The One Nutrition Mistake You Must Avoid During Summer Tournament Season

Legendary NBA strength coach Steve Hess details the one mistake that's sure to sabotage many athletes' performance this summer—and how you can avoid it.

Tournament season is upon us.

This summer, youth athletes across the country will spend their weekends playing multiple games a day. Whether it's travel baseball, AAU basketball or any other sport, the grind of the summer tournament season can put serious wear on youth athletes. To ensure they stay strong despite the grueling schedule, proper nutrition is key.

All too often, we see youth athletes rely on candy bars or hot dogs for fuel between games—that is, if they even eat at all. To perform well throughout the course of the summer—and to avoid looking like a muscleless toothpick come September—you need to eat, and you need to do it often. In the eyes of legendary former NBA strength and conditioning coach Steve Hess, pre-preparation is the only way to stay on top of your game.

"If you don't pre-prepare, you're screwed. You're going to start the tournament real early, 8 in the morning, you're not going to eat lunch until 2 in the afternoon, you're going to eat five pieces of pizza, feel terrible, then that evening you're probably going to eat junk as well. You gotta pre-prepare—preferably cooked food, but it doesn't always work like that. I know not everyone has access to it. I have a son who plays AAU, (when he leaves for a tournament), he has three days prepared of five meals per day. These young athletes have to pre-prepare and have to make wise choices. So if you're going to go to a restaurant between games, do not get fast American food like pizza, burgers, fries. That's going to smash your system, you can't absorb it, you're not getting nutrients—make smarter choices," Hess, who spent 20 years as the Denver Nuggets' head strength coach before moving into a consulting role last August, recently told STACK. "You gotta prepare in your head. Get a good breakfast, make sure there's a place you can get lunch, you have to have dinner, and for those two meals or snacks in between, perfect time to grab a bar or snack."

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If you need a potent snack when you're away from home, Hess loves the nutrition packed into MET-Rx Big 100 Bars. The bars, which contain no artificial flavors or colors and come in seven different varieties, pack 40+ grams of carbohydrates and 30+ grams of protein."I load my athletes up with the Big 100 Bars. The nutrients that it provides are well-researched, they work amazingly, they taste frigging awesome, but most of all, they're healthy. They don't necessarily replace food, but they're an amazing alternative when you need it," Hess says.

One other simple-yet-effective solution you can lean on during game day? The humble PB&J sandwich. The simple carbs give players fast energy; the modest amount of protein helps them stay strong without weighing them down; and the sodium helps them stay hydrated.

"Here's why I do like it—generally, people can absorb it and it doesn't mess with their gastrointestinal system. The worst thing you can do is have gastrointestinal distress while you're trying to play a game. It does provide a fairly good amount of fuel, it's easily accessible, it transportable, so it's not a bad choice whatsoever," Hess says.

Hess also recommends trying it at practice before you try it at a game to ensure your sandwich doesn't upset your stomach, and he encourages you to get creative with your recipe. For example, try replacing your peanut butter with almond butter (both are great choices, but almonds are more nutritionally-dense than peanuts) or using sliced fruit instead of jelly (which will provide greater amounts of fiber).

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