Poor nutrition during the in-season has the potential to wreak havoc on your performance. From losing focus to losing power what are the nutrition mistakes you are making that are having an impact on your performance?
Are you someone who just rolls with it and eats whatever is available (or skips meals because there is nothing available)?
Do you opt for an energy drink before each game?
Is recovery a giant meal from Chik-fil-A after a day of barely eating?
Here are five nutrition mistakes you might be making and how to fix them before your season starts.
1: Skipping meals, snacks, and hydration
Most of the athletes I work with are skipping meals (especially breakfast), forgetting fluids, and finding they are ravenous by the time they reach the dinner table. These athletes are starting the day with nothing and gradually working their way up to a feast-size meal by the end of the day. This is not what your body needs or prefers!
For recovery and performance reasons, your body actually needs and prefers regularly scheduled meals and snacks, even if it’s something small. This helps your body recover and rebuild from previous practices and games and helps you fuel up for the next bout of activity. The goal is to aim for something every 3-4 hours keeping carbohydrates (such as grains, breads, pastas, crackers etc.) and proteins (such as meat, poultry, dairy, cheese) at the forefront. Carbohydrates help with energy stores (DYK? Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source?) and Protein helps with you guessed it; muscle building/recovery.
Not a big eater earlier in the day? Just like you can train a muscle, you can train your gut. The key here is finding something you can tolerate AND start small. For instance, if you are not a breakfast eater, start with some dry cereal, a glass of milk, or maybe a drinkable yogurt. Then, as it gets easier, add on.
Not able to snack during the day? Consider adding more to the meals you CAN consume. Add an extra item or two to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and consider adding a bedtime snack!
What about hydration? Again, your body prefers a steady intake versus gulping it down right before or during practice. Learn more about hydration and how to create a hydration plan here.
2: Opting for pre-workout or an energy drink instead of consuming actual energy before a game
This is another common mistake among athletes. If you are reaching for an energy drink or pre-workout to get ready for your game you are missing an opportunity to fuel with ACTUAL energy in the form of calories. It also speaks volumes about how you prioritize rest (or don’t!). It’s true that caffeine can have an ergogenic effect on your performance and perhaps that can be a great addition to your routine once you have the basics down. Imagine how much energy you could have if you combine the two?
Create the foundation for pre-game fueling by opting for easy-to-digest carbohydrates. Why? These options are high in simple carbohydrates which top off energy stores and can be used immediately so you are ready for your training session and you can KEEP YOU GOING as you get further into your activity. They are also ideal choices because eating too much fat or fiber (and even some supplements!) prior to activity can cause some gastrointestinal upset (think cramping, gas, bloating), which can impact your performance.
Some great options would include:
Fruit– mixed fruit, fruit leathers, or applesauce packets would be quick and easy and require little of your time or effort!
Crackers- think Goldfish, Graham Crackers, or breakfast biscuits like Belvita
Dry Cereals– yes, even Cap’n Crunch!
Jelly Sandwiches (yes really!)
Pretzels– a great salty option for someone who is a salty sweater
Juice or a Sports Drink
Starbursts or Gummy Bears
Read more about Pre-workout for Athletes.
3: Forgetting the 4 R’s post-game: Repair-Replenish-Rehydrate-Rest
After activity is prime time to get some fuel in. Most athletes know protein is important here but did you know carbohydrates matter just as much- if not more? Carbohydrate consumption is important in order for the protein to do its job of REPAIRING (or REBUILDING) muscle. Carbohydrates also REPLENISH your glycogen stores for the next bout of activity.
Repair/Rebuild with PROTEIN. Animal products such as fish, eggs, meat, poultry, and dairy products boast the most leucine content (an amino acid known for triggering muscle protein synthesis), however, you can also find high leucine content in the following plant proteins: tofu, soy milk, adzuki beans, lentils, buckwheat, and pumpkin seeds. How Much? It really depends on what the rest of your day looked like. Did you fall short earlier in the day? Are you about to eat a large dinner in the next hour or two? Our bodies respond best to regular protein intake of around 15-25 grams per meal and snack but remember- this varies!
Replenish glycogen stores with CARBOHYDRATE. Pair your protein with a carbohydrate source. Carbohydrates come from a variety of foods such as grains, breads, crackers, fruit, dairy (which also contains protein!), beans, and sports foods such as Gatorade. The amount? Needs vary greatly depending on playing time as well as age, height, weight, sex, and life stage. A ratio of carbohydrate to protein is 3 parts carbohydrate to 1 part protein so a good starting point would be around 45-75 grams.
Rehydrate with FLUIDS. After you’ve selected a carbohydrate and protein source, add on the fluids! What you choose and how much again depends on what your day looked like nutrition-wise and your sweat rate. The current recommendation for ages 14-18 is about 16-24 ounces for every pound lost and for ages 18 and up about 24 ounces for every pound lost. What you choose can be guided by sweat/electrolyte losses and if you need a carbohydrate source to go with your protein choice. If you are going straight to a full meal, stick with water. If you are including it as part of your carbohydrate or protein intake and know you won’t be able to eat a meal for a few hours choose something like chocolate milk, a sports drink, or juice.
Rest with SLEEP. Are you a night owl? Getting 7-8 hours of sleep at night helps restore your body and brain AND will help your immune system fight infections. Even if you added an extra half hour to what you are already doing, that’s a half-hour more of rest and recovery!
4: Leaving travel nutrition plans for someone else to figure out
Traveling can definitely put a wrench in your nutrition plans especially if you take the bus as part of a team or find yourself in a remote location hours away from anything familiar.
Travel nutrition is an entire topic all on its own, with a blog post coming on that soon so today let’s discuss the FIRST step: making a plan. Making a plan is honestly applicable to every one of these nutrition mistakes, especially with travel nutrition.
First, take a look at your upcoming schedule and write it down. You need to KNOW when you are going to eat on the go before you can make a meal/snack plan. Think practices, in-between games, or weekend tournaments. Once you know WHEN you need it, start planning WHAT you need. A plan might include asking your parents to bring you something to the game, packing your own snacks and meals, or looking at your location ahead of time to see what restaurants (or even grocery stores) will fit into your schedule. My favorite recommendation for travel nutrition: create a performance pack to keep with you at all times.
5: Trying to gain or lose weight.
Repeat after me: In-season is not a time to change my weight. Whether your coach recommends gaining some muscle or losing a few pounds, in-season is NOT a time to make weight changes. Save this for the off-season. Why? Gaining OR losing can impair your performance. Picture this: Your coach asks you to gain 5-10 pounds because it will “make you stronger”. You decide to start eating more and gain successfully however you also find you can run as fast as you did a few weeks ago and your pitching speed decreases. Or, you were told to lose a few pounds so you start cutting out breakfast. This leaves you feeling a little more tired and sore and not really wanting to give it all you got during practice. You feel weak and catch a cold, making things worse. Are these really the gains you were looking for? Save weight changes for the off-season (or better yet, believe you can be a strong high performer no matter your weight).
Instead, aim to maintain your weight. This means staying on top of your eating during the in-season (See mistake number one: no skipping meals) AND choosing not to engage in weight changes. It is much easier to lose unwanted weight than to regain lost muscle because you fell behind in your fueling once the off-season arrives.
In conclusion, the TLDR is don’t forget to FUEL for the season!
Here are the top five mistakes I usually see as a Registered Dietitian.
1: Skipping meals, snacks, and hydration. You want to be eating roughly every 3 hours throughout the day.
2: Opting for a pre-workout or an energy drink instead of consuming actual energy before a game. Give consuming food calories and staying on top of hydration prior to your game time a try versus your usual energy drink routine. If you really need an energy drink to get through a game, consider looking at your stress levels and sleep schedule.
3: Forgetting the 4 R’s post-game: Repair-Replenish-Rehydrate-Rest. Recovery nutrition gets you ready for the next game or practice. Remember: Carbohydrates + Protein+ Hydration within 2 hours post-game or practice with a nice dose of sleep to top it off!
4: Leaving travel nutrition plans for someone else to figure out. Make a plan to get your nutrition in even when the game is away by bringing your own snacks or looking ahead of time for onsite options.
5: Trying to make weight changes in season. MAINTAIN- don’t gain or even worse- lose weight in season! Keep up with nutrition in season to avoid weight changes that can mess up your performance.
Sound a little overwhelming? I can help! Head on over to the “work with me” page to get started.