Consuming fast-acting carbs prior to physical activity allows you to work harder and longer. For an immediate energy boost, take in approximately 100 calories of easily-digestible carbs 15 minutes before a game. "Taking in a small amount of carbohydrate before you get started will help your body more effectively use additional fuel that you take in during activity," says Kim Stein of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.
Fruit and pre-activity sports drinks work well. But to prevent stomach distress, don't overdo it—and avoid slow-digesting, protein-rich, fatty or greasy foods. Limit the amount of fluid you drink immediately before a game to a maximum of eight ounces; but top off your electrolyte levels, because once you begin to sweat, you're likely to lose sodium and potassium. Failing to replenish them can result in cramping or dehydration, which will degrade your performance.
Your nutrition strategy doesn't end when the game begins. You need to continue giving your body the nutrients it needs to perform well. When you sweat during training, practice or games, you lose water and minerals such as sodium and potassium, which can lead to cramps, dehydration, or an electrolyte imbalance that reduces your muscles' ability to contract.
To avoid this, consume eight to 12 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes—preferably a sports drink rich in electrolytes, especially sodium, because it helps the body retain fluid. To maintain your electrolyte balance, drink a beverage with 110 to 220 grams of sodium per eight ounces.
When you engage in intense activity, you also burn through your fuel stores. Taking in some carbs during a game will help you maintain peak energy and performance. "Select a sports drink with about 14 grams of carbohydrate per 8 ounces," says Lindsay Baker, GSSI Senior Scientist. Another good option: eat carb-rich foods, like a banana or pretzels, during halftime.
Right after a workout or game, your body needs protein and carbs for recovery. "The half-hour after training is a really important time," says Dr. Stein. "Your muscles are ready to repair themselves if you give them the proper nutrients." To optimize muscle recovery and rebuilding, take in 40 to 80 grams of carbs and 10 to 20 grams of protein within 30 minutes after a game or workout. You also need to rehydrate, so drink about 20 ounces of fluid for every pound of bodyweight lost. To prevent cramping and dehydration, make sure your drink contains sodium and potassium.
Power your performance by checking out the full STACK Fueling Guide.
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