Setting Sports Nutrition Goals

Do your sports nutrition goals include everyday fitness, lifetime fitness, and training to compete in a sporting event? The great news is that you can accomplish all three goals using similar nutrition strategies.

  • How do I pick a sports nutrition goal?

  • Think about where you’ve been and in what ways you’ve struggled. Read the many questions posed throughout this site and key in on those that “ring a bell”. Pick a specific item to work on. Make a list of what you can do every day to get closer to that goal…steps toward that goal.

    Example Goal
    Loss of energy during a workout and as the week progresses.
    Possibility: You're not eating enough carbs to fuel your training plan.
    First, find out what foods provide carbs. Then think about how to add carbs throughout your day. You’re not going to wake up one day being a carb-achiever without daily efforts to get there. Keep your goal specific (more carbs). Don’t try too many carb goals at once, like focusing on the amount of carbs and the quality of the carbs (whole vs. processed food). Remind yourself which goal is the first priority. For example, once you’re eating enough carbs and improving your energy levels, then start working on getting the healthier carbs. Next, you may want to experiment with the timing of carbs.

  • Have you set sports nutrition goals before without success?
    One common mistake in goal setting is that the goal is someone else's idea, such as "the doctor said I should.." or "my friend wants me to join her in...". These may not be YOUR goals. Think about your personal passion. What do YOU want so badly that you are willing to sacrifice, to hurt a little, to give up some time for? What are you willing to do in training when no one else is paying attention? You're on your own--it is YOUR goal. The coolest quote to consider is:

    "If you don't invest very much, then defeat doesn't hurt very much and winning is not very exciting. Dick Vermeil

    Another consideration in goal setting is that you need to be realistic. If your sports nutrition goals are related to training for a marathon, you should have some race experience behind you. Not just a 5K, but a couple of half marathons. You should have a running base on 20 miles per week. It may take a year to get to that point, so the more realistic goal would be to train to the point that you are ready for marathon training. Maybe your goal is to be vegetarian. Will that reality work in your household? Do you know how to be a healthy vegetarian? You can't just stop eating meat as eating vegetarian is a lifestyle. Great goal, but make sure you have the resources to live the reality.

    A third point to consider is being sure the sports nutrition goals are specific. A goal to "eat better" is vague--what does better mean? Breaking the goal down into something you can measure is helpful, such as "I will eat at least two meatless dinners per week", or "I will journal my fluid intake until I reach 9 cups of fluids daily consistently for 6 weeks." Think about the end of your day. If a goal is specific enough you should be able to evaluate at day end if you met your goal or not. That is why "weight loss" is not a complete goal. You may not see it on the scale at day's end, but more importantly is what you did or did not do during the day to make weight loss happen.

  • When is the best time to set sports nutrition goals?

  • It depends on the goal. If you’re struggling with energy levels or hydration, tackle that goal right away. These are quick turn-around goals. Goals related to weight loss, new vitamins or nutrition supplements may be best reserved for the “off season” where nutrition balance or tolerance won’t ruin your performance at an event.

    One great resource, Nutrition Periodization for Endurance Athletes: Taking Traditional Sports Nutrition to the Next Level focuses on a concept called "periodization," a year-round approach to setting goals based on pre-season, competition time and recovery/off-season.

    Great ideas for sports nutrition goals

    Are you eating ENOUGH FUEL (calories)?

    Are you at a HEALTHY WEIGHT? You should get your body fat tested before you set a weight goal and start changing calorie levels. In some cases it is better to lose weight in the "off season", before the rigorous demands of training begin. In other situations gradual weight can be included in your training plan. You will need to consider if you can commit double time to nutrition for weight loss along with nutrition for training.

    Are you training at a PACE that uses fuel wisely? Training at a pace that is too fast for you will drain your carb fuel, leaving you with little fuel to perform.

    Are you eating the RIGHT FUEL?

    Are you TIMING your fuel to optimize training?

    Are you eating for RECOVERY?

    Are you drinking ENOUGH of the RIGHT FLUIDS?

    Are you familiar with the NUTRITION BASICS?

    Are you depending too much on VITAMIN NUTRITION SUPPLEMENTS?


    Maybe you need more strategies for Everyday Nutrition for Lifetime Fitness.

  • Should I keep track of my progress?

  • Absolutely! Keep a log or journal. At least make a note in your day planner if you met the goal for the day. Review your progress every few days to see if you’re headed in the right direction.

  • How long does it take to reach a goal?

  • Be patient, because change takes time. Some changes give instant results, like drinking enough fluids. Getting consistent in drinking enough fluids may be what takes time. Other goals, like building up immunity, may take longer because it is more complicated. Immunity involves protein, vitamins, minerals, and other lifestyle factors. In general, expect a new behavior to become habit after at least three months. Don’t worry about the end result. You will reach your goal if you practice everyday strategies related to the goal.

  • Will having sports nutrition goals guarantee improvements in my performance?

  • There are no guarantees. It takes both hard training (getting the miles in) and total nutrition (getting the right foods in). A nutrition plan will support your fitness potential (with potential being key). Do you know your fitness potential? Maybe nutrition is holding you back!

  • Need help setting or working through your sport nutrition goals?
    A Registered Dietitian with experience and credentials in sports nutrition can help you along your journey to success! Nutrition Coaching with Jan Dowell provides a plan to meet your sports nutrition goals. It is a great program to get you started with evaluating where you are nutritionally and to help you establish personalized goals.

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