The Best Foods For Athletes

As a Sports Dietitian, I find myself constantly saying the same things over and over. “Remember to hydrate.” “Don’t forget to fuel.” Sports nutrition is not a topic that is taught in school, so it’s no wonder that knowledge about these topics is lacking. But if there’s one thing I could say to all athletes, it would be to remember this list of foods that help with hydration, ease sore muscles and provide quick-acting fuel before a workout.

Hydrating foods

Although most people know that hydration is important, it’s usually the part of the diet that most athletes ignore. Many don’t realize that 80% of water should come from drinks and the other 20% should come from water-rich fruits and veggies. Incorporate these 5 water-rich fruits and veggies into your diet to up your hydration game.

This spicy root vegetable contains 95% water. Throw them atop a salad for an extra boost of water and Vitamin C.

food stylist: Jamie Kimm
Prop stylist: Marina Malchin

Watermelon Cucumber Salad_7.tif

This gorgeous pink fruit is 91% water, and it’s packed with potassium, which helps maintain the body’s fluid balance, and the antioxidant lycopene.

Directly above cropped image of hands washing bell peppers in colander. There are various vegetables on sink. Woman is holding fresh vegetables in container under faucet. She is in domestic kitchen.


Directly above cropped image of hands washing bell peppers in colander. There are various vegetables on sink. Woman is holding fresh vegetables in container under faucet. She is in domestic kitchen.

Photo by: Neustockimages/iStock ©Neustockimages

Neustockimages/iStock, Neustockimages

Everyone’s favorite multi-colored ingredient is 93% water. Add peppers to stir-fries or eat raw with hummus for a hydrating snack that is also rich in immune boosting Vitamin C.

Not only is spinach 91% water, but it’s rich in plant-based iron. More iron means more oxygen being delivered to working muscles.

This veggie gets a bad rap as a dieter’s food, but it’s actually chock full of potassium and Vitamin A. And it’s obviously hydrating, with 96% water.

Foods for muscle soreness

Although the saying “no pain, no gain” may be true, athletes experience sore muscles more frequently than they might like. Incorporating these two foods into workout routines may help alleviate those muscle aches.

Tart cherry juice

One study suggests that drinking Montmorency tart cherry juice may actually reduce muscle pain after an intense workout. Another study found that drinking tart cherry juice may actually reduce exercise-induced muscle damage, leading to less soreness overall. Whatever the mechanism, the research is clear that drinking tart cherry juice can help alleviate muscle soreness.

Watermelon juice

Not only does watermelon help hydrate, but its juice may soothe sore muscles. Researchers suggest that the abundance of the amino acid l-citrulline in watermelon juice may reduce muscle soreness after a workout.

Quick-acting fuel

There’s a reason sports nutritionists refer to pre-workout food as “fuel.” Just like a car won’t move without fuel, athletes won’t “go” without food. Quick-acting fuel are foods that an athlete can eat 30 minutes to 1 hour before a workout to provide a quick burst of energy. These foods are rich in carbohydrates, which the body breaks down into glucose to power the muscles. Sports drinks and sport gels provide this type of fuel, but these four foods work just as well.

Fresh dates in a white bowl


Fresh dates in a white bowl

Photo by: leicafan



Rich in natural sugar and fiber, dates slowly release glucose into your blood system to power you through a workout. Plus, they are a good source of potassium to prevent muscle cramps.

Photo by: Heather Ramsdell

Heather Ramsdell

One of my clients calls bananas a “potassium stick”, and she’s right. This naturally sweet fruit pumps your veins full of energy and provides potassium that helps keep you hydrated.


Photo by: Banar Fil Ardhi/EyeEm/Getty Images

Banar Fil Ardhi/EyeEm/Getty Images

This sugary bite-sized fruit provides quick acting energy, and it’s rich in heart-healthy polyphenols. For long bouts of exercise, pack some raisins in a baggie and snack on them while you go.

This Mediterranean fruit not only provides quick-acting fuel, but it’s rich in iron and calcium—both of which are essential to keep athletes strong for life.

Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., is a media dietitian, food and nutrition writer, spokesperson and blogger at Nutrition a la Natalie.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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