Locations:
Search IconSearch

How Small, Frequent Meals Can Help Athletes Keep Energy High

Kick up your metabolism by strategic eating

How Small, Frequent Meals Can Help Athletes Keep Energy High

Contributor: Katherine Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

As an athlete, it is important to keep energy levels high. You can achieve this with the aid of smaller, more frequent meals in your day-to-day meal patterns.

Mini-meals can aid in satisfying the appetite, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and providing nutrients to the body throughout the day. Smaller, more frequent meals in your daily eating patterns also can aid in a more efficient metabolism compared to a slower metabolism when meals are skipped. An efficient metabolism allows your body to use carbohydrates, protein and fat to fuel your body.

Whether you’re on the go, or at home with your family, avoid skipping meals. Skipping meals will lead to a decreased energy levels, a drop in blood sugar and a slower metabolism.

If you’re a serious athlete, skipping meals also could rob your body of nutrients that you need to aid in muscle growth and repair. Competing without properly fueling your body could cause you to feel lightheaded and sluggish. Overall, inadequate nutrition will lead to impaired performance and increased risk of injury and illness.

Plan to fuel your day

Make it a habit to eat breakfast daily within one to two hours after you wake up, then eat again every three to four hours, for a total of five to six meals per day. These meals should be comprised of mini-meals to moderate-sized meals, snacks, and pre- and post-workout meals or snacks throughout the day. For some athletes, it’s easier to drink meal replacement shakes, protein shakes or smoothies to avoid feeling full from solid foods.

Overall, aim for meals and snacks that are high in carbohydrates and moderate in protein and fat. Before exercise, choose a carbohydrate-rich meal, but not too much protein since it takes longer to digest. After exercise, be sure to include a balance of carbohydrates and protein to refuel and recover.

A common barrier to eating small frequent meals is time. To save time and still eat frequently, try these tips:

  • Do meal prep on weekends: Wash and chop fresh fruit and vegetables and portion into portable bags; hard boil eggs; make your own trail mix and pre-portion; make PBJs; put together mason jar salads; cook some overnight oats; make homemade energy bars/balls.
  • Buy ready-to-drink shakes, portable fresh fruit such as apples, pears, bananas, peaches or plums, or fruit pouches; string cheese; Greek yogurt.
  • Stock up on non-perishable snacks: jerky, energy bars, protein bars, cereal, nuts, dry-roasted edamame, whole-grain crackers, natural peanut/almond butter packs; tuna in a pouch.

Advertisement

Choosing a wide variety of food also will provide different sources of vitamins and minerals. Altogether, adequate intake of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals will help keep you healthy and optimize your athletic performance.

If you are struggling with how to plan balanced meals and snacks to fuel your body effectively, consider scheduling an appointment with a registered dietitian who is certified in sports dietetics.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Cooked slices of seasoned zucchini
July 22, 2024/Nutrition
Is Zucchini Good for You?

Packed with fiber and other nutrients, zucchini can boost your immune system and help you cut calories

Male standing on beach with hands behind his head, staring into distance and exhaling
July 22, 2024/Mental Health
Mental Health in Athletes: Breaking the Stigma

A more open conversation on athletes and their mental health needs is overdue

Person in an apron, kitchen carrying a loaf of sour dough bread on tray
July 12, 2024/Nutrition
Is Sourdough Bread Healthy for You?

Sourdough can be healthier than some other bread choices — but that doesn’t give it ‘health food’ status

Bowl of horseradish
July 8, 2024/Nutrition
4 Health Benefits of Horseradish

This spicy root helps fight cancer, bacteria and inflammation

An array of meatless foods in different vessels on table
July 5, 2024/Nutrition
Going Vegan 101: A Beginner’s Guide

The meatless, plant-based eating style has countless tasty and healthy options

Hands cupping bowl of greens, chickpeas, whole figs, halved and tofu
July 3, 2024/Nutrition
4 Health Benefits of Figs

Packed with fiber and nutrients, this flower — yep, flower! — is great for your blood sugar, heart and gut

Assorted whole-grain foods, fruits, vegetables and nuts
June 21, 2024/Nutrition
Eating for Energy: Foods That Fight Fatigue

What’s on your plate can either help power you through your day or put you in nap mode

Person standing in front of oversized nutrition label, reading it
June 19, 2024/Nutrition
What Can You Learn From a Nutrition Label?

Information on serving size, calories and nutrients can help you make healthy choices

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad