When choosing a diet plan or meal delivery service, people should consider their unique needs. Certain diet plans or services may particularly benefit athletes.

Athletes may have different dietary requirements depending on the type and intensity of their chosen form of exercise. Often, they will need more calories and macronutrients than other people to maintain their energy levels. Some athletes may need additional vitamins and minerals for optimal health and performance.

This article explains what athletes need in a diet plan and what the latest research says. It also looks at diet brands that may be suitable and discusses further considerations.

A quick look at the best meal delivery services for athletes

What should athletes look for in a diet plan? 

Athletes should look for a diet plan that supports both their general health and their training needs. Experts suggest that there are particular considerations for an athlete’s diet. 

In 2018, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) published a review that looked at updated evidence for sports nutrition. In the review, the ISSN made several recommendations for athletes when determining whether a particular diet plan meets their needs.

The ISSN’s recommendations include:

Consuming enough calories to offset energy expenditure

The ISSN states that athletes who train intensively may expend 600–1,200 calories or more per hour during exercise. Therefore, athletes who train for 2–6 hours per day on 5–6 days of the week will need a higher-than-average calorie intake.

The ISSN notes that athletes weighing 50–100 kilograms (kg) may require 2,000–7,000 calories per day, while athletes who weigh 100–150 kg may need 6,000–12,000 calories per day. The ideal amount will depend on the volume and intensity of different training phases. 

Learn more about daily calorie intake here.

The correct ratio of macronutrients

According to the ISSN, athletes involved in moderate amounts of intensive training — such as 2–3 hours per day on 5–6 days of the week — typically need to consume 250–1,200 grams (g) of carbohydrates to maintain liver and muscle glycogen stores. For increased amounts of exercise, they may need up to 1,500 g of carbohydrates per day. 

For moderate or intensive training, athletes may need more than the Recommended Dietary Allowance of protein. The ISSN review suggests that an athlete weighing 50–150 kg may need 60–330 g of protein per day, depending on their weight and other factors. 

Athletes can consume 30–50% of their total daily calories from fat. Some athletes consume more fats if they eat a ketogenic diet, but the review states that there is limited evidence to confirm this diet’s effectiveness, with different studies providing conflicting results. 

Learn about the six essential nutrients here.

Meal timing 

The ISSN review suggests that athletes consume meals 0–4 hours before exercise and 0–2 hours after exercise. These meals should consist of either carbohydrates plus protein or protein on its own. 

The size and timing of the pre-exercise meal may affect how much benefit the post-exercise meal provides. Some people find that eating too close to training causes digestive discomfort. 

The ISSN also advises that athletes space their protein intake evenly throughout the day — ideally, every 3–4 hours. 

Learn more about what to eat before a workout here.

Learn what to eat after a workout here.

Vitamins, minerals, and water

Athletes should ensure that they consume essential vitamins and minerals for general health, recovery, and performance. 

Learn about the best vitamins and minerals for athletes here.

They should also maintain adequate hydration. According to the ISSN review, losing 2% or more of body weight through sweat can significantly impair exercise performance.

Diet brands for athletes

The following diet brands may support athletic training needs. People can use a meal delivery or meal replacement service as part of an overall diet that meets their calorie and macronutrient requirements.

Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information presented is purely research-based and correct at the time of publication.

Medical News Today follows a strict product selection and vetting process. Learn more here.

Best for special diets: Trifecta

  • Price per serving: from $99.99 per delivery, plus $9.99 shipping fee
  • Diets: vegan, vegetarian, keto, paleo, classic, and clean
  • Meal prep kits or prepared meals: both

Trifecta is a meal delivery service that provides customers with macro-balanced meals that chefs have prepared. 

Customers can choose from different meal plans, including vegan, keto, and paleo. Those who are unsure which plan is best for them can complete the online quiz. 

Research suggests that vegetarian and vegan diets can meet athletes’ nutritional needs. Additionally, the authors of a 2019 review concluded that plant-based diets can protect the heart health of endurance athletes. 

People can use Trifecta’s mobile app to track their nutrition and exercise progress. The company also offers free access to a nutrition coach. 

“I would say Trifecta is a good fit for athletes or individuals tracking their macronutrients to reach certain fitness goals. I think it’s also a good fit for people following certain diet patterns, including keto, vegan, Whole30, or paleo diets.” — Rachael Link, MS, RD, Healthline

On its website, Trifecta gives examples of bodybuilding, CrossFit, and Ultimate Fighting Championship athletes who use its meal plans.

The prices are as follows:

  • Vegan and vegetarian plans: from $99.99 per delivery, plus shipping
  • Keto and paleo plans: from $110.99 per delivery, plus shipping
  • Classic meal and meal prep plans: from $119.20 per delivery, plus shipping

Best for convenience: Huel

  • Price per serving: from $4.21 per prepared shake, from $3.76 per meal
  • Diets: plant-based, gluten-free
  • Meal prep kits or prepared meals: shakes, bars, add-water meals, and microwave meals

Huel provides nutritionally complete meals and snacks. Its products include drinks, powders to make shakes, and snack bars. The company claims that each meal contains:

  • carbohydrates
  • protein
  • fiber
  • fats
  • 27 vitamins and minerals

According to the company’s website, Huel powder contains a balanced macro split of 37:30:30:3, meaning that it contains 37% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 30% fat, and 3% fiber. The product also contains all the essential amino acids

Huel claims that its products are easier to digest than solid foods. Liquid food may be useful for athletes, particularly if they have digestive symptoms or need to consume more calories. 

Using Huel as a meal replacement for some meals may be a convenient way for athletes to fuel their energy and training needs. 

Best for bodybuilding: Muscle Meals 2 Go

  • Price per serving: from $11–16 per meal
  • Diets: keto, low carb, vegan, gluten-free
  • Meal prep kits or prepared meals: frozen prepared meals

Muscle Meals 2 Go provides a meal delivery service for bodybuilders. It claims to use seasonal ingredients.

Bodybuilders can choose from among four meal plans:

  • Train: This plan is focused on lean proteins, whole grains, and vegetables. Each meal has an average of 30 g of protein. It is best for active people who want to stay fit.
  • Gain: This plan includes high protein meals, whole grains, and vegetables. Each meal contains an average of 60 g of protein. It is best for people looking to gain muscle mass.
  • Keto: The Keto plan offers 3-minute reheatable meals.
  • Lean: The Lean plan focuses on lean proteins, whole grains, and vegetables. It is best for people who want to lose weight.

Each plan includes 12–24 meals. A person can add breakfast dishes and snacks for an extra charge, and they can customize some options, such as by notifying the company of dietary restrictions or taking out certain types of meat.

Best for organic ingredients: Fresh n Lean

  • Price per serving: from $7.93 per meal, varies by plan and number of meals per delivery
  • Diets: keto, paleo, vegan, low carb vegan, whole 30, Mediterranean diet, bulk
  • Meal prep kits or prepared meals: prepared meals

According to the company website, Fresh n Lean strives to make it easy and convenient to eat a healthy diet. Meals and snacks are made from fresh, organic, and gluten-free ingredients. Each meal reportedly features a balanced blend of calories, protein, and macronutrients.

Users can opt for 1–3 meals per day and add healthy snacks to their orders. More than 100 meal options are available each week from a wide range of meal plans. The Protein+ meal may meet the high protein needs of athletes. The website describes it as “the meal for you to optimize your fitness.”

Other meal plans include:

  • keto
  • paleo
  • vegan
  • low carb vegan
  • Whole30
  • Mediterranean diet
  • bulk

Meals come with a “use by” date and can be stored in the refrigerator until then. They can last in the freezer for up to 6 weeks. The company delivers in all 50 states.

Best for nutritional advice: Factor

  • Price per serving: from $11–15 per meal, depending on the plan
  • Diets: keto and vegetarian
  • Meal prep kits or prepared meals: prepared meals

Factor, formerly Factor 75, describes its offerings as chef-crafted gourmet meals. They do not contain hormones, antibiotics, refined sugars, or GMOs. Meal options change weekly and generally include more than 30 options each week.

Weekly options typically include a keto choice and 2–3 vegetarian options. Users can also choose add-ons such as breakfasts, desserts, smoothies, cookies, and juices.

“I’ve tried many prepared meal delivery services, and Factor meals have the best texture. The vegetables were soft without being mushy, the grains were perfectly cooked, and the meats and fish were all juicy and not dry. I also really loved the flavors of the dishes.” — Kelli McGrane, MS, RD, Healthline Nutrition and Fitness Market Editor

Although Factor does not offer plans designed specifically for athletes or weight loss, users have access to a complimentary nutrition consultation with a company dietitian.

Users can find ingredients, nutritional information, and potential allergens on the Factor website before they order, as well as on individual product packages.

Best for specific exercise goals: ICON Meals

  • Price per serving: from $130–379 per box
  • Diets: vegetarian, dairy-free, gluten-free, keto, low fat, and high protein
  • Meal prep kits or prepared meals: prepared meals

The company’s website states that Icon makes clean eating easy. Icon groups its products according to the goals they can help users meet, such as:

  • building muscle
  • losing weight
  • eating clean

Icon offers weekly meal choices, assorted meal boxes, custom meal options, and snacks.

Each week, users can filter their menu selections based on whether they want to order breakfasts or lunch and dinner options, as well as their preferences for heat and serving size. Filters also address the following dietary needs:

  • dairy-free
  • vegetarian
  • gluten-free
  • keto
  • high protein
  • low fat
  • low calorie

A person can choose to receive boxes of 12 or 24 meals. There is no subscription service, so a person must place an order manually every time they want a delivery.

Meal box options include:

  • the Lean Box for high protein meals
  • the BLD Box for breakfast, lunch, and dinner options
  • the Chef Box, featuring the company chef’s recommendations
  • the Bulk Box for building muscle mass
  • the Keto box for those following a keto diet

The company website describes Icon as an industry leader in vacuum seal technology, which enables it to deliver food safely in recyclable materials.

Comparison

The table below compares these meal delivery services.

 Price rangeDiets includedMeal prep kits or prepared mealsNutritional expertise
Trifectafrom $99.99 per delivery, plus $9.99 shipping fee• vegan
• vegetarian
• keto
• paleo
• classic
• clean
bothThe company develops products with input from a team of medical and diet specialists and nutrition-trained chefs.
Huel• from $4.21 per prepared shake
• from $3.76 per meal
• plant-based
• gluten-free
• shakes
• bars
• add-water meals
• microwave meals
no information available
Muscle Meals 2 Go• from $11–16 per meal
• a la carte items $5 extra
• keto
• low carb
• vegan
• gluten-free
• frozen meals
• snacks
no information available
Fresh n Leanfrom $7.93 per meal, depending on the plan and number of meals• keto
• paleo
• vegan
• low carb vegan
• Whole 30
• Mediterranean
• bulk
prepared mealsno information available
Factor from $11–15 per meal, depending on the plan• keto
• vegetarian
prepared meals• dietitian-designed meals
• free nutrition consultation available for customers
ICON Mealsfrom $130–379 per box• dairy-free
• vegetarian
• gluten-free
• keto
• high protein
• low fat
• low calorie
prepared mealsno information available

Other considerations

Athletes who have higher body mass or do high intensity training may find it challenging to consume enough food to fuel their bodies. Research suggests that an energy-deficient diet during training often leads to unwanted physical and psychological effects, including loss of fat-free mass, illness, and heightened stress. 

When choosing a meal delivery service, people should consider how many meals they might need per day. Using these delivery services exclusively for all meals and snacks could prove impractical or expensive. 

Instead, an athlete could batch cook and freeze homemade meals or make shakes and snacks in advance. This approach could be useful for those with a busy lifestyle, as they may need to pack up a day’s meals and preportioned snacks and transport them in storage containers. 

People should also consider whether a particular diet is right for them. Some diets, such as keto, may be challenging to maintain for longer periods and may cause adverse effects. 

An athlete may need to take a nutritional supplement to support their training. Supplements may be essential if someone chooses a restrictive diet, such as plant-based or keto.

A person may want to consult a registered dietitian to find out which diet is likely to suit them best. 

Frequently asked questions about meal delivery for athletes

Below, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about meal delivery services for athletes.

Is HelloFresh good for athletes?

HelloFresh is a meal kit delivery service that offers users multiple ways to customize their selections. Customers prepare the meals themselves, so they can add any extras they may need, such as extra protein or carbohydrates.

Plans include categories that may suit athletes, such as Fit & Wholesome, Quick and Easy, Veggie, and Pescatarian. Users can select plans that provide 2–6 meals per week for two or four people.

What meals are good for athletes?

Athletes should look for meal plans that meet their specific dietary needs, which include:

  • enough calories to support their energy expenditure
  • beneficial ratios of macronutrients, including 250–1,200 g of carbohydrates
  • sufficient protein levels
  • essential vitamins and minerals

Additionally, because athletes need to pay attention to their pre-meal workouts and post-workout recovery, meal plans that include snacks, smoothies, and other add-ons for refueling may be good options for them.

Is Freshly good for athletes?

Freshly is a meal plan that focuses on providing convenient and tasty meals made with nutrient-dense ingredients, complex carbohydrates, quality proteins, and healthy fats. While it does not offer a plan specifically designed for athletes, its menus include dairy-free, carb-smart, plant-based, calorie-conscious, and gluten-free options.

Meal plans include breakfast, lunch, and dinner choices. Users can opt for plans providing 4–12 meals per week, which can be helpful for athletes with a busy lifestyle.

Summary

Using a meal delivery service may save an athlete time, especially if they have a busy training program. Brands that offer nutritional expertise and meal planning could make it easier for an athlete to ensure that they get the right nutrients. 

Consuming shakes as meal replacements or additional snacks may be a useful approach for athletes. 

Someone who is exercising at a moderate or high intensity needs to consume enough calories to meet their energy expenditure. Not doing this could cause side effects or health issues. Using a meal delivery service exclusively may be impractical or expensive for some athletes, depending on the number of meals they need to meet their target calorie intake.