A well-planned diet could enhance your sporting performance and even reduce the risk of injuries. With over six million views on TikTok for #athletediet, we are eager to seek nutrition advice to support our fitness goals, but sometimes, it can be hard to tell facts from the myths.
With this in mind, Live Rugby tickets collaborates with nutritionists to debunk the top misconceptions about sports diets, revealing the truths that can boost your performance and reduce injury risks.
Myth 1. Eating after dinner will make you gain weight
For those who snack after 6 p.m., there is no need to feel guilty. There is no right or wrong time to eat; it depends on your workout and sleep schedule. If you prefer going to the gym or your local grassroots football in the evenings, eat a light meal one–two hours before you go and have some post-workout snacks afterwards.
Eating nutritious food with protein after a workout can help you replace glycogen stores and recover muscles to reduce the risk of overuse injuries. This is particularly important after muscle-building activities.
Myth 2. Carbs will make you fat
Many people believe carbs cause weight gain, but that may be the biggest misconception about dieting. Carbs are essential for a sports diet as they reduce your risk of injuries and play a crucial role in recovery.
Research has shown that carbohydrates fuel your body and help with muscle growth by delivering energy, controlling blood glucose, and improving metabolic functions. This is even more vital during sports injuries when we are more vulnerable to losing muscles and needing glucose and energy.
The recommended carbs during an injury are potatoes and whole grains such as bread and rice. But this does not mean that you should have a high-carb diet. Caroline Hind, a registered clinical nutritionist at Nutrable, suggests: “Increase carbs around your sessions, but emphasise protein-rich foods with plenty of colourful vegs most of the time”.
Myth 3. A vegan diet fails to support you
An increasing number of athletes are adopting a vegan diet, from tennis legends such as the Williams sisters to British racing driver Lewis Hamilton.
A plant-based sports diet usually contains less fat, fibre, and carbs, which helps improve blood viscosity and increase aerobic capacity. This allows more oxygen to reach your muscles and improves endurance, enhancing athletic performance.
During an injury, a vegan diet provides plenty of proteins, without the inflammation effects of meat, which support muscle tissue rebuilding and recovery. There are plenty of ways to get protein from a plant-based diet. Tofu, soya, wheat and peas are good protein sources for a vegan athlete’s diet.
Here is what Caroline Hind, a registered clinical nutritionist at Nutrable, suggests if you are on a vegan diet: “Anyone reducing their intake of animal-sourced foods should consider how to compensate for these bone-building nutrients. Supplemental protein powders, collagen, mineral and vitamin formulas can help, especially if teamed with a low-sugar, whole-food diet.”
Myth 4. Salts are bad for you
Just as athletes need more protein, salts also play a significant role in a sports diet. You need more sodium if you sweat regularly, as it helps maintain body fluid balance and keeps you hydrated.
Losses of sodium after sports could reduce your blood volume and the amount of oxygen it takes, which adds stress to your cardiovascular system, leading to fatigue and a higher risk of injuries.
Drinking sports drinks with sodium prepares your heart and body for physical activities and helps your body rehydrate. Research has shown that by supplementing with sodium, performances for endurance runners were enhanced significantly.
Myth 5. All you need for recovery is a protein
In response to this, Vanessa Peat, performance nutritionist and co-founder of UCU (Uniquely Created U), says: “In fact, the reality comes down to all of the following “R’s”.
- Rehydrate. Drinking a homemade rehydration drink post-exercise will allow you to replace the fluids and electrolytes lost during sweating. A homemade electrolyte drink is easy to make and inexpensive.
- Refuel. Post-exercise is important to restore your glycogen stores, which are your main fuel source, ensuring you are ready for tomorrow’s session. This can be done by eating fruit, pasta or white rice following your session, quickly releasing carbohydrates.
- Rest. It is crucial to ensure you rest following your exercise session; good sleep quality is vital.
- Repair. Yes, it is important to eat protein following exercise to provide your muscles with the necessary building blocks – however, we must not forget the other three R’s.
Caroline Hind, a registered clinical nutritionist at Nutrable, commented on the top nutritionist expert tips on keeping a healthy sports diet: “Beware under-fuelling – if your food intake doesn’t meet your energy needs, your sports performance and overall health will suffer. If you’re concerned with weight and body composition, watch your sugar and processed foods.
“In a well-formulated sports diet, your meals should be satisfying and contain a protein-rich food, a variety of vegetables and a portion of starchy food no larger than a quarter of your plate.”
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