How To Improve Athletic Performance Through Diet


The key to a successful workout is staying well hydrated before, during and after. Long workouts, excessive heat and humidity and fluid loss through sweat can significantly affect your ability to exercise and compete.

Hydration Tips

  • Drink one to two glasses of water when you get up in the morning
  • Keep a bottle of water with you throughout the day
  • Drink one to two cups of fluid 30 minutes before exercise
  • Drink 1/2-1 cup of fluid for each 15 minutes of exercise
  • Replenish lost fluids after workouts (2 1/2 cups for every pound lost)
  • Water is fine for lower intensity exercise lasting 45 minutes or less. Sports drinks are a better option for higher intensity exercise lasting 60 minutes or more (but keep the sugars to a minimum).


  • The goal for active individuals is to eat 55-65% of total calories as carbohydrates.
  • Complex carbohydrates include starchy or fibrous foods that rank low on the Glycemic Index (GI).
  • Foods with a high Glycemic Index rating, like sugars, are very quickly converted into energy and will not leave you feeling satisfied for long.
  • Raw foods, such as fruits and vegetables or foods high in fiber, such as wheat breads and bran cereals, rank lower on the Glycemic Index. These take more time for the body to digest, providing you with sustained energy.
  • Low-GI foods should constitute about 45 percent of your total caloric intake and are the ones you want to consume a few hours before your classes or rehearsals, as well as throughout the day.
  • Finally, combining high-GI carbohydrates with protein, fat or low-GI foods lowers a meal’s total GI and leaves you feeling satisfied for longer.

Q: Will Carbs Make Me Fat?
Any food eaten in the appropriate serving size will not make you gain weight, but calories in excess of your bodies metabolic needs will, whether they come from fat, carbohydrates or protein. Often it’s fat-laden goodies piled on top of carbs that are the weight culprit, such as sour cream on potatoes, butter on bread and cream sauces over pasta.

Identifying realistic portion sizes for carbohydrates can be challenging. A single serving of pasta (2 oz. dry) is 220 calories. Most restaurants serve you two or three times that, plus all the bread you can consume. Learn what constitutes a serving and pay close attention to food labels.


  • Choose lean protein to repair tissues and build muscle.
  • A good goal is 3 servings of dairy products daily (1 cup of yogurt or milk, 1 oz of cheese, 1 cup frozen yogurt), AND at least one good meat or high quality vegetarian protein source (3 oz. Turkey, a chicken breast, hamburger, bean burrito, hummus on pita). The goal for active individuals is to eat lO-l5% of total calories as protein.
  • An easy calculation for athletes is .5-. 8 grams/pound of body weight - a value 1.65 times higher than the RDA for sedentary people, but not nearly as much as high-protein diets suggest.
  • An athlete who weighs 132 pounds (60 kg) would need about 80 grams of protein daily.
  • Over the course of a day, a well balanced diet sufficient in protein might include 4 ounces of roasted chicken breast, 3 ounces of salmon and a cup of yogurt along with plenty of complex carbohydrates.

Why high protein diets don’t work for athletes:

High-protein diets like Atkins are also generally high in fat, inadequate in calories and severely restrict the intake of carbohydrates. Dancers who consume too little protein are at greater risk for missing periods, suffering from stress fractures, lacking sufficient nutrients and destroying lean muscle mass. When we consume too much protein our body protects itself by converting toxic ammonia into urea, which is then excreted by the kidneys. People with inflamed kidneys can suffer from low back pain or even worse. If your leotard or sweatshirt smells like ammonia after a workout, it’s a pretty good indication that you need to reduce the amount of protein in your diet.


  • Moderation is the key here. Fat is a good energy source, carries fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) to tissues and adds flavor and texture to foods.
  • Generally, if you are eating a balanced diet with a variety of different foods, your fat intake will be just about right.
  • Don’t stress about counting fat grams, choose healthy low-fat choices most of the time.
  • The goal for active individuals is to eat 20-30% of total calories as fat.
    Example: Total calorie intake is 2400 calories per day means an average fat intake of 53-80 grams of fat per day.




By consuming 300 calories of calcium-rich foods each day, such as yogurt, skim milk, broccoli or pudding, you supply your teeth and bones with the 1,200 mg of calcium needed to help prevent stress fractures today and osteoporosis in the future. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium and of the many other important vitamins and minerals crucial for bone health, such as phosphorous and vitamin D. If you are lactose intolerant or vegan, you may want to include lactose-reduced dairy products, nondairy foods such as calcium-rich tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, broccoli and other leafy greens, or even a supplement containing calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate—two forms of calcium that are easily used by the body.


When the body’s red blood cells or hemoglobin (iron-carrying protein in the blood) dip too low, a condition called anemia sets in. Anemia has several underlying causes, but iron deficiency is the most common. Females are particularly susceptible because they lose blood each month during their periods and because their bodies are not as efficient in storing iron as men’s bodies are. The best sources of iron are meats, such as beef, pork and lamb, because the body absorbs and uses iron from meat more easily than it does the iron in other foods. Vitamin C is a key iron-helper, so eat citrus fruit or have a glass of orange juice along with your fortified grains. This is especially important if the iron source is cereal because milk is one of the foods that blocks iron absorption. While the best source of iron is food, a daily multivitamin will help reinforce your iron stores. But be careful about popping iron pills. A healthy person’s iron requirements are relatively low; too much iron can trigger stomach upset and constipation.

Pre-Exercise Eating

Two hours before a practice or game, eat a small meal (200-300 calories) consisting of a serving each of grain, fruit/vegetable and protein—for example: a turkey, lettuce and tomato sandwich on a bagel, no butter. Bring along some water or an energy drink to sip during breaks. And have a healthy snack (75 percent carbs, 25 percent protein) handy for right after your class to replenish depleted glycogen stores in your muscles.