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Eat yourself fitter

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0407272
  1. Clyde Williams, professor of sports science1
  1. 1Loughborough University

Apart from appropriate training, a high carbohydrate diet and an adequate fluid intake are essential for successful sport and exercise. Strategic supplementation of some nutrients may also be of benefit. Clyde Williams discusses

Athletes of the new millennium have access to a far greater range of foods than those who competed in the early Olympic Games and yet they share many of the same misunderstandings about the influence of food on performance. One of the shared myths is that there are “ergogenic supplements” that, when found, will allow athletes to train hard, recover quickly, and compete more successfully than their rivals. The reality is that if they exist, then they are probably pharmacological rather than nutritional supplements. Furthermore, in searching for such “quick fix foods” the contributions of commonly available foods to health and exercise performance are easily overlooked. The first and foremost nutritional need of athletes is for a well balanced diet, made up of a wide range of foods in sufficient quantity to cover their energy expenditure. Thereafter, they can adopt nutritional strategies to ensure that they can train, compete, and recover more successfully than they would if left to follow their own appetites and perceptions about what and when to eat.


A well balanced diet is one that derives at least 50% of its energy from carbohydrate containing foods, less than 35% from fats, and 12% to 15% from protein. However, within the population at large only endurance athletes and vegetarians have diets that match these recommendations (figs 1 and 2). One of the myths that many modern athletes share with the Olympians of Antiquity is that increased meat (protein) intake helps develop strength. It is mainly the strength and power athletes who cling to this idea about the link between protein intake and increased strength. The …

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