How many calories do athletes eat in a day?

Quick Answer

The number of calories an athlete needs per day varies greatly depending on their sport, position, body size, gender, and intensity of training. On average, male athletes tend to consume between 2,000-6,000 calories per day, while female athletes eat 1,200-4,000 calories per day. Athletes in sports like swimming, running, and cross country skiing burn the most calories, often consuming 4,000-5,000 per day. Football linemen and other strength athletes also have higher calorie needs around 5,000-6,000 calories. Endurance athletes in marathon running may eat up to 8,000 calories per day while training for and competing in events.

Calorie Needs by Sport

Athletes have increased calorie needs compared to the average person due to their high levels of physical activity. Here is an overview of the typical calorie requirements for different types of athletes:

Endurance Sports

Athletes in endurance sports like marathon running, cycling, cross country skiing, and swimming tend to have some of the highest calorie needs due to their high training volumes. Some example daily calorie needs:

– Marathon runners: 3,000-5,000 calories per day
– Triathletes: 3,000-5,000 calories
– Tour de France cyclists: 6,000-8,000 calories during the race
– Elite distance swimmers: up to 4,000 calories per day
– Cross country skiers: 4,000-5,000 calories

The longer and more intense the endurance sport, the higher the calorie requirement. Marathoners and triathletes need to fuel high mileage weeks, while Tour de France cyclists need enormous energy stores to complete multiple long and intense stages day after day.

Team Sports

Team sport athletes have varying calorie needs depending on their position, size, and training load:

– Football linemen: 4,000-6,000 calories
– Basketball, hockey, soccer players: 3,000-5,000 calories
– Baseball players: 3,000-4,000 calories
– Volleyball, softball players: 2,000-3,500 calories

Positions requiring more strength and power like football linemen need more calories than positions focused on speed and endurance like wide receivers. Bigger athletes also require more overall calories than smaller players on the same team.

Strength Sports

Athletes focused on strength sports like powerlifting, bodybuilding, wrestling, and rugby have increased calorie needs to support muscle growth:

– Powerlifters: 3,500-5,500 calories
– Bodybuilders: 3,000-5,000 calories
– Wrestlers: 3,000-5,000 calories
– Rugby players: 3,000-4,500 calories

The training style in these sports relies heavily on calories to fuel strength conditioning and promote muscle hypertrophy. Athletes in these sports need to eat adequate protein and fuel muscle recovery in addition to total calories.

Aesthetic Sports

Athletes in aesthetic sports like figure skating, gymnastics, and diving have lower calorie needs since they have smaller, leaner frames:

– Gymnasts: 2,000-3,000 calories
– Figure skaters: 2,000-3,000 calories
– Divers: 2,000-3,000 calories

Lower body fat helps these athletes excel in skills requiring strength-to-weight ratio and body control. Although training is still intense, the focus is more on technical precision rather than endurance.

Factors Affecting Calorie Needs

In addition to differences between sports, many individual factors affect an athlete’s calorie needs:

Body Size

Bigger athletes need more calories to support a larger frame and more muscle mass. NFL linemen are often over 300 pounds and need huge calorie intakes. Smaller gymnasts and jockeys require far less energy.


Due to differences in body size, muscle mass, and hormones, male athletes generally burn more calories than female athletes in the same sport. A male endurance cyclist may eat 500-1,000 more calories per day than a female rider.

Age & Growth

Athletes going through growth spurts as teenagers have heightened calorie needs. Young athletes generally need more calories than veterans who are no longer growing.

Training Volume & Intensity

Athletes ramp up their calories to fuel higher mileage weeks, intense training phases, and competition periods. Calories can often double in peak training compared to off-season.


Athletes training in hot climates and high altitudes require more calories to stay adequately fueled and hydrated. Winter sports like cross country skiing also burn more calories to heat the body.


When injured or sick, athletes need fewer calories since they cannot train. Appetite also naturally decreases during illness.

Average Daily Calorie Intake by Sport & Position

This table summarizes the typical calorie requirements for athletes in different sports and positions:

Sport Position Average Calories/Day
Football Linemen 4,000-6,000
Football Backs & Receivers 3,000-4,500
Basketball Guards 3,500-4,500
Basketball Post Players 3,000-5,000
Hockey Goaltenders 3,000-4,000
Hockey Defensemen 3,500-5,000
Baseball Infielders 3,000-4,000
Soccer Midfielders 3,000-4,000
Tennis Men 3,000-4,000
Tennis Women 2,500-3,500
Swimming Sprinters 3,500-4,500
Swimming Distance 4,000-6,000
Gymnastics Women 2,000-3,000

As shown, athlete calorie needs span a wide range depending on the demands of their sport and position. An NFL lineman may eat more than double the calories of a female artistic gymnast. Monitoring body weight, performance, and energy levels is key for athletes to fine tune their optimal calorie intake.

Macronutrient Needs

In addition to total calories, the macronutrient breakdown of an athlete’s diet affects performance and body composition:


Most endurance and team sport athletes require high carbohydrate diets of 50-60% total calories. Carbs provide energy for training and competition while sparing protein breakdown. High mileage endurance athletes may consume up to 80% carbs in peak training.


Strength and power athletes emphasize higher protein around 15-30% total calories to support muscle growth and recovery. Endurance athletes still need adequate protein – about 1.2-1.4 grams per kg of bodyweight.


Dietary fat provides essential fatty acids and helps absorb fat soluble vitamins. Athletes generally get 20-35% calories from fat. Very low fat diets can negatively impact hormone levels in women.

Within these general macronutrient guidelines, optimal amounts depend on the athlete’s training phase, environment, and recovery needs. Working with a sports dietitian can help fine tune carbohydrate, protein, and fat needs.

Pre-Competition Eating

Athletes fuel specifically for competition by choosing high carb foods and plenty of fluids:

– Eat familiar high carb foods like pasta, rice, potatoes
– Hydrate well in days leading up
– Have a light pre-event meal 2-4 hours prior
– Focus on carb-rich snacks 1-2 hours pre-event
– Sip fluids up until start
– Avoid high fiber, high fat foods that cause GI distress

This eating strategy provides readily digested carbs, hydration, and avoids GI issues during competition. Fatty, fiber-rich foods can hamper performance.

Recovery Nutrition

Eating the right nutrients soon after training sessions and competition maximizes recovery:

– Consume carb-protein combo within 30 minutes
– Replenish muscle glycogen stores
– Repair damaged muscle tissue
– Rehydrate with electrolyte-rich fluids
– Continue eating high carb, high protein meals and snacks for up to 24 hours for full recovery before the next training bout

Focusing on this nutrient timing helps athletes bounce back quicker and adapt to the training stimulus.

Growth & Maturation

Athletes need increased calories and nutrients during adolescence to support growth and development:

– Calories support growth spurts during maturation
– Carbs and protein build muscle, bone, and tissues
– Iron, calcium, and vitamin D fuel development
– Fat provides essential fatty acids

Monitoring young athletes’ growth velocity ensures their diet provides adequate energy and nutrients during maturation.

Injury & Rehabilitation

Sports injuries increase nutrient needs to promote healing:

– Increased protein aids tissue repair
– Carbs and calories provide energy with reduced training
– Anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3s reduce swelling
– Vitamin-rich foods support immune function
– Calcium and vitamin D maintain bone strength

Adjusting nutrition helps prevent excessive weight loss during injury recovery while providing key healing nutrients.

Travel & Environment

Traveling for competition disrupts normal nutrition routines. Athletes should:

– Pack nutrient-dense snacks
– Plan meal timing and fueling
– Seek grocery stores for familiar foods
– Ensure hydration with fluids
– Avoid risky foods before competition

New environments like high altitude also impact fueling needs. Adjusting calories, carbs, and fluids helps athletes perform their best.


Optimizing nutrition helps athletes achieve peak performance. While calorie needs vary greatly based on sport, proper amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and micronutrients support training capacity, recovery, and health. An individualized nutrition plan improves endurance, strength, body composition, and most importantly competitive performance.

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