Summer's finally here, and if you're a young athlete, that means you're going to be playing sports on the weekends.
Those weekend doubleheaders and tournaments are what you've waited for all year. These events often feature excellent competition on the field and a number of college coaches in the stands.
You trained all offseason. You took care of business during your school's sport season. Now, it's time to show your stuff to the big stage. However, all your hard work can quickly be erased with one mistake—improper fueling.
If you're not fueling up properly during these tournaments, you're not giving yourself the chance to be your best. With that in mind, here are five common nutrition mistakes you need to avoid this tournament season.
1. Not Eating Right the Night Prior
For many youth athletes being on the road means eating most of your meals at fast food joints or pizzerias. But eating junk the night before a game sets you up for poor performance.
All the different food groups work together to help our body work properly, which is why it's so important to have a mixed meal full of protein, carbs, healthy fats and vegetables.
- Protein: helps our bodies rebuild and recover
- Carbohydrates: what we burn for energy
- Fat: used for energy, aids in digestion, provides vitamins and minerals
- Vegetables: provide essential vitamins and minerals that aid in recovery and help keep your immune system strong
Protein and carbs together help the body prevent further muscle breakdown. Fat and vegetables give our body the vitamins and minerals we need to use the energy from the carbs and allow the protein to rebuild our muscles.
The night before competition, we should be trying to make the best choices possible. Lean proteins like chicken breast, fish and 90/10 Ground beef are always a great choice. Smarter carbs like potatoes (white or sweet), brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat/whole grain options provide sustained energy. Healthy fats like avocado, nuts, olive oils and nut butter provide enough calories to prevent muscle loss and reduce inflammation. Vegetables are incredibly dense in valuable nutrients, helping your body feel and perform its best. Try to "eat the rainbow" and ingest a variety of different-colored veggies to reap the most benefit.
Your dinner the night before competition should have a little more carbs than your typical meal. This will help us store enough carbs to fuel our activity the next day. However, it's important not to overdo and eat nothing but carbs.
2. Eating a Breakfast of Empty Carbs
It's the morning before competition and you didn't think ahead. You didn't have a plan. You might be able to stop at a deli and get a bagel with cream cheese, or maybe you'll eat cereal in the car. Or do you just grab a piece of fruit? What about skipping breakfast altogether?
Does this sound like you? It sounds like most of us. Rarely do we allow ourselves the time and resources to have a big, balanced breakfast. So we get some carbs in however we can and tell ourselves we're ready to go.
But a breakfast full of empty carbs isn't nearly as effective as a breakfast that has both protein and carbs. Together, proteins and carbs help prevent muscle breakdown. Preventing muscle breakdown is very important, especially if you're playing multiple games in a weekend. If we're sore and stiff, we won't be able to perform our best.
A breakfast of pure carbohydrates may help you perform during your game, but it won't do much to help you recover from that game. That's why we don't want to eat them alone. We need protein along with carbs. Getting protein ahead of time might require a little planning or at least some thinking ahead. If you know you're going to the deli, get some eggs on that bagel. If you have cereal, at least add a yogurt on the side. And if you're eating a piece of fruit, have it with a protein shake or a glass of chocolate milk.
There's always ways to add protein to your meal, but it takes some planning.
Another question—how close to game time should we have our first meal?
If you have an 8 a.m. game, eating a big breakfast might just not be possible. Your best option is to have a fast-digesting protein shake with blended fruit. A simple rule to follow is the closer the game is to your meal time, the smaller the meal, and the further away the game is, the bigger the meal. Remember to always plan or at least think ahead. If it's an away tournament, pack some sandwich bags with protein powder and maybe pack a cooler full of yogurt.
3. Drinking Too Many Sports Drinks
During long, sweaty tournaments, water should be your best friend. You should drink it when you wake up. You should drink it before bed. And you should drink it during and after every game.
Unfortunately, many kids rely on sports drinks too often. Electrolytes help keep us hydrated, but we don't need as many as we think. Many sports drinks are also loaded with sugar, which can lead to upset stomachs during competition. Having one 16-ounce sports drink throughout an entire day of competition is usually more than enough as long as you're consuming enough water.
Roughly 60% of our body is water. Even just being a little dehydrated can have a negative impact on your performance, as it's been found that as little as a .5 percent decrease in hydration can be enough to alter your play.
A better alternative to traditional sports drinks is "Catalyte" from Thorne Research. It's one of my favorite supplements. It tastes good and also has magnesium and calcium, which can help prevent cramping. But really, the most important takeaway is drinking more water.
4. Bad Snacks Between Games
We need some snacks between games to re-fuel and recover, but not all snacks are created equally. From my observations, most people don't take their food choices between games seriously. It's often candy or chips from the concessions stand. And in certain cases, it'll be a massive sandwich or a few hot dogs.
Although candy or chips simply don't have enough nutrients to properly fuel us, eating too much food can lead to you feeling heavy and sluggish during your next game. Your food choices during the breaks between games should help you feel light and energized.
When I used to coach baseball in the summer, I'd see kids eating big hero sandwiches between doubleheaders. By the time the second game started, they'd be exhausted and ready for a nap, while kids with smaller snacks were always more ready and prepared.
We shouldn't be having big meals. If you're someone who didn't have a better breakfast and is trying to make up for it between games, you're already behind. Keep the snacks light and easily digestible, but also substantial enough to help us re-energize. For example:
- Protein shake
- Trail mix (preferably one that's not stuffed with candy)
Mixing protein with some carbs is a great way to ensure you're re-fueling.
5. Not Taking Your Diet Seriously in General
Maybe you do eat right during your tournament. But how does your diet look for the rest of the week or month? How about the whole offseason?
Obviously, it's important to prepare our body with good nutrition the night before or the morning of a game. But if you're not eating the right thing during your training, you're simply not going to progress like you could. That means that your ceiling on game day is going to be substantially lower than it could be, regardless of how you eat that given day.
Put your body in a position to succeed. We need to be doing the right things more than just the day before a game. Start fixing your nutrition now. Have more well-balanced meals, have more fruits and vegetables, and drink more water. It's not enough to practice and train, we need to pair that with proper nutrition to get where we want to be.
Photo Credit: iStock, Thinkstock, VictorHuang/iStock
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