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