Professional athletes are living proof of what the human body can attain in terms of elite performance and physique. Thousands of articles and videos have been published detailing what it is these elite specimens do in terms of training, recovery, nutrition, and lifestyle habits. Most often, professional athletes are surrounded by an armada of personal trainers, private chefs, nutritionists, and other support personnel all focused on a singular goal -- making that athlete the best he/she can be.
If you’ve ever wondered what some of the “secret sauce” is that helps pro athletes look and perform the way they do…then stay tuned as we discuss 4 things pro athletes know about nutrition that you should too!
#1 Eat Enough of the Right Foods
Proper nutrition is critical no matter what your goal is -- better performance, muscle growth, fat loss, faster recovery, etc. What you eat (quality) and how much you eat (quantity) are both important factors in getting results.
While social media and click-bait websites often glamorize eating challenges or how “bad” high-level athletes eat, yet they’re still able to perform at an elite level, the reality is that the vast majority of successful athletes fuel their bodies the right way.
What does that mean exactly?
Each athletes needs are slightly different, but generally speaking, pro athlete meal plans are centered around:
- Lean protein
- Complex carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, etc.)
- Healthy fats (omega-3s, nuts, seeds, etc.)
This provides the body with the major and minor building blocks it needs (macronutrients and micronutrients) to perform, recover, and grow optimally. But, consuming the right foods is only part of the equation. You also need to consume enough total calories, which fulfills the energy requirements for the body.
How many calories you need each day depends on a variety of factors, including (but not limited to):
- Activity Level
- Athletic/Physique Goal
- Body Composition
If you need help estimating how many calories you need to eat each day to reach your goal, download the FREE 1UP Fitness App which provides personalized training and nutrition recommendations based on your preferences.
#2 Consume the Right Amount of Protein at the Right Time
Protein is essential to performance and recovery as it supplies the body with the essential amino acids (EAAs) it requires to repair damaged muscles. How much protein you need depends on several factors, but, general recommendations are to consume ~1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
As an example, if you weigh 180 pounds, then you would want to consume around 180 grams of protein each day. Ideally, this would be split evenly across your daily eating window (somewhere between 3-5 meals depending on preference).
The most bioavailable sources of protein, generally speaking, that the body can most efficiently utilize are animal protein, such as:
- Red Meat (beef, venison, elk, etc.)
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, etc.)
Certain plant sources are also viable options for meeting your protein requirements; however, you need to be mindful of which plant-based protein sources you’re eating. Certain ones are “incomplete” which means they lack one (or more) EAAs. The way around this is to eat a variety of plant-based proteins (“food combining”) or seek out plant-based proteins that are “complete” such as pea protein, chickpea protein powder, or 1UP Vegan Protein powder which includes both pea protein and sunflower seed protein -- two plant proteins with high bioavailability.
How Important Are Post Workout Protein Shakes?
Slamming a protein shake immediately post-workout was considered “essential” to recovery and not letting your hard work go to waste. While there’s nothing wrong with having a post-workout shake, how “immediately” you have it after your workout isn’t as critical as it was once thought to be.
Sports nutrition research has skyrocketed over the past 20 years, and the anabolic window is more of an anabolic “barndoor.” Researchers found that when you consume your pre workout meal and what foods are in your pre workout meal impact how soon you need to have that post workout shake.
A review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition stated that “when training is initiated more than ~3–4 hours after the preceding meal, the classical recommendation to consume protein (at least 25 g) as soon as possible seems warranted in order to reverse the catabolic state, which in turn could expedite muscular recovery and growth.”
In layman's terms, this means that if you have a pre workout meal 3-4 hours before training, you’ll want to have that post-workout shake pretty soon after you wrap things up in the gym. But, if you have a rather large meal full of protein, complex carbs, and fats an hour or two before training, then you could wait an hour (possible two) before having a post-workout meal.
Again, there is no detriment to having a post-workout shake if you ate immediately before training, it just does not add that much more to your recovery.
Carbs Are Also Important!
While low-carb diets have gained traction, the truth is that carbs are king for elite level performance. They are the body’s preferred fuel for intense physical activity, such as the kind pro athletes engage in. Carbohydrates also serve other important roles, such as fueling the immune system and supporting tissue repair.
Now, if you’re only doing light resistance training or short bouts of cardio a few times per week, consuming a lot of carbohydrates isn’t necessary, nor do you need to be concerned with “carb loading.”
However, if you are a serious athlete and regularly engage in multiple hours of training/competition each day/week, then your body’s carbohydrate requirement ramps up considerably.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends the following carbohydrate intakes for athletes:
- Moderate duration/low-intensity training (e.g., 2–3 h per day of intense exercise performed 5–6 times per week):5–8 g·kg−1 body mass·day−1
- Moderate to heavy endurance training (e.g., 3–6 h per day of intense training in 1–2 daily workouts for 5–6 days per week): 8–10 g·kg−1 body mass·day−1
- Extreme exercise programs or competition (+6 h per day or high competition frequency during the week): 10–12 + g·kg−1 body mass·day−1
#3 Eat a Diverse Diet with Adequate Fiber
Gut health cannot be overlooked or underestimated. Research into the body’s “second brain” has exploded over the last decade and the gut microbiomes impact still isn’t fully understood, but what researchers have uncovered so far is simply astounding. Your gut impacts numerous facets of daily life and performance, including:
- Nutrient Absorption
- Immune Function
- Hormone Production
- Decision Making
- Athletic Performance
- Skin health
- And more
To nourish and support your gut microbiome, it’s imperative to consume enough fiber which serves as “food” for the good bacteria (probiotics) in your gut. There are many different types of fiber, and no one food provides all types. As such, it’s important to consume a variety of different plant foods, such as:
- Whole grains
For added fiber support (especially on those days when you pressed for time), it’s helpful to have a high quality fiber supplement, like 1UP Fiber Plus, which supplies a combined 8 grams of soluble and insoluble fiber from natural sources along with vitamin C and heat-stable probiotics to support total gut health.
#4 Supplementation is Important
While the importance/utility of dietary supplements is usually downplayed by mainstream outlets (and overhyped on social media), the reality is that professional athletes use supplements. The key is being able to sort through the noise to understand which supplements actually offer benefits (as demonstrated in human research) vs those that have little-to-no evidence.
At the top of the mountain is creatine monohydrate -- the undisputed king of sports nutrition. It’s backed by thousands of studies with an overwhelming body of evidence that it benefits athletes and sedentary individuals of all kinds.
While you can take creatine anytime of day, there’s no better time to take it than post workout, which is why our post-workout supplement, Pure Rebuild, includes a full 5,000mg of creatine monohydrate along with other recovery nutrients, including EAAs, Glutamine, and electrolytes.
Why take creatine post workout?
Following a hard workout, glycogen levels are depleted, muscle fibers are damaged, and insulin sensitivity is high, which means your body is screaming for nutrition. Taking creatine with your post-workout shake/meal containing protein and carbohydrates is an ideal recipe for fueling recovery and growth.
Carbohydrates lower cortisol (a catabolic hormone) and raise insulin (a nutrient shuttling hormone), protein stops protein breakdown and kickstarts protein synthesis, and creatine helps replenish ATP stores and can take advantage of the heightened insulin sensitivity to shuttle more effectively into muscle cells.
Beyond creatine monohydrate, other key supplements that pro athletes use include:
- Whey protein (or other preferred protein powder)
- “Performance” carbohydrates (rapid-digesting carbs to quickly replenish glycogen)
- Nighttime recovery aids to improve sleep quality
- Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Jan 29;10(1):5. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-5. PMID: 23360586; PMCID: PMC3577439.
- Kerksick C.M., Wilborn C.D., Roberts M.D., Smith-Ryan A., Kleiner S.M., Jäger R., Collins R., Cooke M., Davis J.N., Galvan E., et al. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: Research & recommendations. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2018;15 doi: 10.1186/s12970-018-0242-y.