By Stephanie M. C. Wilson, MS, RD, CISSN, LDN, Head of Nutrition at IMG Academy
Feel like you are lacking energy? Cramping or tiring early during competition? Maybe it's not your training, but your diet that's holding you back. Here are six tips to boost your performance through proper nutrition!
Eat breakfast everyday! Breakfast should be eaten within 30 minutes after waking, even if it is the weekend and athletes want to sleep in. It doesn't have to be complicated or gourmet food, something quick on the go that is well balanced can serve as a great option. Fill breakfast with long-lasting carbohydrates and lean proteins to maximize the energy players have available for their brain and muscles. For example, whole grain products paired with high quality proteins are key ingredients for the breakfast of a champion.
Hydration starts before the game or practice! Proper hydration is critical for performance. Being dehydrated results in declines in power, strength, and overall performance. Unfortunately, most athletes rely on thirst to tell them when they are dehydrated. What they don't realize is that when thirst kicks in, they are already dehydrated and experiencing performance declines. First, encourage players to drink fluids right when they wake up in the morning. Choose water or sports drinks for proper hydration, but skip the juice-flavored beverages, energy drinks, and sodas. During practice, make sure to choose sports drinks during practice to optimize electrolyte replacement and provide the energy needed for explosive movements. It should be emphasized that caffeine is not recommended for high school athletes or younger due to risks associated with dehydration, unknown heart abnormalities, and hinder sleep. Caffeine is metabolized differently by different people, resulting in some individuals having restless sleep following caffeine consumption. Inadequate or restless sleep is guaranteed to result in a decline in performance, making caffeine use in players even more detrimental to performance.
Recover rapidly! After practice or following any workout, encourage your players to consume a fast-digesting carbohydrate source and protein source within 30 minutes following the workout. It can be as simple as low-fat chocolate milk, which contains fast-digesting carbohydrates (such as chocolate) and high-quality protein. This will replenish muscle's energy stores to maximize performance gains and improve performance at the next workout or game. If you have the resources available to provide a post-game or post-workout recovery, this will result in improved performance and outcomes for your team!
Eat 3 meals and 2-3 snacks daily! Skipping meals will drain the energy from your body. As a result, your body is not able to turn on the processes for building lean body mass. This will prevent players from maximizing their muscle mass, leading to sub-optimal power, strength, and overall body composition. Pairing long-lasting carbohydrates and lean proteins at meals and snacks will help your players see the best results for body composition and performance.
Be Cautious of Supplementation Many of your players will want to get a quick fix to maximize performance, which makes them the perfect target for supplement marketing! Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, which means that could contain banned or illegal substances. Testing positive for a banned substance could mean the suspension from sport participation, loss of scholarship, ruined reputation and social stigma. Even more important is that many adverse reactions with supplements can be life threatening. Optimal nutrition combined with periodized workouts can give you a bigger performance benefit than supplementation!
Travel Tidbits When travelling, choose a restaurant with a salad bar and a wide selection of lean meats. Instead of choosing fried foods or high-calorie options, aim for long-lasting carbohydrates such as sweet potato, brown rice, whole grain pasta, or whole grain breads. Most restaurants are willing to prepare the food however you request it. Small changes make a big difference. For example, switching from French Fries to a baked potato, rice or vegetables will be better on your waistline and is not an inconvenience on the staff. As always, aim for half your plate filled with fruits and vegetables! When travelling via plane, don't forget to bring an empty water bottle to fill up after you pass security! Poor air quality increases dehydration as well as the limited availability of optimal hydrating beverages!
Remember that total nutrition = total fuel = total performance. Set a plan and what it turn into positive results!
Need a proper meal plan for the day? Here's a good example of how an athlete can fuel to maintain peak performance:
1 cup (dry) oatmeal, 2 Tbsp almonds
3 egg whites with sprinkle cheese and Â¼ c. spinach
1 cup mixed fruit
20 ounces of water
1 Greek yogurt, lowfat/nonfat
20 ounces of water
Roasted chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread
Romaine/spinach salad with walnuts, tomatoes, cucumber, lowfat ranch
1 lowfat yogurt
1 ounce Multigrain baked chips
20 ounces of water
Pre-practice snack (1 hour before)
PBJmade with whole wheat bread and sliced banana
20 ounces of low-calorie electrolyte replacement beverage
Post-practice snack (within 30 minutes)
8 ounces Chocolate milk
(May have 16 ounces depending on when eating dinner)
5-6 ounces shrimp/fish
1 cup brown rice made with rice vinegar and 2 cups mixed Asian vegetables
1 sweet potato
20 ounces water