British Pentathlon - Performance


Eating as an Athlete

As an athlete your energy (i.e. calorie) needs will be higher than those of less active individuals, meaning that you need to eat more food to maintain your body weight. However, this does not mean that you can afford just to eat what you like, when you like. In order to train and compete effectively you need to ensure that your body has been fuelled with all of the correct nutrients at the appropriate times.

Eating properly will help you to get the most out of your training.

Energy?providing nutrients (macronutrients)

The nutrients in your diet which provide you with energy are carbohydrate, fat, protein (and alcohol). Athletes should aim to consume a diet which is high in carbohydrate, low in fat and moderate in protein. Reasons for this are discussed below.


The bulk of your energy should be provided by carbohydrate. Why? Well, your body uses a mixture of carbohydrate, fat and protein for energy. At rest we ?burn? mostly fat, however as you increase the intensity of exercise you will use an increasing proportion of carbohydrate since it can produce energy at a faster rate. Since our bodies can only store a limited amount of carbohydrate (as glycogen) as you progress through an exercise session your carbohydrate stores will decline. If these are not topped up regularly (through food or drink), then your carbohydrate stores will run low, your body wont produce energy as fast as it would like to and you?ll feel fatigued.

Thus, a high carbohydrate diet is important to:

  • start exercise with maximum glycogen stores
  • replenish glycogen stores used during a session
  • maximise recovery
  • maximise quality of next session
  • minimise / delay fatigue

A high carbohydrate diet is especially important when training on consecutive days, more than once a day, or for several disciplines in one day.

So, how much carbohydrate do you need?

A guide to the amount of carbohydrate you need is calculated from your body weight and the amount of exercise you do per day (see table).

Activity level

number hours moderate-intensity training

g carbohydrates / kg body wt / day

Light (<1 h / day)

4 ? 5

Light-moderate (~1 h / day)

5 ? 6

Moderate (1-2 h / day)

6 ? 7

Moderate-heavy (2-4 h / day)

7 ? 8

Heavy (>4 h / day)

8 - 10

Work out your own Carbohydrate Requirements

Your weight (kg) x no. of grams needed per kg (from table)

= _______ g carbohydrates required / day

So where do we find carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates can be found in many food sources. Some of these provide carbohydrate only, and some provide additional vitamins, minerals and nutrients. All have their use for athletes.

The following provide a good source of carbohydrate, as well as other nutrients, vitamins and minerals essential for daily functions, exercise, growth and repair. These foods should make up the bulk of an athletes diet.





Cous cous

Baked beans

Kidney beans

Chick peas





Sugary carbohydrates such as jam, honey and sweets tend not to provide any extra nutrients. They are useful to help provide extra carbohydrate in a non-bulky form at certain times during training and competition.

So how can we put this theory into practice? Obviously in reality we don?t eat in terms of grams of carbohydrate. However by sketching a meal plan using these foods you can see just how you can achieve the suggested amount of carbohydrate for your own situation. You could try consuming this for a day or so to give you an idea of how much it is.


AMOUNT providing 50g carbohydrate


Bread ? any type whole


Malt loaf

3-4 medium slices

3 slices


Bran Flakes, corn flakes etc


A large bowl

4 biscuits


Dried pasta

Cooked pasta


250g or 8 tablespoons


Rice ? raw

Rice ? cooked

Rice cakes


4 tablespoons



Boiled noodles






5 small

1 medium

7 heaped tablespoons




Dried fruit

Fruit juice



2 tablespoons

500mls/ carton


Milk ? any type

Yogurt ? plain

Yogurt - flavoured

2 pints/1 litre

750mls/ 5 cartons

300mls/ 2 cartons


Baked beans

Red kidney beans / chick peas

400g/1 can



Sweets ? chewy


Lucozade sport

Jaffa cakes

Glucose / sugar

Currant buns

Rice pudding

Cereal Bars

50g packet

5 heaped teaspoons





1 large can


The following guide demonstrates how you could get 420g of carbohydrate into your daily diet. This would be suitable for a 60kg athlete training for 1-2h per day.


Large bowl of bran flakes

1 pint of milk (consumed throughout day)

2 slices of toast


Fruit juice




2 bread rolls with chicken and salad


1 pot of yoghurt


2 cups of pasta with meat sauce


2 scoops of ice cream

1 cup tinned fruit

250ml fruit juice


Why do we need protein?

  • Growth & repair of muscle tissue
  • Oxygen & nutrient transport
  • Immune system building block
  • Fluid balance
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Enzymes & hormones

What is a protein?

  • proteins are made up from amino acid ?building blocks?
  • There are 20 amino acids - different sources of protein contain each of these amino acids in different amounts
    • essential amino acids ? must be obtained from the diet
    • non-essential amino acids ? can be made in the body
  • Animal sources of protein - contain all 20 amino acids in amounts adequate to meet your requirements
  • Plant sources of protein - deficient in one or more essential amino acid, thus must be combined with each other (nuts, seeds, grains, pulses), or with an animal source, to optimise intake of all amino acids.
How much protein do you need?

Type of Athlete

Daily protein requirements per kg body weight (g)

Endurance athlete ? moderate or heavy training

1.2 ? 1.4

Strength and power athlete

1.4 ? 1.8

Athlete on fat-loss program

1.6 ? 2.0

Athlete on weight gain program

1.8 ? 2.0

Work out your own Protein Requirements

your weightx daily protein requirements per kg body weight

= _______ g protein required / day

Which foods contain protein?

Animal sources

Plant sources

30g Protein

10g Protein

4g Protein

100g beef, lamb, pork, ham, chicken, turkey

130g fish

pt milk

250g yoghurt

1 med egg

40g cheese

tin (~200g) baked beans

6 tbsp (180g) red kidney beans

5 tbsp (175g) chick peas

90g quorn

120g tofu

1 med bowl (45g) Sultana Bran

2 med slices wholemeal or white bread

5 tbsp (160g) cooked pasta

3 tbsp (90g) white or brown rice



How to ensure adequate Protein intake:

Most people in Britain more than adequately meet their daily protein requirements. As athletes, your requirement is slightly higher, and your overall diet needs to be of higher quality than the average British diet! However, it is still easy to meet your protein requirements. Here are a few tips:

  • Have red meat / poultry / seafood each day ? plan for this when you do your shopping
  • Combine plant sources and animal sources of protein
    • Wholemeal pasta with bolognaise sauce
    • Cheese on seeded crackers
    • Glass of milk and toast
    • Chilli with beans and rice
  • Combine different plant sources of protein
    • Peanut butter on granary bread
    • Pumpkin seeds and peanuts as a snack
    • Corn chips with re-fried beans
    • Add cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds to a salad

Fluids and Hydration

During all types of exercise heat is produced and lost from the body by the evaporation of sweat.

The amount can vary between athletes and also depends on many other environmental conditions (e.g. temperature and humidity) and the length of activity.

Sweating is important as it cools the body down.

Maintaining an adequate fluid intake is important to prevent DEHYDRATION ? all athletes must think about their fluid intake before, during and after exercise.

What are the effects of fluid loss?
  • If you are dehydrated then you can reduce your ability to train. THIS CAN HAPPEN IF YOU ARE AS LITTLE AS 2% DEHYDRATED (i.e. a decrease of 2% (1.2 kg for a 60kg athlete) of body weight.
  • Severe dehydration can be fatal as it causes an increase in body temperature.
What factors can affect fluid loss?
  • Temperature ? you need more fluid in a hot climate.
  • Humidity ? this also increases your fluid requirements.
  • Exercise intensity ? the harder you train the more fluid you need.
  • Training status ? endurance training helps maintain fluid balance.
  • Acclimatization ? this helps your body cope with extremes of temperature.
  • Type of clothing - wearing layers of clothes helps to reduce sweat loss and results in an increase in body temperature.
How do you know if you are dehydrated?

Keeping up a good fluid intake will prevent dehydration. If you are thirsty then you are probably already dehydrated.

Check that you are producing large volumes of clear urine. Dark urine is an indication of dehydration.

Try weighing yourself before and after training ? every kilogram you lose is the equivalent of a litre of fluid.

How much fluid should you take?

An average individual in the UK requires 2-3 litres a day.

An athlete in training requires 1-2 litres per hour ? 4-8 litres a day

Fluids before exercise
  • Always carry a drinks bottle with you. Try to be organized and always carry spare drinks in your kit bag ? some venues may not always have drinks available.
  • Drink a variety of fluids ? water, tea, fruit juice etc.
  • Always arrive at a training session fully hydrated ? aim to have a drink 30 minutes before ? about 400-500mls prior to training or a competition ( this will leave you time to visit the toilet!)
  • Avoid alcohol before a competition / training ? it increases dehydration.
Fluids during exercise
  • Fluid during exercise aims to replace fluid losses and may also provide Carbohydrate to replace energy stores.
  • Always take on fluid for any event lasting more than 30 minutes
  • Aim to have 100-150 mls every 15-20 minutes.
  • Water is suitable but if you are training for longer than an hour then include a carbohydrate drink. Salt is also added in very small quantities to sports drinks and improves fluid absorption. However there is no need to take salt tablets.
  • Have drinks at room temperature and try to avoid very cold drinks.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks ? they can cause gastric upsets.
  • Practice drinking when training ? this is particularly true for sports that may need to able to drink on the run!
  • Don?t introduce new drinks or carbohydrate gels in a competition ? you may get an upset stomach.
Fluids after exercise
  • Start re-hydrating as soon as you finish training
  • Remember to plan ahead and take plenty of drinks with you
  • Drinks containing carbohydrate are useful to refuel muscle glycogen store.
  • Try to avoid drinks containing caffeine and alcohol to re-hydrate as they can increase the dehydration by increasing the amount of urine you produce.
  • Alcohol is not recommended as a fluid for refuelling.
  • If you have suffered any muscle damage during exercise it is recommended to avoid alcohol for 24-36 hours as it promotes vasodilatation and slows down the recovery process.
Sports drinks

Sports drinks are a ?special? type of drink that contains carbohydrate to aid re fuelling.

There are three types available:-

  • Hypotonic ? contain small amounts of carbohydrate and are mainly used for fluid replacement.
  • Isotonic ? they contain 5-7grams of CHO per 100mls and are used for fluid and refuelling
  • Hypertonic ? they contain more than 10 grams CHO per 100mls and should only be used after training for refuelling.
What should I drink?

Sports drinks are very useful to replace fluid and provide and provide energy as well.

Exercise lasting less than an hour - drink water or a hypotonic drink.

Exercise lasting more than an hour - drink an isotonic drink.

Post exercise refuelling ? drink an isotonic or hypertonic Drink.

There a wide variety of drinks available. Many can be bought as a powder that you add to water ? remember to make it according to the manufacturers? instructions.

However you can also make your own ?Sports ?drinks. Here are some easy recipes!


50 ? 70g sugar

1 litre warm water

A pinch of salt

Sugar free squash for flavouring


200mls of ordinary fruit squash

800 mls water

A pinch of salt


500 mls unsweetened fruit juice

500 mls water



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