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- Top pick: Mediterranean diet
- For men: Flexitarian diet
- For women: DASH diet
- For gaining muscle: Paleo diet
- For weight loss: Noom
- For endurance: Nordic diet
- For convenience: Trifecta
- Best meal kit: Green Chef
Finding a diet plan that is safe, effective, and sustainable can be challenging, especially for athletes.
This is because what you put on your plate can have a big effect on physical performance, and you may need to tailor it to fit your specific fitness goals.
Fortunately, there are plenty of diet plans and programs out there, with suitable options for every athlete.
The diets featured in this article fit the following criteria:
- Nutritionally balanced. These plans are balanced and provide nutrients that may be especially beneficial for athletes.
- Sustainable. You can follow these plans safely for extended periods of time. They are not overly restrictive.
- Effective. Research has shown that these plans, or elements of them, are effective, and they may offer benefits specifically for athletes.
- Easy to follow. They have clear guidelines that are simple to follow.
Here are 8 of the best diet plans and programs for every athlete.
Best overall: Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is modeled after the traditional diet of countries like Italy, Spain, and Greece.
It limits processed foods and encourages you to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, along with heart-healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
These foods are rich in many nutrients that are especially important for athletes, including iron, magnesium, and calcium (
What’s more, some studies have also found that following the Mediterranean diet may be linked to improvements in athletic performance and physical fitness (
For more information about the Mediterranean diet, including meal plans and recipes, check out “The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Beginners.”
Best for men: Flexitarian diet
Also sometimes referred to as semi-vegetarianism, the flexitarian diet is focused on plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
However, unlike vegan or vegetarian diets, it also allows moderate amounts of animal products like meat, fish, and poultry.
According to one review, plant-based diets could help improve body composition, enhance blood flow, decrease inflammation, and increase storage of glycogen, which is a type of carbohydrate found in the muscles that can be used as a quick source of energy (
Because it’s less strict than typical vegetarian diets, it may also be easier to meet your protein needs to boost muscle growth when you pair it with resistance training (
It can also help reduce several risk factors of heart disease. This could be especially beneficial for men because they may be at a higher risk of developing heart problems (
If you’re interested in learning more about the flexitarian diet, try reading “The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease, and Add Years to Your Life.”
Best for women: DASH diet
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is a heart-healthy eating plan originally developed by the National Institutes of Health.
The diet promotes nutrient-dense whole foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low fat dairy.
Not only is the DASH diet well rounded and rich in important nutrients, but it may also be especially beneficial for female athletes, who are typically at a higher risk of developing bone disorders like osteopenia and osteoporosis (
In fact, the DASH diet encourages followers to eat foods high in calcium, such as low fat dairy, to promote bone health. Studies have shown the DASH diet may help increase bone density (
For some healthy recipe ideas to help get you started, check out “DASH Diet Meal Prep: 100 Healthy Recipes and 6 Weekly Plans.”
Best for gaining muscle: Paleo diet
The paleo diet is based on the presumed eating patterns of ancient hunter-gatherers during the Paleolithic era.
The diet is rich in animal proteins, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats but eliminates processed foods, grains, legumes, sugar, and most dairy products.
Because the diet is typically high in protein, it may be a good option to help increase muscle growth when combined with strength training (
Multiple studies have even shown that eating high amounts of protein may reduce fat mass and improve body composition (
If you find that the paleo diet is too strict or difficult to follow, there are also several variations available, including modified versions of the paleo diet, which allow gluten-free grains and grass-fed butter.
To learn more about the paleo diet and decide if it’s right for you, check out “Practical Paleo: A Customized Approach to Health and a Whole-Foods Lifestyle.”
Best for weight loss: Noom
Noom is a mobile app diet program that is designed to help you achieve long-lasting, sustainable weight loss by promoting behavioral changes.
When you sign up, it asks a series of questions to collect details about your current diet and lifestyle. This may make it a good option for athletes looking for a more personalized approach that takes their training into account.
Membership also includes access to your virtual coaching team, which provides extra social support and motivation.
Instead of omitting certain foods altogether, Noom encourages followers to eat nutrient-dense ingredients like fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Because the program is completely virtual and requires only a smartphone, it could also be a great choice for athletes with a busy schedule.
Best for endurance: Nordic diet
The Nordic diet is an eating pattern based on the traditional diets of Nordic countries like Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
It emphasizes local, sustainably sourced foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, seafood, low fat dairy, and legumes and restricts foods that are processed, refined, or high in added sugar.
Because the diet permits many foods that are rich in carbohydrates, it can provide plenty of long-lasting energy for endurance athletes (
In fact, experts often recommend high carbohydrate foods that are easy to digest, such as fruit or yogurt, for endurance athletes to help fuel the muscles during exercise (
Not only does the Nordic diet encourage these foods, but it also promotes foods rich in protein and healthy fats to help round out your diet.
To learn more about how to follow the Nordic diet, consider reading “The Nordic Diet: Using Local and Organic Food to Promote a Healthy Lifestyle.”
Most convenient: Trifecta
If you’re looking for an easy way to eat healthy foods and boost your athletic performance without spending tons of time on meal prep, consider getting preprepared meals from Trifecta.
This meal delivery service company is specifically designed for athletes and offers entrees that include lean proteins, complex carbs, and nutritious veggies.
The company uses high quality ingredients, including organic produce, wild-caught seafood, grass-fed meat, and free-range chicken.
The service also caters to several diet patterns. It offers paleo, keto, vegan, and vegetarian plans with flexible subscription options.
For a simple way to squeeze more protein into your diet during training, you can order individual items à la carte, including protein packs that contain prepared meat, fish, or poultry.
Get started with Trifecta here.
Best meal kit: Green Chef
Green Chef is a great option for athletes hoping to improve both their cooking skills and physical performance by enjoying more healthy, homemade meals.
It’s an organic meal kit company that provides all the ingredients you need to prepare high quality, nutritious entrees at home, along with simple, step-by-step recipes.
The service offers several menus to choose from, including Balanced Living, Plant-Powered, and Keto + Paleo meal plans.
Each meal includes a list of ingredients and detailed nutrition information, which may be useful for athletes who are keeping tabs on their macronutrient intake.
You can also select your meals each week to create your menu, allowing you to choose options higher in protein, carbs, or healthy fats, depending on your fitness goals.
With so many different diet plans and programs out there, finding an option that works for you can be challenging.
When you’re choosing a plan, consider whether you prefer a flexible program or a more structured program with specific guidelines on which foods are permitted.
It’s also important to find a plan that works with your food preferences and any other dietary restrictions that you may have.
Additionally, consider whether your diet is a good fit for your athletic goals.
For example, endurance athletes may benefit from consuming more carbohydrates, whereas eating more protein may help build muscle mass when coupled with resistance training (
Finally, be sure to avoid any overly restrictive programs. In addition to making it more challenging to meet your nutritional needs, they can also be more difficult to follow and unsustainable in the long run.
There are many diet plans and programs available for every type of athlete.
When selecting a plan that works for you, be sure to consider your goals, preferences, and dietary restrictions. Try to steer clear of diets that are overly restrictive or unsustainable.