Fueling your body the right way
Nutrition should be treated just as seriously as any other part of your training
Head coach of the perennial powerhouse UConn Huskies women’s basketball program, Geno Auriemma must have read the most recent Right Way Basketball blog post and decided to add a few words of his own about body language and how to be a supportive teammate. This powerful clip can be found here. Now that we have discussed the psychological side of the game we will now examine one of the most important (yet often overlooked) biological factors to maximizing your training and being successful on the court - Nutrition.
Basketball is a physically demanding sport full of constant sprinting, stopping, accelerating and jumping, with only short periods of rest, truly requiring both strength and endurance. To keep up with the daily grind and rigours of practice, school, workouts and games, a balanced nutritional plan is the foundation to maximizing performance. This post is intended to provide a basic nutritional guide to help fuel your game and take it to the next level.
You wouldn’t hop in the car for a long road trip without a full tank of gas, so why lace ‘em up and hit the court without a full tank? While physical training and practice are critical to your development, it all starts with a foundation of nutrition to get the full payout from the physical work and sessions you put in on the court and in the gym. What you eat on a daily basis helps determine how much energy you have for intense, rigorous workouts, practices and games. Nutrition should be treated just as seriously as any other part of your training.
Daily Nutrition and Tips
If you want to run faster, jump higher and make good decisions, you need to feed your body healthy, nutrient rich foods. Weekly requirements for a basketball player include an assortment of carbohydrate heavy foods to provide energy and protein to build and repair muscles. Most carbs should come from healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and milk to maximize vitamin and mineral intake. Lean red meats, skinless chicken, nuts, eggs and beans will deliver high protein. Vegetarian? No problem. You can get the protein you need from quinoa, beans, tofu and nuts. In addition to all of the food we want to put into our bodies, try to greatly reduce your intake of refined sugars (candy, soft drinks, energy drinks, cookies, etc.) and saturated fat (butter, fried foods, poultry skin, fatty beef and pork, etc.).
General Nutrition Rules:
1. Never skip a meal. As an athlete, you need steady calories for energy, recovery, muscle building and performance. Remember when you wake up, your stores are 30-40% depleted. Skipping breakfast only further depletes your energy stores and may mean it’s too late to replenish what your body needs before your next practice or game
2. Plan your meals according to your training output. Easy training days should be lighter in calories. Higher physical output requires higher caloric intake
3. Eat food that helps reduce inflammation and speed up recovery. Some of these super foods include berries, nuts, seeds, spices, fruits, vegetables, tea, mushrooms, cherries, dark chocolate, ginger, oatmeal, greens (spinach, kale, arugula), Greek yogurt, flaxseed, fish, olive oil, avocado, sweet potatoes, pineapple, onions, garlic. Try to eat several of these daily!
4. Limit junk calories to less than 10% of daily total calories. This includes ice cream, candy, soft drinks, chips, fast food and deep fried food, etc.
When you're training hard through the daily grind of a long season, it is important to start each day with a healthy high carb breakfast that includes whole grains (bagels, bread, oatmeal), fruits (bananas, berries, oranges, grapefruit) and protein (eggs, cottage cheese, peanut butter). Each player develops their own pre-game routine to prepare mentally and physically. This routine, whether built out of superstition or from personal requirements should also include an individualized nutrition plan. The food eaten the night before and day of a game is always different from player to player but it is important that you eat something before you workout and play.
1. The meal eaten the night before the game is the most critical for maximizing energy stores but never skip meals, especially the day of a game!
2. Plan to eat a full meal 2-4 hours before tip off. This allows your body adequate time to digest. The closer it gets to game time, the smaller the meal so you aren’t playing on a full stomach
3. Drink sufficient amounts of water. Your urine should be a pale yellow colour before tip off. Avoid large quantities of caffeine and salty foods that will dehydrate your body
4. Pre-game meal should include good carbohydrate choices for energy but also has adequate protein to help ward off hunger
5. Restrain from eating fatty, spicy foods and refined sugars before you play. Instead, choose easy to digest foods that sit well with you personally
For all those tournament weekends spent in gyms playing multiple games, it can be difficult to regulate food intake. Preparation can be critical to maintaining energy levels from game to game. Pack sandwiches (Ex. Peanut butter and honey/jam or deli meat), nuts and trail mix, berries (Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), oranges, bananas, grapes. Eat lightly between games and don’t forget, the closer to game time, the smaller the meal or snack. By following these maintenance tips you will gain a strength and stamina advantage over your opponent to push you right through to the final buzzer. Replenish fluids as well with plenty of water and a sports drinks to hydrate. It can be a good idea to add water to dilute your sports beverage making it easier to digest, adequately deliver those electrolytes where they are needed and minimize the amount of unnecessary sugars. Managing hydration will avoid cramping and help to evade potential injuries due to exhaustion.
Post-Game/Workout - Recovery
What you consume after workout sessions and games can be as important as what you eat before. To promote muscle healing and recovery, eat a snack that contains carbs and protein as soon as possible after stepping off the court. This can be as simple as chocolate milk, a recovery drink or a few handfuls of trail mix with almonds, cashews, or peanuts. A more substantial meal should be consumed within 1 hour that meets the same high carb and protein supply. The longer you wait to eat, the longer your body will take to recover and your gains will be diminished. Follow this plan to achieve the full benefits from the work you just put in and recover faster from difficult sessions so you are ready to perform again the next day.
1. Consume carbohydrate rich foods and beverages as soon as possible after you play to replenish your muscle’s energy stores
2. Consume a protein rich meal to repair and build muscle
3. Replace fluids that have been lost
4. Replace any potassium, sodium, electrolytes that have been lost during competition or training with fruits, vegetables and salty foods
Your body is made up of 50-65% water and requires proper hydration to perform. Water helps to regulate body temperature, lubricates joints and delivers oxygen to working muscles. Your physical and mental performance on the court can drastically decrease, especially late in a game, if you are not hydrated. To keep muscles working at optimal levels and avoid fatigue, it is extremely important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after physical activity. By keeping hydration levels balanced you will increase your performance, reduce injuries, avoid muscle cramping and speed recovery. Your body loses water through sweat and the rate of loss increases in proportion to your physical output so drink up in relation to your sweat rate. To better understand how much sweat you lose, weigh yourself before and after a game or practice. Aim to keep losses below 2% of your body weight by consuming water throughout your game or practice and be sure to replace all of the fluids lost with water or sports drink of your choice.
1. Monitor your urine color; it should be a pale yellow colour when you are properly hydrated. Darker urine colour means you are dehydrated
2. Drink water throughout the day before a workout, practice or game
3. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink up. You want to be hydrated before starting physical activity
4. Water should be the number one fluid but sports drinks during and after activity are great to replenish glucose levels in your blood, plus minerals and electrolytes, (sodium, potassium, magnesium)
5. Keep sweat losses under 2% of your body weight and always replace lost fluids
Right Way Takeaways
We all want to be the best player we can be and a great nutrition, hydration and recovery plan are essential to achieving success. This helps propel our training and achieve optimal gains. When it’s late in the 4th quarter and the game is on the line, did you do enough to fuel your game?