Diet in sports ranges anywhere from plain confusing to highly controversial and opinionated.
Should you eat organic? Should you avoid certain things like sugar and fat?
Should you be on a strict and specific diet like keto, paleo, vegan, carnivore, etc?
Diet for badminton players is much like any other athletic sport, and you can quickly get swallowed up and spit back out after a simple Google search that gives you countless studies and health people swearing by certain foods or diets.
The problem is they can’t all be right at the same time, right?!
If Michael Phelps can perform while consuming 10,000 calories a day, consisting of pasta, pizza, and egg sandwiches (which he did during the Beijing Olympics), while a marathon runner improves his race time on a raw vegan diet – then how do you get started on the “correct” diet?
In the following, I’ll show how you get started on a diet that can give you improved performance in your game.
It doesn’t require you to pull up a spreadsheet to know exactly what to put in your mouth and it can be done the same way many of the pros started, even if you don’t have the same resources they do.
A badminton player’s diet: the endless search for the holy grail we’ll never find
A lot of us are out here trying to figure out the “right” diet.
The biggest problem with diet is that everyone is searching for the holy grail.
We want to point to something and go, “that’s the best diet.” We want to make it a linear solution that fits into our daily schedule with ease. At the same time, we also want to see improved performance on the court.
We want to have our cake and eat it too – and also have it make us better badminton players.
The problem is that optimal nutrition for performance is neither linear nor easy because everyone reacts differently to different diets.
It’s not like learning badminton shot techniques where you can follow an exact set of steps over and over again and eventually hit a potent smash.
I’m not here to talk about a specific diet that every badminton player should follow so they can magically start excelling in their training.
Nor do I want to make a list of foods you should or shouldn’t eat. Because that’s about as helpful as telling someone that the reason they’re feeling slow on the court is that they’re not running fast enough.
Instead, I’m going to suggest an approach – based on the nature of the sport and how badminton players at elite levels handle their eating habits – that you can use to start a diet that will work for you.
Let’s start by looking at the performance aspects of badminton.
Eating the way you train
One of the things to consider when deciding on a badminton diet is what kind of athleticism is at the center of the sport.
If we want a diet for better performance, it should support the kind of training and physical abilities we want to achieve on the court.
While it might be tempting to adopt a diet from one of your favorite athletes, it might not be the best approach. If you’re looking to run a marathon, you won’t be interested in the same diet as if you’re looking to compete in bodybuilding, so naturally, your diet needs should match the sport.
While there are similarities in physical performance, athleticism is often quite different from sport to sport.
For example, Baseball is different from Basketball which is again different from Football (Soccer).
In Baseball, there’s a lot of athletic movement and accuracy to throw a ball with a certain speed and curve. In Basketball, there’s an athletic emphasis on jumping and sprinting back and forth on the court.
In Football, there’s more endurance compared to the athletes in Baseball and Basketball, as most players easily run six to eight miles in one game.
I’m not trying to argue whether one sport is more athletic – I’m saying that athleticism is different from sport to sport, so your physical goals and your diet goals will also be different in badminton compared to other sports.
Badminton is, athletically speaking, an explosive sport that’s all about being light, fast, and nimble.
You need to explode quickly with movement in all directions. You need to jump, and you need to get into low positions with excellent balance and flexibility.
As you probably already know, any badminton player’s strength is predominantly focused on the lower body and core. You don’t need a lot of upper-body strength to play – even at the highest levels of the sport.
Because of all these explosive movements, badminton players run a lot and need to keep up stamina to stay fast throughout an entire match. You don’t want to put your focus in the gym on big muscles that are powerful, but slow.
You can see how badminton lends itself to fast, lean and explosive athleticism in this clip that shows the athletic performance of Olympic badminton player Marcus Ellis.
Looking at this performance, you can start to see that certain areas are essential to badminton players.
A badminton player’s diet should support key athleticism
Badminton players need endurance because matches are constant movements with high intensity, and losing pace, or gassing out is almost a sure way to lose longer rallies and even whole matches because you can’t keep pace in the later sets.
- Explosive muscle mass
You move quickly from close net battles to backcourt play to defending and back to attacking.
All of these movements happen in rapid-energy outbursts. However, since endurance is also a big part of badminton, you want explosiveness that can be fired off constantly during gameplay.
- Lower body strength
Most of your strength, explosive muscle mass, and endurance will relate to your lower body. Whether you’re in a low defensive stance or getting ready to attack a smash, the energy to reach every shuttle, and strike it with accuracy, starts from your lower body.
- Core strength
Core strength is crucial to help you balance technical and difficult shots and also help you stay nimble around the court when switching directions and cutting rapidly with speedy footwork.
You can already eliminate most of the diet advice you research by deciding if it focuses on the specific athletic goals that are important for badminton performance.
The diet of professional badminton players
Although most professional badminton players develop more or less in the same direction of the specific ideal athleticism for the sport, their approach to diet is very individual.
If we look at Viktor Axelsen – probably the best badminton player in the world at the writing of this – he talks openly about his diet and how he goes about eating optimally to keep performing at the highest levels of the sport.
Four insights from his diet routine
Most things come down to personal preference, and there’s no one-size-fits-all diet. It doesn’t exist.
His approach to diet has been trial and error throughout his entire career.
He talks about having done a lot of research on his own, and he wasn’t afraid of treating his body like an experiment. How he eats today, is a diet that has been tailored to him personally over years of testing different things and discarding everything that didn’t work.
For example, he’s been vegan at one point but couldn’t get sufficient energy from that diet.
Eating unhealthy (sometimes) won’t ruin your performance.
Another thing that Axelsen likes to emphasize about his diet is that he’s “human.”
Even though he follows a pretty strict diet 90% of the time, he’s not going to cut out certain foods he loves to eat just because they’re unhealthy.
For example, he’ll have cheesecake or ice cream because he wants to leave room for indulgence in an otherwise healthy diet.
He also points out that the excessive training of top athletes allows you to be less strict about diet if you want to – “As an athlete, you can get away with a lot – you burn through several thousand calories.”
Even at the top level, you don’t have to become a diet fanatic.
He doesn’t think that one particular diet solves everything. This speaks a little to the two previous points, that even if you find a specific diet you love, you don’t have to follow it religiously.
For example, he mentions that his favorite diet type overall is probably the “Paleo diet”, however, he still eats dairy, which is a big no-no in that specific diet.
The point is, he’s not a fanatic about this diet, he takes bits and pieces to match his personal preference.
Don’t make your diet too complicated.
Axelsen also emphasizes that his diet is easy for him to follow, no matter where in the world he is, even when traveling (this, of course, might be more of a problem for professional players.)
However, making your diet simple enough that it doesn’t require extra work for your everyday schedule makes it easier to follow, which means you’re more likely to do it.
He also mentions having certain foods planned for certain situations. For example, he always eats oatmeal before matches and around practice.
You can hear him talk about his diet here.
If the world’s best badminton player took years to find his ideal diet (with several errors on the way), there’s no reason you should expect to hit your perfect diet the first time you make changes.
Axelsen started by testing several different things and later got more strict about what he eats, while still keeping a balance of enjoyment.
Your takeaway here should be that diet is a gradual process. If it’s not making a big difference in performance for an elite athlete to eat unhealthy sometimes, chances are you don’t have to worry about cutting out your unhealthy foods either.
Badminton players’ diet charts and insights
Greg and Jenny from Badminton Insight are professional doubles players who also share some unique insights into their diet.
More of the “excel sheet” approach to diet.
While I’m sure Viktor Axelsen’s nutritionist makes a carefully planned out diet that measures a ton of things, Greg and Jenny seem especially big on counting macros and calories, and they’re big on having different diets because well, everyone’s different.
For example, Greg has one type of breakfast with more protein and carbs compared to Jenny.
You can use this diet approach to account for a specific body type and what your training goals are. That means it varies depending on whether you want to become leaner, put on muscle, or maintain your current physique, and whether you’re a man or a woman. This is also seen in their fluid intake.
Look at this example of their daily diet chart.
As Greg mentions, with the standard guideline for calorie intake for a man (2,500 calories) plus what he burns in training, he needs 4,700 calories just to maintain his weight – insane!
Just think about how crazy your diet can get if you’re trying to build muscle and also practice a lot.
Again, they adjust this to their training which means meals likely switch in both the types of food as well as quantity at times when they train harder or play tournaments.
However, they too mention having found an ideal diet through a lot of trial and error.
Diet is important in between matches and training.
If you practice more than once a day, or if you’re playing matches and tournaments that go for several hours, you’ve probably experienced how hard it is to keep performance high.
You might’ve already noticed in your training matches that many players seem to burn off all their energy in the first few sets.
To help recover fast between sessions, Greg and Jenny carry carb-loaded snacks to fuel their energy levels during training sessions, but they also speak to the importance of hydration in their diet.
They mention being dehydrated even as little as 2 % has a massive impact on your performance.
As you can see from their fluid intake above, they are hyperfocused on replenishing the fluids they lose during training.
Eat 30 minutes after intense training.
Following the previous point on recovery, they take a more calculated approach to when they should eat and always consider a 30-minute window to load up on carbs to recover faster.
This is specific to the nature of badminton as a high-intensity sport because your muscle’s main energy source is glycogen, and the way to replenish this is with carbohydrates. You’ve experienced this energy reserve run out when you feel like you “hit the wall.”
The intensity and frequency of their training guide the diet and adapt it depending on their energy output.
They also focus on meal preparation.
Similar to Axelsen, they try to plan out meals to make their diet easy to follow and diminish decisions on what to eat.
For example, they mention cooking larger amounts for dinner to eat for lunch the next day.
You can follow a day in their diet here.
In comparison, P. V. Sindhu (one of the best female badminton players in the world) adheres to a notoriously strict diet where she rarely deviates – she even gets blood tests to help tweak what she eats.
Although, while having an extremely calculated diet, she’ll also take a month off after tournaments to eat whatever she wants.
She seems to be planning her diet with high intensity for periods of hard training and tournaments – and when there’s no competition, she tapers off.
This brief look into professional badminton players at the top levels of the sport shows that even though they all have professional nutritionists and trainers who help them plan their diet – player’s still approach it differently.
What we can learn from these pros to find the “right” diet for badminton players
One thing to remember is that they are professional badminton players AND athletes at the highest levels. So you might want to consider if you need to be as vigorous in your diet if you’re not a professional badminton player.
They also train multiple sessions a day (every day), so if you only have two or three sessions each week, you probably won’t have to be as particular in your diet as they are.
However, they do give certain insights you can adopt to start your badminton diet today.
- No one-size-fits-all
While it would be easy to point to one specific diet and say this makes you faster, stronger, and make you feel better, there’s just no single diet that will work for everyone.
Every player’s physical goals are different, and every badminton player’s body is different, so you might as well give up the idea of one specific diet as the “best.”
Some athletes eat a heavily meat-based diet, some are vegans, and some have a very loose approach to their diet – like Usain Bolt eating McDonald’s for all his meals when he broke the world record.
The point is athletic endeavors vary, and so does every athlete.
But you can put some common logic into having an overall good badminton diet as a starting point.
We’ve already established that, as a badminton player, you want to focus on stamina, explosive muscle mass, and lower body and core strength.
If you use this information as a small guideline, we can assume that you:
- Need a high-calorie intake to maintain your weight
- Want carbohydrates as a primary source of fast energy
- Need some protein to build and maintain explosive muscle mass
- Probably won’t need to worry too much about fat because of the long high-intensity nature of the sport
Remember, these are guidelines – it depends on your physical goals as a badminton player.
If you’re looking to build more muscle mass to improve your explosive movement on the court, you might want to add more protein to your diet.
If you’re looking to get lighter and faster, you might want to be at a fat and calorie deficit.
If you feel that you’re gassing out too often in training and matches, you might need more carbs before and in between.
It’s all individual – just look at these badminton players on Reddit.
That brings us to the next point.
You have to ask yourself – “How big of a change do you want to make in your life to get a performance boost?” and “Do these changes make a big enough difference in your performance to be worth it?”
Eating is a huge part of life in general. So before you start cutting out certain foods that you LOVE, you’ll want to evaluate whether or not it’s worth it.
Diets are notoriously jarring because we automatically think about restrictions. Not only to the joy of eating what we want but life in general because you have to constantly be aware of what you’re eating.
That’s where experimentation comes in. Finding an ideal diet is a process that you’ll have to discover for yourself. There’s no go-to solution.
Maybe you love to count macros and get into the details about tracking everything. Maybe, you just want to find a healthy way that feels good.
Either way, it makes the whole process a lot more fun when you start approaching these things as experiments.
Keep adjusting small things, so you’re changing your diet in stages rather than flipping your life and eating habits 180 from one day to the next.
An added benefit of experimenting with your diet is that you’ll quickly realize which adjustments have the biggest impact on your performance.
- Eliminate decisions
Every time we want to make any kind of change in life, it requires a lot of discipline, in the beginning, to stick with it.
Whenever we’re tired or low on energy, the question “What should I eat for this meal?” quickly jumps to the default setting of what we’ve always been doing.
It’s a concept known as decision fatigue, where every choice we make (especially new conscious choices that aren’t an established habit) requires willpower, which diminishes each time we make a decision.
If you’re trying to figure out what to eat between training sessions, there’s a good chance you’ll want to make whatever choice is easier (read lazy) if you haven’t planned.
That’s why those late-night snacks tend to be unhealthy, and based on what’s convenient – it just requires too much energy to make a healthier choice.
If you want your decisions about diet to work more effectively, you should decide at a time when you have the energy and overview of whatever research you’ve been doing and planning.
Don’t wait until you’re hungry to figure out your next meal. If you have to decide on specific foods or count macros before every meal, you’ll quickly fatigue and just get something.
- Have a go-to meal or food that doesn’t change
For example, Viktor Axelsen said he always eats oatmeal before matches and around practice.
The interesting point isn’t whether he decided on oatmeal because it has a specific health benefit in his diet. It’s that he uses the same go-to food every time.
This way, there’s no need to decide on what to eat because he already decided a long time ago. It makes it simple and easy to follow because there’s no variation.
- Plan your main meals ahead
If you’re cooking dinner, you might as well make extra that you can have for lunch the day after.
This way, you can focus on recovering after a training session and not worry about eating the right thing because you already decided when you had surplus energy to make the “right” choice for your diet.
If you want to take this to the next level, you could even spend a few hours every weekend preparing your main meals for the entire week, and not have to worry about what you’re eating and when.
- Don’t become a single-minded diet fanatic
I remember a friend of a friend who started training to run his first marathon. He’d never done any race of this caliber before in his life, but he quickly became a diet fanatic.
A few weeks into his training, I met him and a few other people for dinner, and he wouldn’t eat 90 % of the meal because it didn’t “fit” his diet.
I remember thinking, “you haven’t even put out a ten-mile training run yet, and you’re trying to diet like you’re contending for a world record?!”
I was surprised because it seemed a little far-fetched and ridiculous that he’d focus on a strict diet before even developing the endurance and training that would have a far more significant impact on his performance.
Not only does this approach have very little (if any) impact compared to pretty much anything else you could do – you may come off as obnoxious to your friends who don’t want to deal with your “super athlete” diet.
Don’t try to be a pro if you’re not a pro.
One way to do both is to plan cheat days or meals, for example when you’re eating out with friends.
It’s not that you shouldn’t try to eat the way you want, but unless you’re playing at an elite level, or aim to do so, having a “clean” diet 100% of the time is probably a little extreme.
Quick-fire questions on badminton diet
Men need 2,500 calories on average every day with no activity, for women, it’s 2,000. On average, a badminton player burns 475-525 calories per hour, but this depends on your weight and how intense the workout is.
If you want to maintain your status quo, you’ll have to add what you burn to your daily calorie intake.
As we established, there’s no single food that’s better for badminton players, so we can create an accurate diet chart for badminton players since it will be highly individual what’s “best.”
Generally speaking, you need carbohydrates as your main energy source for training. You need protein for recovery and to build muscle mass. Fat should be the lowest intake of the three.
If we go by what Greg and Jenny eat in a day, for Greg, it’s 62% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 13 % fat.
For Jenny, it’s 61 % carbohydrates, 26 % protein, and 13 % fat.
She eats a lot of protein for breakfast (eggs and milk) and usually has fruit snacks and energy drinks between training sessions.
Her lunch and dinner are primarily meat, vegetables, and rice. She avoids all junk food and sweets, but for cheat meals, she’ll eat biriyani.
Increasing stamina and endurance has more to do with cardiovascular training such as sprints and running. If you want to find a diet that matches this kind of training you should look into a diet that refuels and recover from long intense training.
- You can eliminate most diet confusion by looking at the specific athletic goals you want in badminton – let your training guide your diet
- Finding your ideal diet is a gradual process and involves a lot of trial and error – because even if it looks like it will work “on paper” there’s no way of knowing until you test it
- Don’t start with a strict diet that cuts out 90% of all the meals in your current diet. Try making small changes and see how you feel. It’s much easier to double down on what works or retract what doesn’t if you take one step at a time
- Plan meals ahead of time. Your chances of successfully getting the diet changes you want increase if you eliminate falling victim to decision fatigue