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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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February 18, 2008

Dear Mark: Advice for Athletes

By Mark Sisson

This question came from speedingwaif in the comment boards last week. We thought it was something everyone might enjoy.

Dear Mark,

I’d be very interested in reading about the different nutritional needs of average folk versus athletes. For instance do we need more protein or just more calories overall? Are there foods or nutrients that are especially beneficial to the athlete? What is a good pre-training or pre-competition meal? Should the diet of a female athlete differ greatly from the diet of a male athlete?

Thanks for the question. I really enjoy the post discussions that get going and appreciate the questions. As you may have noticed, Dear Mark has become a weekly post now, so feel free to drop me a line in the comment boards. I’ll try to answer as many questions as possible in future Dear Mark posts.

My advice, indeed, is different for intensive-training athletes than it is for regular folks. Let me first say that my athlete-directed advice will seem like a compromise compared to the rest of what I talk about on the blog, and that’s because, well, it is. As I mentioned in the Chronic Cardio post a couple weeks ago, I certainly understand the drive toward athletic competition and the intensive training that goes into it. That said, I also see it as a compromise – a compromise in which passion wins out over nature, so to speak. Our cavemen/women friends didn’t evolve with this kind of taxing routine; consequently, it takes some rather “unnatural” conditions to support this training model.

Because intensive athletic training typically exhausts the body’s glycogen stores, it needs a supplementary (albeit inferior fuel), which likely requires carbohydrate calories. (Yes, take a moment, if you need to.) The image of a runner loading up on carbs before a race isn’t for nothing. Unfortunately, getting these from veggies just won’t do the job this time. Ideally, you should look to natural starchy carbs first (yams, squash, etc.) and then to whole grains like wild rice or quinoa. The whole grains are, admittedly, a lesser second choice, but they’re better than just downing simple sugars. Try to keep the extra carb calories limited to pre-training and pre-competition times as much as possible. The primal diet still can (and should) be the center of your nutrition.

A rigorous athletic training regimen also requires more protein. You’ll inevitably incur inflammation as well as muscle damage. Make sure you get plenty of omega-3s and antioxidants. Because intensive training will deplete vitamins and minerals faster than a regular fitness routine, a high potency formula is imperative.

You ask about differences in diet for women versus men athletes. Other than the differences between men’s and women’s basic nutritional needs (additional iron for premenopausal women, for example), I don’t believe male and female athletes require different nutrition. I think an athlete’s dietary needs vary more based on the energy requirements of their particular training and competition regimen.

dominikgolenia Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Aging and Muscle Building

Healthy Tastes Great! Recipes

Smart Fuel

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2 Comments on "Dear Mark: Advice for Athletes"


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9 years 5 months ago

Nice article Mark. I have a problem staying on a hunter gather diet when cyclocross season shows up. I can really feel the fatigue set in training and racing. I think this season I will up the good carbs and include a good sports recovery drink. Let me know what you think. Great site by the way.

Joe Matasic
Joe Matasic
9 years 5 months ago
Mark, What about afterward or during? I’ve read some stuff from people that even recommend low-carb/paleo the rest of the time but not during, after and sometimes before a intense cardio or weight lifting session. I’ve commented on Dr. Eades’ blog about this and he seems to think its correct also. You only have so much reserve glycogen, enough for about an hour(?) of a workout. After that the body can’t convert fat fast enough so it starts uses muscle (I believe). So basically you want to get sugar into the body to be used as energy instead. Supposedly this… Read more »