Article by Ruth McKean, Sports Nutritionist

Contrary to what most people think, an athlete's diet does not need to look remarkably different from that of a non-athlete. However, most athletes need to eat more calories to cover their increased energy needs and some athletes participate in sports which may benefit by eating more sugary carbohydrates during and after exercise to help performance and recovery, but their overall diet still follows the general principles that we should all be aiming for - a varied balance diet.

Variety of foods can be achieved by varying your sandwich ideas at lunch, increasing the variety of fruit and vegetables in your diet. For example, chose fruits which are in season, vary your carbohydrate base at meals (noodles, rice, pasta, potatoes or bread) and try and include a variety of pulses, fish and meat.

If you trying to reduce body fat you could follow the ideas below but eat a little less at each meal and eat the items marked * less often. You need to judge for yourself what is a reasonable portion size for you or ask a nutritionist or dietician to assess your energy needs.

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Breakfast Ideas
  • Breakfast cereals with low fat milk. Non- sugar coated cereals are generally a healthier choice but sugar coated cereals can be useful for athletes as a recovery snack or who have high-energy needs. A simple way to increase the carbohydrate content of your cereal is to add fresh or dried fruit for example, raisons, banana, mangoes, kiwi etc.
  • Reduced fat yoghurt
  • Yoghurt with fruit
  • Fresh fruit or canned fruit (fruit in natural juice is best but for those that have increased energy needs fruit in syrup can increase the carbohydrate content)
  • Toast, muffins* or crumpets* with jam or honey or banana
  • Fruit juice (one portion is classed as 150-200ml and counts as only one portion of fruit however much you drink in a day)
  • Skim milk hot chocolate
  • Tea or coffee

Hot Breakfast

  • Porridge or oatmeal
  • Pancakes*
  • Baked beans on toast
  • Spaghetti on toast
  • Boiled or poached egg & toast

Mobile Breakfast
Don't skip breakfast, however tempted you are.

  • Fruit
  • Carton of drinking yoghurt
  • Fruit muffin (low fat, less than 3g per 100g)*
  • Ready made low fat milk shakes or make your own fruit smoothies
  • Nutri-grain bar with a banana and small carton (250ml) of orange juice
  • Jam and bread (no butter or marg) and small carton of orange juice

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Lunch Ideas


  • Have a thin spread of low fat butter /margarine or use part of your filling as the spread for example, pickle rather than butter or margarine
  • Filling ideas: low fat cheese, lean meat, chicken salad, honey or banana (click here for more ideas)
  • Spice up the fillings of sandwiches with
      • a thin spread of salsa
      • mustard
      • low fat mayo or
      • chutney.
  • Use a variety of breads such as plain bread, bagels, focaccia, rolls, or pitta bread
  • Toasted sandwiches with baked beans, low fat cheese, and lean ham
Other ideas:
  • Home-made pizza (buy base and add own toppings, use smaller amount of reduced fat cheese)
  • Soup and bread (click here for more info)
  • Main meal salad and bread (click here for more info)
  • Jacket potato with cottage cheese, tuna, baked beans, sweetcorn or chilli con carne
  • Toast with tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce
  • Pasta or rice salad with a tomato sauce
  • Fresh fruit
  • Fruit salad and frozen yoghurt
  • Reduced fat yoghurts
  • Skim milk hot chocolate
  • Fruit smoothie

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Dinner Ideas
  • Baked potato with filling (click here for more info)
  • Grilled meat (steak, chicken breast, kebabs, with salad & veg, and a serving of bread, rice or pasta
  • Grilled fish with vegetables and rice, potato or pasta.
  • Pasta with ratatouille
  • Pasta with salmon and ricotta
  • Spaghetti bolognaise made with lean beef
  • Chicken or quorn and vegetable stirfry with noodles or rice
  • Sweet and sour chicken
  • Lean steak with peppered sauce with boiled/mashed/baked potatoes with vegetables
  • Home made pizza with tomatoes, small amount of cheese, choice of vegetable toppings and if you wish fish or lean meat
  • Stir fry with lean meat and vegetables
  • Ratatouille with pasta and either tuna, lean ham or lean and skinless chicken or turkey
  • Pasta with a sauce of chopped onions, canned tomatoes, kidney beans, garlic and herbs
  • Home made lasagne (click here for more info) with low fat cheese, assorted vegetables and lean mince
  • Chilli con carne or bolognaise sauce with lean mince serve with rice, pasta or a baked potato
  • Tofu with soya sauce and noddles
  • Potato wedges - cut potatoes into wedges and put in covered dish in microwave to soften. Then put on oven tray and drizzle olive oil or low cal spray and cook as oven chips. You can add herbs, curry powder to the wedges before you cook to add favour.

Tip: Serve main meals with salad or cooked vegetables

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Dessert Ideas

Have only a small portion size or chose fruit and low fat yoghurt if trying to lose weight

  • Low fat rice pudding
  • Canned fruit in natural juice (not syrup - read label carefully)
  • Stewed fruit
  • Frozen yoghurt - low fat types
  • Low fat custard
  • Skimmed milk hot chocolate or highlights/ options hot chocolate
  • Low fat mousses
  • Sorbet
  • Fresh fruit
  • Jam Sponge cake* (small amount)

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Other Useful Information:

A great source of carbohydrate but many people eat far too much of the fatty sauces instead of the pasta or over load on extra cheese (especially in lasagne). Others forget to include vegetables.

Lasagnes are often not ideal for many athletes due to fat content in the meat, creamy sauces and cheese. There is also little carbohydrate in the few sheets of pasta between. To overcome this, exchange the traditional white sauce (made with butter, cream or cheese) for a low fat option such as ricotta and tomato pasta sauces. Always use cheese sparingly, just sprinkle a little on top. Similarly, you can make low fat white sauce by thickening skimmed milk with cornflour and adding a small amount of reduced fat cheese. Too reduce fat further you could halve the amount of meat in the recipe and replace it with vegetables. You can also double the pasta layers to increase the carbohydrate content.

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Jacket potatoes - ideas for filling

Tip: try not to add any butter or margarine spread to your potatoes.

  • Tuna mixed with sweetcorn or onion and either natural low fat yoghurt, a vinegar based dressings or a small amount of low fat mayonnaise
  • Sardines or mackerel mashed with lemon juice
  • Lean ham chopped and mixed with cooked mushrooms, parsley and a little fromage frais
  • Bolognaise sauce
  • Baked beans or mixed beans (chickpeas, kidney beans etc…)
  • Cottage cheese with pineapple, kiwi, diced tomato

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Sandwich fillers

Tip: try to avoid spread and use low-fat dressings

  • Cottage cheese and salad
  • Carrot and apple
  • Reduced fat cheddar cheese with chutney and salad
  • Lean turkey or chicken with pickle, chutney or salsa
  • Reduced fat cheese tomato and cucumber
  • Lean chicken with a small amount of mustard
  • Tinned mackerel in spicy tomato sauce
  • Low fat soft cheese with raisins and pineapple
  • Tuna fish, onion and sweetcorn mixed with low fat dressing or natural low fat yoghurt or both
  • Tuna fish and cottage cheese
  • Ham, pineapple lettuce, cucumber and tomato
  • Cottage cheese and strawberries
  • Roasted vegetables with low fat cream cheese
  • Reduced fat or home made coleslaw with salad and reduced fat cheese

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MMain meal salads can often be high fat. For example, a Caesar Salad is often full of mayo, fatty croutons, cheese and bacon bits. However, salads do not have to be drenched in oil or creamy dressings to taste good. Check the range of commercial dressings available in fat free or low fat varieties and good DIY low-fat dressings include: balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, natural yoghurt and herbs and some chilli sauces.

Soups can easily become main meals and are ideal for a quick evening meal or lunch. If you are an athlete eat soup with bread to increase the carbohydrate content. Remember to keep to low fat ideas so the carbohydrate is the main source in the meal. Tomato and basil, carrot and coriander, vegetable soups, lentil soup or minestrone are normally low in fat.

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