Restricted sleep leads to hunger, impaired athletic performance, reduced psychomotor ability and a decline in health.

Sleep is one of the most powerful weapons an athlete can have in his/her armory.

Forget your elaborate rehab machines, ice baths and compression garments. Regular, good quality sleep is the best recovery tool for athletes there is.

Athletes should aim for at least 7-9 hours each night for optimal performance. More in periods of intense sports training and competition

Several previous studies in team sports have demonstrated that competitive success in competition is related to increased sleep duration and quality. In a recent study, 576 elite male and female Brazilian athletes were asked to describe their sleep quality and mood immediately before a national or international competition . While the majority of participants rated their sleep quality as normal or good, poor sleep quality was an independent predictor of lost competition.

Athletes and coaches should recognize the importance of sleep as one of the most essentialstrategies for recovering from fatigue and improving an athlete’s performance. This further emphasizes why athletes should understand the value of sleep in recovery and athletic performance, and constantly aim to improve their sleeping practices.


As an athlete, if you ensure you have an adequate balanced diet, sufficient hydration with a sound balance of electrolytes, adequate sleep and the right warm up in the build up to training, gameday or competitions, chances are, you will achieve what is expected of you on the field and off it.

Take a listen to this 30 minute podcast from the M!ndset Team focusing on the elements of nutrition and athletic performance that are they key to the success of recovering faster and performing better…


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