How to build your Sports Diet

Posted by Nancy Clark MS RD CSSD – Sports Nutrition Services LLC

“What percent of my calories should come from carbohydrates, protein and fat?” my client asked in his efforts to improve his sports diet and his performance. “Should it be 40% carb, 30% protein and 30% fat? Or 65-15-30?” Clearly, he had been reading the popular literature and felt totally confused by the mixed messages.

According to the American Dietetic Association’s Position Stand on Nutrition and Athletic Performance, active people should target a diet with 50 to 65% of calories from carbs, 10 to 35% from protein and 20 to 35% from fat. But the paper goes on to say that percentages are not the best way to calculate a food plan for athletes. Here’s an example why:

  • If you are a 150 pound high school soccer player who wants to add muscle and require about 4,000 calories a day to support your training and growth, a diet with 10 to 15% of calories from protein would offer 400 to 600 calories of protein (100 to 150 grams protein). This comes to about 0.65 to 1.0 grams protein per pound. Perfect!
  • If you are a light-weight rower who is trying to drop five pounds to make weight and are eating only 1,600 calories a day, 10 to 15% of calories from protein translates into 160 to 240 calories of protein (40 to 60 grams protein). That is way too low. Dieting athletes need about 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight (1.5 g pro/kg). The rower who weighs 140 lbs. would need closer to 100 grams protein per day, not 40 to 60.

Instead of fretting about percentages of calories, try this simple concept:

  • Choose at least three different kinds of foods with each meal (such as cereal + milk+ banana, or salad + cottage cheese + chick peas)
  • Enjoy carbs (fruits, veggies, grains) as the foundation of each meal and protein (meats, dairy, nuts) as the accompaniment.

You’ll end up with the right balance of protein and carbs as well as vitamins and minerals.

Eat wisely and well!


For more information on how to build a sports diet:

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook (

Author of the best-selling Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Nancy counsels both casual exercisers and competitive athletes at her office at Healthworks in Chestnut Hill, MA.  She also offers workshops and online homestudy

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