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Common Fueling Mistakes Among Athletes

Updated: Feb 5, 2022

No matter if you’re an amateur, a professional athlete, or a regular gym goer, proper nutrition is necessary to fuel the body, prevent injury, recover properly, and grow. There are similar nutrition mistakes seen when it comes to sports nutrition, affecting the before mentioned items.

With so much information at our fingertips like a quick web search, it can be easy to think you can search it all when it comes to nutrition. However, there is a lot of misinformation out there that can be spread quite easily through word of mouth leading to many common fueling mistakes.

Let's get into six common fueling mistakes among athletes: :

1. Not taking your nutrition seriously as an athlete

Food is the fuel for your body! If you are not putting the right fuel in your body for your sport or activity, it’s not going perform at best. Think of a car; if you’re not putting the correct gas in a car, it’s not going to work correctly and can even cause other serious issues. Different levels of activity will require different levels of fueling and every athlete is different. A cross-country athlete’s fueling plan will look different than a tennis player.

Not only does food fuel your body, it is fueling your brain as well, helping with reaction time, ability to think quickly allowing more efficient and faster movements, to be able to give directions properly, and so much more for your performance! If you’re an athlete who may have a condition, allergy, or intolerance that must be accounted for, it’s important to ensure you’re getting the right fuel recommendations for YOU. A registered dietitian nutritionist is the expert to help taking these factors into account and help you create a plan accordingly!

2. Skipping meals

An athlete’s daily schedule is very busy. Between skills training, endurance workouts, school, social life, maybe a job and family, it is common for athletes to move nutrition to the bottom of the list. These factors can affect the planning and preparation of meals for an athlete.

Skipping meals leads to reduced energy and nutrient intakes that are needed to maintain or grow muscles, bone structure, heal, and so on. That’s why it is so important for athletes to have their meals planned out! This is a habit that an athlete can achieve by creating small, realistic goals. Executing meal planning and preparation doesn’t typically happen overnight, but having a plan is important to reduce the risk of skipping meals and fueling up.

3. Poor hydration

Proper hydration is extremely important for athletes, and it’s common that an athlete doesn’t realize they need a lot more fluids than they are giving themselves. Hydration is fuel for your cells, helps prevent cramping, fatigue and body temperature regulation to name a few.

Hydration needs depend on an athlete’s sweat rate, body size, daily estimated needs, training, urination amongst others. An athlete may sweat out several pounds of fluid during training while another athlete may sweat significantly less. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you figure out your sweat rate and daily estimated needs to recommend how to hydrate yourself accordingly.

Hydration doesn’t just include water as an athlete, it also means fueling yourself with electrolyte drinks. When you sweat, urinate, and have a bowel movement, you get rid of electrolytes that you must replenish through things like sports drinks, electrolyte gels or powders, and numerous other sport-specific products. Since every athlete is different, a registered dietitian nutritionist is the expert to help you design your personalized hydration plan.

4. Prioritizing supplements over nutrition

Athletes are big targets of supplement marketing campaigns; it is their job to make athletes feel like they NEED a supplement to perform or feel better. The truth is, using whole foods to obtain your nutrients will have a much higher bioavailability than a supplement. This means that your body can utilize the nutrients from foods much easier, because they all work together!

Supplements tend to include large amounts of specific nutrients that the body does not absorb because it does not need that much and gets wasted through urine or feces. Supplements should only be used to fill gaps that can’t be met through the diet and it is very important to check with your healthcare provider before starting any. It is also extremely important for NCAA athletes to be cautious of taking supplements as the organization has banned substances that can be found in various supplements. These products are not subject to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulation like foods are, so caution must be used as their claims are not always true. Using a food first approach is always the best way to start, and then check with your healthcare provider to discuss any supplement use.

5. Underfueling, especially around training time

Athletes need more food than the average individual. With moving more, the cells in your body are utilizing energy and thus, need to replenish this or fuel up. If you are underfueling, you are going to run out of fuel mid-way through your workout resulting in fatigue, soreness, and poor performance. This may be not being able to last the few minutes left in a game, or not being able to make the sprint to get to the end. A registered dietitian nutritionist can review your current diet and decide if you are underfueling and how to take steps towards proper nutrition for your sport.

Not only is it important to fuel properly, but timing of food intake is especially important for athletes. An athlete who wakes up and runs right out the door for school, practice or an early gym session without breakfast may not be fueling properly. Athletes tend to have practice right after school and might skip a snack beforehand. By doing this, you are preventing yourself from giving it your all. Again, food is fuel and without gas in the tank, it’s going to be very hard to perform your best.

Carbohydrates are extremely important before AND after a workout; they’re your main source of instant fuel. If you are an athlete who avoids carbohydrates, this is impairing your ability to perform your best. Protein timing after training is also important for improve muscle recovery and growth.

6. Eating hard-to-digest foods before training

There are foods that you should eat before training, and there are foods that should be avoided if you don’t want to experience symptoms like bloating, stomach pain, bowel movements, nausea or brain fog. It is common to see teams stop at a restaurant before a competition for athletes to fuel, which is great! However, foods that are high in fat, fiber, or protein can take a long time to digest and may not befully digested beforehand, affecting performance.

Of course, these nutrients are important to have in an athlete's overall diet, but prior to training/competition, it is important to focus on consuming simple carbohydrates since they digest must faster. For ideas, check out my Freebie What’s in Your Bag for some quick-digesting carbohydrates! This may take some trial and error to decide what works best for each athlete. Work with a registered dietitian nutritionist so they can help guide you in that process.

The take aways:

Working a registered dietitian nutritionist can help an athlete make simple changes to prevent these common fueling mistakes.

Do a self-check: see if there are any of these common fueling mistakes you may be making, and if so- it's okay! Make small goals for yourself to improve your daily habits and meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist.

Emily Richters Fasciana LLC offers sports nutrition packages that dive into determining ways to improve an athlete’s fueling habits and continued focus on ensuring the athlete is obtaining the nutrients they need not just for performance, but proper growth, development and wellness for life!

Schedule a FREE 15-minute Warm-Up Call to talk more about your needs.

Information provided on this website does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to assist in the diagnosis, treatment or alleviation of any medical condition. Persons seeking to address a medical condition should consult with a qualified medical professional. Emily Richters Fasciana LLC will not be liable for any damages, losses, injury or liability suffered as a result of reliance on the information provided on this website.

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