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Eat to Win Diet


Considerable literature has developed the past several years discussing the relationship of diet to athletic performance. One popular book by Robert Haas entitled "Eat To Win" advocated a diet which was high in complex carbohydrate, low in fat, and rich in antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins C and E and the minerals selenium, zinc, copper and manganese. The antioxidants appear helpful in preventing the destructive effects of oxygen on tissues as a consequence of the increased oxygen utilization from exercise.

Beyond this, it is known that increased demands of exercise requires more calories to maintain body weight and fluid intake to regulate hydration. Work has also indicated that in women who exercise strenuously, the needs for riboflavin (vitamin B-2) and calcium may be significantly increased beyond the RDA.

In the past many athletes felt that a high protein diet was desirable for stimulation of muscle development, but now it is recognized that a moderate protein intake with higher complex "starchy" carbohydrate and lower sugar and fat is preferable.

The most nutritious diet is a well-balanced one that includes selections from all six food exchange lists. A diet must contain adequate calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals and water to facilitate optimal performance by an athlete. Highly specialized diets that emphasize one nutrient, for example protein, are impractical, nutritionally inefficient, and potentially dangerous.

It is important to note that diet alone is not sufficient to ensure athletic excellence. A complete athletic program also includes a great deal of training and psychological discipline, based on a framework of overall good health.

Present evidence indicates that the proper proportions of nutrients for an athlete’s diet are: 15% protein, 25% fat, and 60% carbohydrates. An exception to this rule are athletes who expend 3,500 calories or more per day. Because unrefined carbohydrates are contained in foods which are bulkier and less calorically dense than other foods, eating sufficient quantities to supply 1,925 calories (55% of 3,500) or more day could be difficult. By moderately increasing fat intake, these athletes should be able to consume the extra calories they require. However, continued consumption of a relatively high fat diet after athletic competition ceases could result in increased risk of atherosclerosis.

The caloric requirements expended during athletic training and competition are dependent upon several factors, including: age, sex, body weight, composition and type, and the intensity and duration of the activity. With so many variables to account for it is extremely difficult to generalize about the caloric needs of athletes.

Nevertheless, it is known that very large athletes who train intensively each day have the highest caloric requirements. It is not unusual for professional football players to consume as many as 6,000 calories per day. Smaller athletes who move their bodies over long distances for extended time periods (e.g., cross country skiers and runners) also require large amounts of calories. Assuming that physical conditioning and training programs are comparable, women require approximately 10% fewer calories than men.

One therapeutic sports diet which has received attention from endurance athletes is the Super Compensation Glycogen Loading Diet. Glycogen is a form of energy storage in muscle used during exercise. It can be increased by first depleting it seven days before and endurance event by eating a high protein/fat-low carbohydrate diet, and then three days prior to the event eating a high complex carbohydrate/simple carbohydrate - low fat diet. This can double muscle glycogen levels if properly employed.

Carbohydrates are the body’s most efficient source of energy, while fats are the most concentrated, and protein is the least efficient. The relative proportion of energy supplied to the body for muscular work by carbohydrates depends on a number of factors, including: body composition, diet, physical condition, body type, the intensity and duration of exercise, and environmental conditions. When energy expenditure is moderate (60-70% of maximum effort), energy is supplied by approximately equal amounts of fat and carbohydrate. Because the body requires more oxygen to utilize fat for energy than carbohydrates, fat is the fuel of choice when oxygen supplies are ample. When energy expenditure is significantly higher, almost all of the energy is supplied by carbohydrates, because oxygen supplies are reduced. If carbohydrate levels are low or nonexistent, fat or protein will be broken down to supply energy. This is undesirable, because the catabolism of fat for energy results in the production of ketone bodies which are deleterious to health. In addition, when protein is utilized for energy, it cannot be used for tissue synthesis and repair. To ensure that fat and protein are not utilized for energy, 100 to 150 grams of carbohydrate per day is necessary.

Blood glucose supplies sufficient carbohydrate for energy needs at oxygen consumption rates of up to 70% of maximum. When oxygen consumption exceeds 70% of maximum, glycogen is utilized as the body’s main energy source at the rate of two to three grams per minute.

Many athletes and coaches mistakenly believe that strenuous physical exercise significantly increases protein requirements. There is very little evidence that physical competition increases the need for protein for growth and development of muscle or other tissues. In fact, extensive research has demonstrated that protein intake for athletes need not be higher than one gram per one kilogram of body weight per day. Excessive consumption of protein increases the liver’s and kidneys’ workload as these organs attempt to metabolize it and excrete the resultant waste products, such as urea. Additionally, as protein consumption is increased, carbohydrate consumption will be reduced. This is wasteful, because carbohydrate is the body’s most efficient energy source.

During exercise, calories of stored energy are being expended. Examples of the rat of expenditure are as follows:

Baseball 4.7 Calories/min. Basketball 8.6 Calories/min.
Gymnastics 5.7 Calories/min. Jogging 8 - 10 Calories/min.
Swimming ll Calories/min. Tennis 7.1 Calories/min.

To determine the number of calories needed for athletic training or competition, an athlete would first consult the RDA tables to find his or her daily calorie requirement for maintenance and light work. He or she would then multiply the number of calories expended per minute of activity in his or her particular sport by the number of minutes of activity and add it to the value derived from the RDA table. For example, a 5’10", 160 lb. man requires 2,200 calories per day for maintenance and light work. If he plans to play singles tennis for 45 minutes, his required daily intake of energy would be 2,520 calories (7.1 x 45 = 320; 320 + 2,200 = 2,520).

During athletic training and competition, sufficient fluid intake is required to regulate temperature and prevent dehydration. When as little as 1 - 2 % of body fluids are lost, the resultant reduction in plasma volume decreases the transport of oxygen and nutrients to the cells and of waste products from the cells. Consequently, body temperature and heart rate increase, while performance decreases. Continued fluid loss will result in heat exhaustion, hallucinations, circulatory collapse, and eventually in death.

To prevent dehydration, 7 to 10 ounces of fluid, preferably water, should be ingested every 15 minutes during training and competition. The athlete should also be sure to consume ample fluids before training or competition. Fluid intake should be started well before the event to prevent cramping. Concentrated sources of sugar such as cola drinks, ginger ale, and orange juice should be diluted with three parts of water.

Intense perspiration may cause depletion of some of the body’s stores of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, but electrolyte replacements are rarely needed. If the athlete is healthy, his or her kidney will naturally compensate by conserving electrolytes derived from food and liquid intake, however, magnesium may be depleted. Sodium supplements are only needed during extended periods of intense sweating in very hot weather. Any extra potassium requirements can be met by increasing consumption of rich natural sources, such as oranges and bananas.

The pre-competition meal should be eaten at least three hours prior to the athletic event to avoid exercise on a full stomach. However, it should not be eaten so early that the athlete will be hungry during competition. It is advisable to consume primarily carbohydrates in the pre-competition meal, because they are digested more quickly than fats. Protein intake should be limited because it may cause extra stress on the kidneys, since blood flow to the kidney is decreased during exercise. High sodium foods should be avoided in the pre-competition meal to prevent excess water retention. Coffee and tea (black) should also be avoided, due to their diuretic effect.



1/2 cup orange juice 1 cup oatmeal
2 tablespoons raisins 1 egg (poached)
2 slices whole wheat bread 2 teaspoons margarine or butter
1 cup skim milk Hot, non-caloric beverage


1/2 cup tomato juice 3 ounces sliced turkey breast
2 slices whole wheat bread 1 banana
1/2 cup steamed spinach 1/2 cup cooked corn
2 teaspoons margarine, butter, or mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato for sandwich


5 ounces broiled halibut 1 cup brown rice
1 cup steamed broccoli 2 slices whole wheat bread
2 teaspoons margarine or butter 2 tablespoons oil and vinegar dressing
1/2 cup orange juice 1 cup non-fat yogurt
Hot, non-caloric beverage 1 cup salad: romaine or Boston lettuce, sliced carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, green pepper, celery

Evening Snack

2 tablespoons peanut butter 1 slice whole wheat bread
1 apple 1 cup skim milk

Sample Menu - Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian


1/2 cup orange juice 1 cup oatmeal
2 tablespoons oatmeal 1 cup skim milk
2 slices whole wheat bread 1 egg (poached)
2 tablespoons margarine or butter Hot, non-caloric beverage


1/2 cup tomato juice 3 ounces grilled tofu
1 ounce Cheddar 1/2 cup steamed spinach
1/3 cup cooked corn 1/2 banana
2 slices whole wheat bread, sliced lettuce and tomato for sandwich 1 teaspoon margarine, butter, or mayonnaise

Mid-Afternoon Snack

• 2 ounces mozzarella and 1 apple


1 cup curried lentils 1 cup brown rice
1 cup steamed broccolI 1 teaspoon margarine or butter • 1 teaspoon margarine, butter, or mayonnaise
1 slice whole wheat bread 2 tablespoons oil and vinegar dressing
1 cup skim milk 1/2 banana
2 slices whole wheat bread, sliced lettuce and tomato for sandwich 1 cup salad: romaine or Boston lettuce, sliced carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, green pepper, celery

Evening Snack

2 tablespoons peanut butter 1 slice whole wheat bread
4 apricot halves 1 cup skim milk
1 cup cottage cheese (2% fat) or cottage cheese (dry)

Nutrient Content

Calories: 3450 Protein: 15%

Carbohydrate: 60% Fat: 25%

Cholesterol: 300 mg Fiber: 17 g


The number of specified servings from all food exchange lists shown below apply to a 2,500 calorie per day diet for an athlete. They are provided for comparative and informational purposes, and would not supply sufficient calories or protein for very large athletes with intensive daily training sessions. Such athletes would probably require extra servings from the Fat Exchange List and Meat and Meat Substitute List.

Bread and Cereal Exchange List:

12 servings per day


Whole wheat bread White bread (enriched)
Cereal Grains
Pasta Potatoes
Sweet potatoes Beans
Green peas Legumes


• Refined, fiber-free breads, cereals, grains and pasta

• French fried potatoes

• Cereals and baked goods with large amounts of sugar

Fat Exchange List:

8 servings per day


Enriched margarine Butter
Polyunsaturated salad oils, such as soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil Unsalted dry-roasted nuts


• Saturated fats (such as lard)
• Saturated oils (such as coconut oil)

Fruit Exchange List:

6 servings per day

Recommended: Fresh, frozen, and canned fruits, both whole and juice

Avoid: Fruits canned in syrup

Meat and Meat Substitute Exchange List:

10 servings per day


Lean meats Lean poultry
Lean fish Lean shellfish
Peanut butter Eggs
Low-fat cheeses


Sausages Luncheon meats
Fatty cheeses such as cream cheese

Milk Exchange List:

3 servings per day


Milk (fresh) Evaporated Milk (dry)
Skim milk Milk (2% fat)
Yogurt Buttermilk
Evaporated skim milk


Whole milk Ice cream
Products made from whole milk or cream

Vegetable Exchange List:

3 to 4 servings per day

Recommended: Fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables, both whole and juice

Avoid: None

Miscellaneous Exchange List


• Homemade soups and broths with minimal fat


• Alcoholic beverages

• Coffee and tea (black) during competition or intense training


Haas, R. "Eat To Win". New American Library, New York, NY, 1985.

Luke, B. 1984. "Principles of Nutrition and Diet Therapy". Little, Brown, And Co., Boston. 816 pp.

Howe, P.S. 1981. "Basic Nutrition in Health and Disease", 7th ed., W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia.

Buskirk, E.R., 1981. Some nutritional considerations in the conditioning of athletes. ANNUAL REVIEWS OF NUTRITION, 1.

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