Sprinters need to consume sufficient carbohydrate to fuel training needs, however
carbohydrate requirements do not reach the level of endurance-type athletes.
Sprinters need to be mindful of maintaining low body fat levels but still need to eat a
sufficient variety and quantity of food to meet nutritional requirements and allow for the
development of muscle mass. Diets need to be nutrient-dense. This is best achieved
by including a wide variety of nutrient-dense carbohydrate sources such as bread,
cereal, fruit, vegetables and sweetened dairy products in the diet. Moderate portions of
lean sources of protein such as lean meat, skin-free chicken, eggs, low-fat dairy foods,
lentils and tofu should also be on the menu. Energy-dense foods such as cakes,
pastries, lollies, soft drinks, chocolate, alcohol and takeaways should be used sparingly.
Appropriate snacks need to be included before and after training to maximise
performance during training and to promote recovery. Snack foods such as yoghurt,
fresh fruit, low-fat flavoured milk and sandwiches are all nutritious fuel foods and make
Low Body-Fat Levels
Sprinters require low body fat levels whilst being strong and muscular. Low body-fat
levels usually occur naturally for male athletes, thanks to the cumulative effect of
training on the right genetic stock. However, male sprinters often need to reduce total
body mass leading into the competition phase. Some of the additional muscle mass
gained in off-season weight training is not sport specific, therefore needs to be trimmed
to achieve an ideal racing body composition. Female sprinters often need to manipulate their food intake and training to achieve their desired body fat levels.
Sprinters needing to reduce their body fat level should target excess kilojoules in the
diet. In particular, excess fat, sugary foods and alcohol can add unnecessary kilojoules
and would be better replaced with more nutrient-dense foods.
Preparation for Competition
Sprint events do not deplete glycogen stores therefore strict carbohydrate loading
before a competition is not necessary. The day of competition is best tackled with
glycogen stores topped up to their usual resting level. With a high-carbohydrate diet
already in place for training needs, glycogen levels can be restored before competition
with 24-36 hours of rest or very light training.
Competition Day Food and Fluid
Although sprint events only last seconds or minutes, competition can be a drawn out
affair. A typical competition day involves a number of heats and finals with variable
amounts of waiting around in between. Your nutritional goals are to keep hydrated, to
maintain blood glucose levels and to feel comfortable - avoiding hunger but not risking
the discomfort of a full stomach. It makes sense to start the day with a carbohydratebased
meal. The type of meal will depend on the timing of your event and your
The following foods are suitable to eat 3-4 hours before exercise:
- crumpets with jam or honey + flavoured milk
- baked potato + cottage cheese filling + glass of milk
- baked beans on toast
- breakfast cereal with milk
- bread roll with cheese/meat filling + banana
- fruit salad with fruit-flavoured yoghurt
- pasta or rice with a sauce based on low-fat ingredients (e.g. tomato, vegetables,
The following foods are suitable to eat 1-2 hours before exercise:
- liquid meal supplement
- milk shake or fruit smoothie
- sports bars (check labels for carbohydrate and protein content)
- breakfast cereal with milk
- cereal bars
- fruit-flavoured yoghurt
The following foods are suitable to eat if there is less than 1 hour between events:
- sports drink
- carbohydrate gel
- sports bars
- jelly lollies
Experiment in training if an important competition is coming up so that you can be
confident of your routine on race day. Take care to drink plenty of fluid when you are
competing in hot weather.
Elite sprinters are required to travel interstate and overseas regularly to find quality
competition opportunities. While this can be exciting, it can also be stressful. It is often
hard to meet nutritional needs in unfamiliar surroundings, especially when time and finances are limited. Unusual foods, different standards of food hygiene, limited food
availability and interference with usual routines can see athletes either gaining weight or
failing to meet their nutritional requirements. The following tips may help:
- Be clear about your nutritional goals and stay committed while travelling.
- Do some investigation to find out what to expect at your destination.
- Plan your accommodation with meals in mind. Organising an apartment with
cooking facilities gives you more control over your meals and can keep food
costs down. If you choose not to cook, make sure your accommodation is
conveniently located near shops and restaurants.
- Take a supply of snacks with you so you always have access to something
suitable. Cereal bars, low fat 2 minute noodles, sports drinks, breakfast cereal
and rice cakes are good options to pack.
- Make good choices in restaurants. Beware of hidden fat in restaurant meals.
Don't be afraid to ask the waiter about cooking methods and ingredients and
request changes if necessary. Add carbohydrate to meals with plain bread,
plain rice, fruit or juice if necessary.
Sprinters who adopt restricted eating habits to maintain low body fat levels can be at
risk of a poor iron status. If in doubt, have your iron levels checked by a sports
physician. In addition, a sports dietitian will be able to help athletes to increase their
intake of iron-rich foods that are well absorbed by the body. Plant-based iron foods
such as green vegetables are poorly absorbed compared to animal-based iron foods
such as meat.
Some runners try to replace sound nutritional practices with vitamin pills, protein
powders and liquid formulas. Popping a pill is not a quick fix to feeling flat and run
down. Rather, it is necessary to address the issue of taking time to eat well and
organising an appropriate training program with adequate rest. Addressing lifestyle
habits and putting good healthy eating in place will be more useful than expensive pills.
Some supplements can help in certain situations, but this is best assessed by a sports physician and sports dietitian.
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