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Healthy food for sports

What you eat can help your sports performance whether that’s competitive sport or keeping fit. Here’s our advice on how food can fuel your sport.

There’s lots of advertising and information out there about what to eat and drink to improve sport performance. The truth is that eating healthy food and keeping hydrated is the best way to help your sporting performance. Here’s more about what we mean by healthy food.


To perform well in sports, your body needs plenty of energy and the resources to recover well after strenuous activity. Carbohydrates are essential to give your body energy.

Before exercise: Eat a meal or snack that is high in carbohydrates 2-3 hours before exercising to boost your energy levels. Some ideas:

  • Toast with banana, nut butter, or baked beans
  • Chicken with rice and salad
  • Jacket potato with beans, tuna or chicken, and salsa
  • Yoghurt drink with a scone and low-fat spread
  • Low-fat creamed rice with dried fruit
  • Low-fat yoghurt and fruit
  • Bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter

Try to choose wholegrain or high fibre varieties of bread and cereals

After exercise: To restore your energy and maintain muscle mass, eat a snack that is high in carbohydrates and has a small amount of protein. For example:

  • Ham, tuna, or turkey sandwich with a drink of water
  • Low-fat milk with a banana
  • Yoghurt drink
  • Bagel with cream cheese, crumpet or pancake with jam
  • Pot of low-fat yoghurt and a banana
  • Fruit and low-fat milk

Building muscle

Protein is essential for building and repairing your muscles. So eat protein-rich foods like lean red meat, soya and tofu, chicken, turkey, nuts, fish, pulses, eggs, yoghurt, low-fat milk, and cheese.

It's a myth that you need protein powders or shakes to build muscle. Taking in more than you need won’t make your muscles grow. It is better, and cheaper, to eat healthy food.

Carbohydrates are important for muscle growth too. If you don’t have enough energy to fuel your training sessions, then you will have little success building or maintaining muscle.

Why hydration is important for sport

Staying hydrated is important for lots of reasons: for keeping cool, regulating your blood pressure, lubricating your joints, preventing muscle cramps, and keeping your brain working in top condition. Even small levels of dehydration can reduce your physical and mental performance.

An easy way to know if you’re properly hydrated is to look at the colour of your urine. It should be a pale yellow. If it's darker, you need to drink more water.

Sports supplements

All sorts of supplements claim that they improve performance, build muscle, or recover from intense exercise. But none of them have been tested on teenagers, so there is no evidence to show they are safe for your growing body. That’s why they are not recommended for anyone under 18 years of age. Our expert has more to say about teens and sport supplements.

Energy drinks

Another product promoted as giving energy (or wings) is an energy drink. Our research has found that one energy drink (500ml) can contain up to 14 teaspoons of sugar and about 3 cups of espresso. This is why under 18s are not recommended to drink energy drinks at all.

Use our energy drinks checker to find out more about what's in energy drinks

Sports drinks

Water is the best way to hydrate. Sports drinks should be saved for when you are taking part in intense sports lasting more than 60 minutes. So they are not an everyday drink. If you do drink them, it’s best to choose one that is caffeine free.

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