We all need fuel to power our bodies, to engage our brains and to put fire in our hearts. We need fuel to keep going, to fight through any obstacles we may encounter and to reach our goals.

But not all food is the same. And everyone’s dietary needs are different – especially for those who are very physically active. That’s what Charlotte Caperton-Kilburn, registered dietitian and director of sports nutrition at the College of Charleston, teaches CofC’s more than 350 student-athletes.

Director of Sports Nutrition Charlotte Caperton-Kilburn

Director of Sports Nutrition Charlotte Caperton-Kilburn

“The performance edge for athletes outside of genetics and ability is the food they use for fuel,” says Caperton-Kilburn. “Athletic seasons are long and hard on the body; taking in enough food from all food groups allows for a student-athlete to perform optimally.”

That’s why College of Charleston Athletics started the ReFueling Bar off the practice gym in the  Johnson Center to provide student-athletes with healthy foods to promote physical recovery after a workout. Caperton-Kilburn also provides individualized nutrition counseling and offers cooking classes to student-athletes so they can learn how to prepare nutritious meals on their own.

And the Cougar Club, the primary fundraising arm for the Athletics Department, has created the Cougar Fuel Campaign, which will support the nutrition programs for the College’s 19 varsity sports teams, including: softball, women’s basketball, men’s basketball, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s golf, men’s golf, track & field/cross country, baseball, sailing, men’s tennis, women’s tennis, equestrian and volleyball. The Cougar Fuel Campaign will run Oct. 7-9, 2019. Donations for the campaign will be accepted now through Oct. 9.

But you don’t have to be a basketball star or a championship-winning golfer to benefit from good nutrition.

Director of Sports Nutrition Charlotte Caperton-Kilburn with a student-athlete

Director of Sports Nutrition Charlotte Caperton-Kilburn with a student-athlete

“Nutrition is like gasoline to a car – it provides fuel for peak performance,” says Caperton-Kilburn. “Would you start heading for a day at the beach with the gas hand on empty?”

The College Today caught up with Caperton-Kilburn to learn more about what it takes to eat like an athlete and how we can all improve our nutrition.

What does it mean to eat like an athlete?  

Timing is everything when you are an athlete. Eating and hydrating to enhance performance, recovery, prevention of injuries and overall health are the main focus of the intake of food for athletes. It means that you might eat when you aren’t hungry because the timing of nutrients is important not only for today’s performance, but the grueling season that you are about to embark on. It means giving consideration to what, when and how much fluid and food you take in. It means three meals and three snacks timed around training and competition. Some athletes need twice the food intake of what the average person needs.

What are some simple nutrition tips that the average person can live by?

This will probably seem cliché, but three meals per day – making sure they are spread out over the day and not all at the beginning or end of the day. Half of your plate should be filled with vegetables and fruit and the other half should have lean protein and grains/starchy vegetables. You can add dairy on the side or as a snack. Eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies. Don’t forget to include water as well.

Should the average person think about nutrition depending on the types of physical activities they do in the course of a day or week?

First and foremost, the average person should concentrate on nutrition for overall good health, eating carbohydrates such as fruits, grains (pasta, rice etc.) and starchy veggies (beans, corn, baked potatoes); protein such as lean cuts of beef or pork, chicken, shrimp, fish (including fatty fish at least once per week), eggs and dairy products; and fat – mainly unsaturated – including nuts, nut butters, avocados and olive oil. If physical activity is greater than 60 minutes daily, then extra consideration should be given to the type of nutrition you’re getting and any additional needs.

fruit including bananas, oranges, grapes and a pineapple.

Does someone who runs five miles a day, five days a week need to eat differently than someone who walks 90 minutes a week or someone who does interval weight training 120 minutes a week?

Unless someone is training more than 60 minutes per day/per workout, honestly, not really – except the runner may need a bit more carbohydrates to be sure to help replace glycogen stores since they are running daily. And the runner and the interval weight trainer will need to pay more attention to hydration.

How does better nutrition improve energy and physical performance?

It provides nutrients that are involved in the processes of building muscle, moving muscles, building and repairing bone and repairing all the cells of the body. For example, red meat provides iron that is a part of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen to exercising muscles. Fruits, grains and dairy provide carbohydrates that are converted to glucose to be used for energy and also stored as glycogen in the muscle and liver, which is very important to sports like track, soccer and basketball, where bursts of energy are needed. Fats allow the fat soluble vitamins A, D, K and E to be absorbed and utilized, and it helps the body to maintain core temperature. Vitamin D also plays a role in muscular function, protein synthesis, immunity and bone health.


What are some tips for improving nutritional choices when you’re shopping at the grocery store?

  1. Build a rainbow of fruits and vegetables into meals.
  2. Use whole foods when possible. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables count as whole foods. Stock them so they can be used anytime.
  3. Include fats such as nuts, avocados and salmon/tuna.
  4. Choose lean proteins such as chicken, fish or lean cuts of beef or pork. Eggs and milk are good source of leucine, a branched-chain amino acid important in building muscle.
  5.  Choose whole grains.

What are some nutrition tips for staying healthy and injury free while being active in the heat?

    1. Hydration – water: Drink at least one ounce per pound of body weight a day. Then 6–8 ounces per 20 minutes of exercise or time out in the sun.
    2. Electrolytes are also important – not enough to go buy electrolyte water, but eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy. They provide potassium, magnesium, calcium and sodium, all of which are lost in sweat.
    3. Fruits and vegetables provide fluids – think watermelon, grapes, celery, oranges. And you can get antioxidants from fruits like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries.
    4. In addition, regularly eat meals that provide the protein, fat and carbohydrates the body needs.

Want to support the Cougar Fuel Campaign? Visit the Cougar Fuel Campaign website to learn more and make a donation to start fueling CofC’s student-athletes for success!

Want to learn more about eating for success with Charlotte Caperton-Kilburn? Follow her on Twitter @per4mancefuel.

Photos by Heather Moran