Brought to you by Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine.
Sports nutrition supports the unique challenges faced by athletes both outside of sports, as well as just before, during, and right after participation. Involvement in sports stresses the body and in response, the body adapts by becoming faster, stronger, and more efficient, so it is better prepared the next time it is exposed to that stimulus. This is how the body improves performance. A properly fueled body can perform better and train harder, which translates into improved outcomes.
The goal of pre-activity nutrition is to provide energy to power your performance, practice, or game. Think of this as topping off the body’s gas tank. You would never leave for a road trip on an empty tank of gas, and similarly, you shouldn’t start your practice or competitions without any.
Carbohydrates are nutrients found in fruit, grains, milk, and starchy vegetables like peas, squash, potatoes, and beans, which are converted to energy when metabolized in the body. They provide an essential energy source for the brain and red blood cells, and power working muscles during exercise. The body’s carbohydrate stores are limited, so it is necessary to consume enough carbohydrate daily, as well as just before playing sports.
It is equally important to start adequately hydrated. Depending on your digestion, tolerance, and the nature of the activity you are about to perform, it may also be helpful to avoid lactose, high-fat, or high-fiber foods in your pre-game meal or snack. There is nothing bad about those nutrients, but during exercise, blood is diverted away from the digestive tract to the working muscles, making it harder to digest high-fiber, high-fat meals, which can lead to upset stomach and other gastrointestinal symptoms during exercise. Outside of exercise, it is beneficial to your overall health to consume a diet rich in fiber and balanced with healthy fats. Experiment with pre-sport meals and snacks before game day to find what works best, what your body can digest, and what gives you the best energy. Game day is never the time to try something new. Below are some guidelines to help you with your nutrition game plan. You will need to know your athlete’s weight in kilograms (kg) for the calculations. To determine weight in kilograms, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2: weight in lbs/2.2 = weight in kg.
- Daily carbohydrate needs:
- Low intensity or skill-based sports (softball): 3-5 g/kg of body weight per day
- 2-3 hours before training or games:
- Eat a balanced meal along with 5-10 mL/kg of fluids to achieve pale yellow or clear urine (250 mL = 8oz)
- 30-60 minutes before training or games:
- Easily digestible carbohydrates such as bagels, bananas, or pretzels
- Small amount of protein such as nut butter or jerky
The key nutritional consideration during exercise is to stay hydrated. Research has demonstrated that physical and cognitive performance declines when you lose as little as 2-3% of your weight in water loss. There are a couple ways to monitor hydration. First, your urine should be clear or pale yellow. You can also weigh yourself before and after you exercise. Your weight afterward should be as close as possible to your weight before, and no more than 2% lower than your pre-exercise weight.
As a rule of thumb, water is sufficient for general daily hydration as well as when exercising for one hour or less. If exercising for more than 60-90 minutes, if exercise is intense, or in extreme heat, water alone is not enough to replace the electrolytes lost in sweat, and a sports drink would be appropriate. Sports drinks containing 15-20g of carbohydrate per 8oz serving will provide an optimal amount of carbohydrates to sustain you during those long or very intense training sessions.
For athletes participating in long tournaments, it’s helpful to pack plenty of healthy snacks to consume between games or in the dugout. Aim for a combination of protein, carbs, and fluid to stay optimally fueled. Some great options include:
- Peanut butter and jelly or turkey and cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread
- Pretzels or whole grain crackers with nut butter
- Fresh fruit and beef or turkey jerky
- Chocolate milk or Greek yogurt cups
- Sports drinks
Written by: Noel Williams, MS, RD, CSSD, LD
Performance Dietitian, Children’s HealthSM Andrews Institute Sports Performance Powered by EXOS
Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine is the official Athletic Training Sponsor for the USA Softball GOLD National Championship in Plano, Texas July 15-21, 2018.
About Children’s HealthSM Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine
The only pediatric institute of its kind in Texas, the Children’s Health Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine aims at reducing the number of children being sidelined from injury. We provide the full continuum of care from imaging services and orthopedic surgery to sports performance training and physical therapy. Our multidisciplinary team works together across programs to leverage the expertise your child needs.
For more information on the Children’s Health Andrews Institute visit childrens.com/Andrews or call 469-303-3000.