Achieving and maintaining a healthy diet is important for everyone, there is little to argue there. But we shouldn’t overlook that diet isn’t just important for health but it’s also a vital part of committing yourself to your fitness goals. Nutrition is a big piece of the jigsaw when it comes to athletic performance, both for professional and recreational athletes. So, if you aspire to take your fitness goals to the next level in the weeks and months to come it will be crucial that you dial in your diet. If you fail to do so, then your chances of reaching your goals are slim. A body in motion requires adequate nutrition to keep it moving strong. 

Luckily, nutrition to support an active lifestyle does not need to be complicated or require any draconian measures. It’s just a matter of implementing a few key eating strategies so you can perform your best when it counts most. 

Whether you’re aiming for a marathon PR, more Strava KOMs, or a new bench press max, here are the nutrition fundamentals you should follow to stay healthy and perform well. Once you have these nailed down, get ready to fly.

1. Go Big On Plants

Athletic individuals can benefit greatly by including more plant-based foods in their training diet. That’s because these foods which include vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains provide a winning mix of energizing carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help support training needs and assist with athletic recovery. Additionally there is some solid evidence that serving up a bigger bounty of plants won’t be detrimental to your fitness goals.

A 2024 review study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that plant-based diets can have a moderate but positive effect on aerobic performance with no detrimental effect on muscular strength/power performance despite a decrease in animal-based protein. Further, an investigation in Nutrition Journal found that when recreational athletes consumed a whole-food, plant-based diet for a month they were able to maintain their endurance and strength fitness just as well as when they consumed an omnivorous diet that included meat and dairy.

Now, it’s not necessary to go completely plant-based for better fitness, but to reap the rewards of these types of foods it is a good idea to try to wedge more of them into your meals and snacks where possible. And, remember, we are talking about whole food plant foods and not the ultra-processed options. Now, let’s discuss these a little further.

2. Consume Ultra-Processed Foods Judiciously


Athletic individuals do not need to banish so-called ultra-processed foods from their diet as they can contribute to overall calorie needs and during workouts items like gels, bars and sports drinks can serve an important purpose of providing a necessary fuel source. After all, few running PRs are achieved by chomping on kale. But as a general rule for better performance and health, it’s important to rework your diet so that it includes fewer of these items.

There’s no single accepted set of criteria for defining an ultra-processed food (UPF). But generally, they are foods and drinks that have undergone multiple processing steps and are combined with any number of substances including hydrogenated fats, high fructose corn syrup, salt, artificial flavors and emulsifiers to alter taste, texture and shelf life. Items that can fall into this category include frozen meals, baked goods, soft drinks, hot dogs, boxed cereals, ice cream, white bread, fast food, and potato chips. In the end, they often lack the nutritional pedigree needed to adequately support athletic pursuits. And there can be health consequences when UPFs are consumed too liberally. For instance, a large 2023 review study involving people from 5 different continents published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition determined that higher intakes of UPFs are associated with an increased risk for premature death from conditions like heart disease. Individuals with the highest consumption of UPFs over an 8-year timeframe had about a 58% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those with lower intakes, according to another investigation in the same scientific journal. A study in the journal Nutrition discovered that runners who had a higher diet quality, as indicated by greater intakes of unsaturated fat and the micronutrients iron, potassium, and magnesium that are found abundantly in whole foods and much less so in ultra-processed ones, typically performed better during their runs and also tested for improved cardiovascular health.

Perhaps a good way to look at things is to focus on eating more of the processed foods that can be helpful towards your fitness goals and long-term health. For instance, frozen berries, whole grain breads and crackers, lean ground meats, tomato sauce, canned fish, frozen vegetables, tofu, and rolled oats are all examples of processed foods that can be considered nutritious and healthy.



Author Profile: Matt Kadey

Matthew “Matt” Kadey is a registered dietitian based in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada who specializes in nutrition pieces and recipe development. Matt is a contributing health writer whose pieces and photography has appeared in a range of online and print publications such as Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Clean Eating and more.

His work in food journalism earned him a James Beard Award in 2013. He’s published three cookbooks and his philosophy centers on consuming whole foods and getting plenty of exercise so you can eat more of them. You can learn more about Matt by going to or following along on Instagram and Facebook, @rocketfuelfood, @bt700bikepacking, and