Athlete nutrition: focus on the sprinter

Athletics is an Olympic sport made up of various disciplines, even different from each other: track racing, competitions (throws, jumps in elevation and jumps in extension), multiple tests, road races, walking, cross-country running and mountain running . However, they all originate from 4 fundamental movements for humans, namely walking, running, jumping and throwing .

Running is the motor gesture that characterizes as many as 14 of the competitions of the Olympic Athletics program, and each of these competitions requires particular technical, tactical, physiological and psychological precautions and dedicated dietary precautions.

The purpose of this article is to detail the Energy and integration management to support the performance of a specific discipline of Athletics, the "Queen": the 100 m flat (and consequently of all the competitions connected to the "sprinter" ).

Biomechanics of running

Although running is a natural and relatively simple activity , athletics running is actually much more complex than it may seem at first glance: the optimal starting from the blocks, the technique in the launched phase of a sprint, the management of the rhythm and Repetition workouts present technical and tactical difficulties for which the athlete must be prepared.

The running speed of an athlete is determined by the length and frequency of the step, which in turn depend on non-modifiable factors (such as the length of the lower limbs) and modifiable factors (running mechanics, coordination, technique, Energy and joint mobility and muscle strength).

The ability to generate muscle strength and explosive Energy is fundamental when it comes to sprinting : the programs of this discipline in fact include exercises against resistance (specific and not) and for these athletes of great importance is also the development of maximum strength, thus reaching develop the Energy of the main muscle groups.

Metabolism, muscle mass and sprinting

Sprinters have phenotypic characteristics of both strength and Energy athletes and athletic activities linked precisely to reaction speed and sprint. Strength (and Energy) exercise requires a high energy rate, and the predominant metabolism used by these athletes is the anaerobic alactacid system of phosphates . This mechanism is one of the three energy systems that skeletal muscle uses to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy molecule par excellence necessary for any muscle activity.

The alactacid anaerobic system, so called because it does NOT use oxygen and does NOT produce lactic acid, is used precisely for those activities that require great speed and Energy for very short periods (8-10s), such as shots, and needs to the functioning of two particular substrates, called phosphates or muscle phosphages : phosphocreatine (CP) and ATP . It is an energy production method that is only useful in the muscle contraction of strength sports, whether it is maximal strength, explosive strength, fast strength or spring strength.

Athletes who are preparing to take short shots must therefore have this metabolism at full efficiency. Physically, this results in a high BMI and low fat mass(BF). Although there is no profile or ideal ratio between the masses, the scientific data available to date and the studies carried out on athletes at an international level show as reference parameters percentages of fat mass equal to 9 ± 2 for humans and 11 ± 2 for the woman. It therefore appears clear how central it is for these athletes to identify a nutritional strategy that supports the growth and maintenance of body mass and the types of effort they undergo, through the production and restoration of the quantity of creatine and carbohydrates, in the form of glycogen. muscular.


Nutritional support for athletic performance is a popular and widely covered topic, but the focus is often on endurance running preparation. However, nutrition is also a determining factor for sprinters, and plays a key role in post-training and post-competition recovery and in improving performance and strength.. As previously reported, success for this category of athletes is largely determined by the Energy / mass ratio: the goal of a sprinter is therefore to increase muscle mass and Energy. However, an "extra" muscle mass even risks being harmful: having to sprint and run, an extra "weight" on the body can slow down and therefore worsen performance. Let us remember that, in these specific cases, a few thousandths of a second can make the difference!

In general, nutritional support for a sprinter must be balanced and related to training and competition, aiming to:

  • Maintain energy levels during training;
  • Being able to have a quick post-workout recovery ;
  • Optimize training adaptations ;
  • Achieve an ideal weight-to-Energy ratio by maximizing muscle mass and keeping body fat low;
  • Remain focused, clear-headed, awake and responsive , especially during the sporting gesture;
  • Ensure mental well -being , seen as resistance to stress;
  • Facilitate digestion , even with the timing of meals.

When calorie intake is inadequate, the direct consequence is poor athletic performance. A balanced, healthy and nutrient-rich nutrition plan must therefore be developed. Although a personalized plan is strictly necessary for every athlete ( there is no single diet that meets the needs of all athletes at all times ), there are general guidelines for sprinter nutrition, which are based on proper management of macro- and micronutrients, fluids and possible integration to improve performance, support effort during training and competition and maintain or develop muscle mass.

It is also good to remember that the energy requirement also varies according to the period (competitions, discharges, training and transitions) and nutritional support is often considered for the two general situations, namely training and competition. The genetics, phenotype and anthropometry of the individual athlete regulate the modulation of macronutrients especially for fats and Protein, while carbohydrates tend to represent more than half of the daily energy intake (50-60%). Let's see in detail the management of the individual macronutrients and, subsequently, the supplements that have proved scientifically useful in supporting speed activities.


Carbohydrates are certainly the most expendable energy source during exercise, also useful as a liver and muscle reserve, and also stimulate the insulin and hormonal response.

On average, a single strength and Energy training session reduces muscle glycogen stores by over 24-40% (they can obviously vary depending on the duration and intensity of the training). To promote skeletal muscle hypertrophy these athletes often perform a high volume of repetitions, which however determines further reductions in these reserves (especially on type II muscle Fibre). If the glycogen is not restored correctly, the success of the performance is at risk, and it is therefore likely to incur in inefficient workouts or reduced results.

It is therefore necessary that sprinters maintain a good intake of carbohydrates : the guidelines propose an intake of 5-7g of CHO x kg of body mass for men (slightly lower for women). This amount may appear low compared to endurance athletes, but the total energy intake for Energy athletes is obviously small. In any case, carbohydrates must be distributed in a strategic and specific way, mainly depending on the time of training during the day, and must be available during the crucial and crucial "critical points", during and after the session. Per the choice of foods, we recommend whole grains but also fruit and vegetables, tubers and roots.

Usain Bolt, exceptional sprinter and Olympic champion, declared that he consumes a lot of yams, or American sweet potatoes, often orange and red, which we can also find in Italy, and which have the characteristic of being less starchy than traditional potatoes.


Protein is the essential nutrient for muscle synthesis , but a debate has been going on for many years about the amount of protein recommended for athletes who need both significant muscle mass and to develop explosive strength and Energy. In general, studies agree that the required amount of protein for specialized and highly trained individuals is at least double the current recommendations for the sedentary counterpart. In addition to muscle synthesis, Protein serve to maintain lean mass(and essential biological processes of the organism). When the protein intake threshold given by the guidelines is exceeded, there is therefore no advantage in terms of hypertrophy but simply increases the amino acid catabolism and their oxidation. Rather than increasing quantities, an athlete should focus on daily quota distribution and choosing the quality of sources.

Protein, having slower assimilation times and digestion processes than sugars, should be consumed as such especially at main meals (unlike Whey as a supplement or in the form of amino acids), in order not to risk altering the dynamics of muscle contraction. changes in pH or the athlete's sensations.

Several studies suggest that the ingestion of 20g of high biological value Protein (8-10 of the EAAs) no more than 5-6 times a day , leads to the optimization of muscle protein synthesis for these athletes. On average, about 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight may be sufficient, and preferred food sources include white meats, fish, eggs and legumes. Most sprinters probably consume a lot of protein, but on race day, they should avoid foods that cause gastrointestinal discomfort, dehydration or indolence.


Fats are also very important for a sprinter: they have an energy, hormonal and reserve function (such as adipocytes) and help stimulate various growth factors . Also for this macronutrient the guidelines recommend a higher intake than that recommended for sedentary healthy individuals, preferring unsaturated fats and PUFAs, which have specific anti-inflammatory activities (essential for every athlete!) And the ability to improve the cholesterol profile. Per elite athletes, the intake of fat should cover about 20-25% of the energy requirement .

Despite this, it is good to remember that, like Protein, fats require rather long assimilation and digestion times, a feature that does not make them suitable for an intake immediately prior to a workout. The preferred sources are EVO oil, dried fruit such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios and peanuts and fatty fish (such as salmon).


Maintaining a good level of hydration is essential for every type of sportsman: just think that in the energy metabolism only 40% of the total income is converted into effective energy, while 60% is dissipated in heat. Several studies have found that even a small 2% decrease in body weight due to fluid loss has negative effects on performance. The recommendations of the guidelines in this case are specific based on the level of preparation of the athlete, body size, caloric intake, composition of the diet, intensity of effort, climatic conditions (such as heat and humidity). Together with water, it would be advisable to integrate electrolytes, in particular sodium and chlorine, but also potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron.

Of particular importance is the timing of fluid intake on race day: it would be advisable to drink between 4 and 2 hours before the competition, in order not to gain additional "weight" due to over-hydration, which could slow down the speed of the click.


The influence of the supplementary contribution for speed sports is not as fundamental as for endurance sports (where support for the athlete is essential to complete the race and not risk fainting or illness), but many supplements have been studied. to improve the sprint.

In fact, in this discipline, where a few thousandths of a second less can make a sportsman a champion, even minimal differences are really relevant. There are several supplements that can potentially influence the success of the training and the sprinter's performance. Below, we report those with the most supporting scientific evidence:

  • Beta-alanine: non-essential amino acid common in many foods, it works as a limiting substrate for the synthesis of carnosine, a very important intracellular buffer. The integration of this amino acid, therefore, is useful for increasing the body's buffering capacity, delaying the sensation of fatigue and increasing performance: a greater muscle concentration of carnosine allows for greater average Energy from a maximum sprint of 30s.
  • Creatine : amino acid derivative naturally present in our body, it serves to satisfy the energy demands of the anaerobic alactacid metabolism (the favorite of speed sports). It has long been studied for its effectiveness in increasing muscle mass and strength, and in these athletes in particular it appears to increase the performance intensity of repeated sprints during training. The recommended dosage is 3-5g per day, and the indicated form is that of creatine monohydrate, which has provided more scientific evidence. Remember that creatine is NOT on the WADA list of doping substances, and its intake is therefore considered safe in healthy adults.
  • Caffeine: it is a stimulating substance, commonly used by a large part of the population, since it is contained in coffee, tea, chocolate and in many drinks, such as coca-cola or the very common energy-boosters. Its mechanism of action makes it useful as a support to the sprinter because it improves the recruitment of muscle Fibre, improving the central impulse. Furthermore, small doses (1-2mg per kg of body mass) can significantly affect mental alertness, and also shorten reaction times. Per athletes it is recommended to take it in isolated formulation (capsules or tablets) so as not to risk the development of gastro-intestinal disorders.
  • EAA (essential amino acids): amino acids are the "building blocks" that make up Protein. It is therefore very important to make sure you take an adequate amount, to support muscle anabolism and recovery after intense activities. EAAs are all amino acids that our body is unable to synthesize but which must be introduced with food. Per athletes, they can be used in the pre-training phase as an energy source but also in the post (both training and competition) to ensure muscle synthesis after exertion.
  • Collagen : is a protein present in the extracellular matrix and at the joint and tendon level. Sprinters tend to put a lot of strain on their joints due to the type of activity they perform on a daily basis. Providing an extra source of collagen can be a good solution to support the joints that are constantly under strain. In particular, there is evidence in favor of hydrolyzed collagen: an easily absorbable and bioavailable form. Furthermore, several studies support collagen as a molecule useful for preventing joint complications, simultaneously improving recovery and the present clinical picture.


We can conclude that, as for endurance racing, it is also very important for sprinters to have control over Energy and integration to optimize performance. The attention must be placed individually on the individual athlete, and the main focuses are on achieving optimal body mass and recovery from training sessions. Very important, for such short races, is also knowing how to maintain mental clarity and concentration.



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