Nutrition and hydration for team sport athletes

How to fuel your body well before, during and after physical activity

Tennis shoes on a blue mat in green grass with a bottle of water, smartphone, headphones and a green apple

Team sports such as soccer, hockey and basketball rely on high-intensity, short bursts of activity, as well as cardiovascular endurance. With any of these sports, nutrition and hydration play a significant role in helping you to perform at an optimal level.

Fueling and hydrating for performance before, during and after training and competition will help provide enough energy for the activity, maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle for the next workout or game.

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for team sports. Athletes who do not consume enough carbohydrates and fluid will be unable to train or compete at high intensities, and will likely experience premature fatigue.

Pre-activity nutrition

Pre-activity nutrition is divided into two main time frames, based on when practices and games are scheduled.

Consider your muscles your “gas tank” and carbohydrates their “fuel.” It is important to begin any workout properly fueled. Your body needs both carbohydrates and fat for energy during low- to moderate-intensity activities. As intensity increases or when exercising in the heat, your body will use progressively more carbohydrates for energy.

Starting exercise adequately fueled can help you maintain stamina and improve performance. Three to four hours before your workout, consume a meal high in carbohydrates, some lean protein, and low in fat.

Pre-activity meal (3-4 hours before)

  • 200-300 grams of carbohydrates
  • High in lean protein
  • Low in fiber and fat
  • 12-20 fl. oz. milk, juice or sports drink
  • Example: Grilled chicken, brown rice, corn, green beans, salad and vanilla pudding

With less time, try something smaller, lower in fat and fiber, like instant oatmeal with fruit and milk, or an apple with nuts or peanut butter.

Pre-activity snack

  • 30-60 grams of easily digestible carbohydrate
  • Moderate in protein
  • Low in fiber and fat
  • 5-16 fl. oz. water or sports drink)
  • Example: Banana and peanut butter, yogurt and small amounts of granola, cereal and milk, granola bar, etc.

Nutrition during training or competition

Effective nutrition and hydration strategies during workouts and games depend on how long each session lasts, the environmental conditions, and whether you are training or competing just once or multiple times on the same day.

It takes 60-90 minutes of high-intensity activity to become almost completely depleted of your glycogen stores. If the activity is going to be less than 60-90 minutes (and you are well-nourished beforehand), focus on water. If the activity is more than 90 minutes and/or you have multiple practices or competitions a day, a sports drink can play a more important and effective role. This will help with replenishing glycogen, as well as any sodium losses.

For individuals exercising for more than an hour or in the heat, a sports drink or other carbohydrate source may be appropriate to maintain performance. When ingesting carbohydrate during exercise, you should consume no more than 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Many sports drinks contain 14-15 g per 8 oz of fluid and carbohydrate gels have anywhere from 18-36 g per packet. Sports beans contain 25 g of carbohydrate per packet. Ample water intake is extremely important for any athlete – recreational or competitive.

Nutrition during activity

  • Drink 5-10 oz. of fluid every 15-20 minutes
  • Consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates every hour
  • During halftime (or similar break), eat a simple carbohydrate snack with limited amount of protein, low in fiber and fat
  • Consume snacks that contain sodium (salt)
  • Example: Banana, pretzels, crackers, beef jerky and/or a sports drink.

Recovery

Nutrition post-workout or game is also very important, because it promotes recovery by replenishing glycogen stores and helping repair muscle damage. Recovery starts fairly close to when you finish your activity. Therefore, within about 30-45 minutes, focus on protein and carbohydrate foods or drinks. Consume a ratio of 1:3 or 1:4 of protein to carbohydrate.

Consuming a combination of carbohydrate and protein is ideal for aiding in muscle recovery and repair, improving recovery time, providing energy and potentially decreasing soreness.

Post-activity meal

  • High in whole grain carbohydrates
  • High in lean protein
    Good amount of fiber and fats
  • 16-24 fl. oz. (e.g. chocolate milk, smoothie, sports drink, water)
  • Example: 6-12 in. sandwich with turkey, cheese & vegetables, trail mix, and oatmeal cookie.

Hydration

A sweat loss of more than 2 percent of your pre-activity, normally hydrated body weight has been shown to negatively affect your athletic performance, and more so in a hot and humid environment. Use the following strategies to avoid significant dehydration:

  • If you are thirsty, you are probably already somewhat dehydrated. Minimize pre-activity body water deficits by drinking regularly throughout the day.
  • Check the color of your urine. A darker color, similar to apple juice, signifies you are dehydrated. A color closer to lemonade means you are properly hydrated.
  • Determine your sweat rate by weighing yourself before and after a training session and competition on different days in different environments to get an average rate of sweat loss. The difference in body weight divided by time will give you an estimate of sweating rate.
  • After activity, for every one pound lost, drink 16-20 ounces of fluids before the next bout, unless you only have a short recovery time.
  • If you are a heavy sweater, incorporate salty snacks into your diet, as the salt encourages you to drink and helps to distribute and retain ingested water.

Bottom line

  • Make sure you come to practice properly hydrated by consuming fluids regularly throughout the day.
  • Focus on fueling appropriately for your sport. Timing matters.
  • In order to meet your energy and nutrient needs, eat every three to four hours.
  • Include a variety of foods in your daily diet. Incorporate whole grains, lean meats, and fruits and vegetables in
    most meals.
  • Make sure to try out new food and drink options in practices or workouts – not on game day. This helps you determine what choices work best for you and what your body is able to tolerate, without undue risk to your game-day performance.
  • The right nutrition and hydration plan can be a game-changer.

Posted In Healthy Living, Sports, Sports Medicine

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