Wendy Johnson MS, RDN is the Clinical Coordinator for Cardiac Rehabilitation & Pulmonary Rehabilitation, an Exercise Physiologist, and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Inova Loudoun Hospital.
Having a competitive edge in any sport can be the difference in a successful game. Nutrition is a key component of sports performance. The energy you intake and how efficiently you hydrate are essential to be able to perform at the top of your ability.
Muscles are the engine that keeps the body performing. Most of the time, carbohydrates will be an athlete’s primary energy source. Carbohydrate intake during the game has been shown to improve game performance. However, the type, the timing, and the quantity of the carbohydrates consumed are all important factors to consider.
Consuming 30 grams of carbohydrates one to two hours before competition will help load the muscle with the energy needed for performance. Two oranges would be an optimal snack choice. Athletes should avoid eating fat, sugar, and/or high fiber foods prior to game time as they take too long to digest and are not readily available for use. High sugar foods will create a quick spike in energy and then create low energy during game time.
During the game, athletes should consume carbohydrate sources that easily breakdown and are quickly available for energy. Most players will need to consume a fluid that contains electrolytes and carbohydrates during the game to provide a minimum of 30 grams of carbohydrates; however, total amounts should be based on individual need.
Post-game nutrition initiates the muscle recovery process and will help athletes to prepare for the next training or competition. Amino acids from dietary protein are needed to begin the process of muscle repair and growth. Protein intake should occur just after the event; the best sources for recovery are whey and milk. Current research shows that approximately 20 – 25 grams of protein post-game and every 3 hours for the remainder of the day is adequate for most athletes. For the first 2 – 3 hours post-exercise, athletes should also consume 1.0 – 1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kg of body weight. Tournament weekends require thoughtful planning for fuel and recovery when games are back-to-back, a few hours later or the following day.
Hydration status will also impact performance. Dehydration impairs high intensity performance, endurance, cognitive function, and the body’s ability to remove heat – increasing the risk for heat illness with as little as a 2% loss in body weight. Athletes shouldn’t wait until they are thirsty to drink – have a plan for hydration. A good indicator of hydration status is a urine check; if you are adequately hydrated, your urine will be a light yellow lemonade color. A darker color indicates a need for fluid.
Below, you’ll find a quick guide and suggested snack options to help you plan for optimal fuel, recovery, and performance.
Planning for Competition
|Pre-Game (1 – 2 Hours Before)||During the Game||Post-Game Recovery|
|Carbohydrate Intake||30 g||30 – 60 g||70 – 80 g**|
|Protein Intake||—||—||20 – 25 g|
|Fluid Intake||16 oz||16 – 32 oz||20 – 24 oz per pound lost|
**Based on 150 lb. athlete
***Actual amount will be based on playing time and individual needs
Pre-Game Snack Options
- Bread (Slice of Raisin or Banana Bread0
- Dried Fruit
- Energy Bar
- Energy Chews
- Fresh Fruit
- Fruit Smoothie
During the Game: Rehydrate with Sports Drinks or Coconut Water (8 – 12 oz) during the game and/or at half time
Post-Game Recovery Snack Options
- Fluids: Water, Sports Drink (8 – 12 oz), Chocolate Milk
- Bagel with Peanut Butter
- Beef Jerky and Fruit
- Cheese and Crackers
- Cottage Cheese with Fruits or Veggies
- Greek Yogurt and Fresh Fruit
- Mixed Nuts with Fruit
- Nut Butter (peanut/almond/cashew/etc) with Honey or Jelly
- Pita with Hummus
- Sandwich with Lean Protein
- Veggies with Hummus or Bean Dip