Amy Stephens


Licensed dietitian

specializing in sports nutrition

and eating disorders

nutrition guidelines for college athletes

As a college athlete, proper nutrition is crucial for fueling your performance, supporting recovery, and maintaining overall health and well-being. It’s important to remember that your bodies are still developing and getting stronger. Nutrition has to be adequate to fuel you as a human, exercise, recovery and commuting to class. It’s important to pay careful attention to ensure you are fueling your body to stay healthy and prevent injuries. Additionally, as training volume and intensity increase over a training period, dietary needs evolve. Athletes must adapt their food intake to align with workout intensity and duration throughout the semester to avoid underfueling.

Here are some tips on how to nourish your body as a college athlete:

  • Eat on a Schedule: Establishing a regular eating schedule is essential for college athletes to maintain energy levels, support performance, and facilitate recovery. Eat meals every three-to-four hours and snacks as needed to ensure that your body has a steady supply of fuel to support athletic performance
  • Prioritize Balanced Meals: Aim to eat balanced meals that include a mix of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables. This provides your body with the necessary nutrients for energy, muscle repair, and overall health.


  • Fuel Before Workouts: Consume a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack 1-3 hours before workouts or practices to provide your body with the energy it needs to perform. Choose foods that are low in fat and fiber. Some easily digestible options include: oatmeal, whole grain toast with nut butter, or a banana.
  • Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration is essential for athletic performance and overall health. Drink water throughout the day and especially before, during, and after workouts. Carry a reusable water bottle with you to ensure you’re staying hydrated throughout the day.
  • Plan Ahead: With a busy schedule of classes, practices, and games, it’s important to plan your meals and snacks in advance. Pack healthy snacks like nuts, fruit, yogurt, or granola bars to have on hand between classes and workouts.
  • Optimize Post-Workout Nutrition: Consume a combination of carbohydrates and protein within 30-60 minutes after workouts to support muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment. Foods after a workout are especially important to prevent injuries. Options include chocolate milk, a smoothie, or a sandwich on whole grain bread.
  • Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods: Focus on nutrient-dense foods that provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support overall health and performance. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats in your diet.
  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues, as well as any signs of fatigue or sluggishness. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re satisfied, and adjust your nutrition plan based on your individual needs and training demands.
  • Practice Portion Control: While it’s important to fuel your body adequately, be mindful of portion sizes to avoid overeating. 
  • Seek Support: Take advantage of resources available to you, such as nutrition counseling services offered by your college or university. A registered dietitian can provide personalized guidance tailored to your specific dietary needs and athletic goals.
  • Balance Social and Dietary Needs: While it’s important to prioritize healthy eating habits, it’s also okay to enjoy occasional treats and meals out with friends. 

By following these tips and prioritizing proper nutrition, you can fuel your performance as a college athlete and support your overall health and well-being.

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