An athlete at a high level of competition should know if he or she has mineral deficiencies via bloodwork or a doctor’s oversight. Even consuming trace minerals in the form of sea salt added to food can be helpful in preventing problems, such as muscle cramping. [For more information about preventing muscle cramps, see “What’s Up Doc?”.] Everyone’s dosage may be different, and you need to seek consultation from a doctor to find out where to start.
In the world of hydration, water is king. A simple tip is to drink a couple extra glasses of water during the three days leading up your competition, not just on the day of the event. You want your body to be topped off, but you cannot expect to absorb all your fluids in one day.
As for food intake and energy production, your body primarily uses three types of fuel: glucose, glycogen and fat. Different types of athletes may use more of one than others, but in general your body should have access to all of them. Examples of healthy sources of glucose include fiber rich food like whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
Fresh fruits and whole grain foods are also good sources of glycogen. And for healty fats, look to things like eggs, avocados, nuts, chia seeds and fatty fish.
Your body can shift between using different fuel sources if needed. This will require you to eat a diet that contains a variety of healthy fats and vegetables on a daily basis. These cannot be replaced by magic pills, drinks, supplements or by carb loading. Eating more than five servings of vegetables per day will get your body the glucose and glycogen you need to keep your body primed and ready to compete.
When it comes to competition time, plan on having a high-carbohydrate diet for two to three days leading up to your event. This will help max out muscle glycogen stores that will be needed for energy. Moderation is, of course, important. That pasta dinner the day before might not be helpful if you pack yourself full and have gastric distress as a result. This is why you should experiment to see what works best for your body.
Focus on foods with higher levels of carbs, not higher levels of calories, so you don’t weigh yourself down. Also, try other sources of complex carbohydrates, such as quinoa or rice, to mix things up.
It is OK to experiment early in the season or in preseason. It may take some time to learn what works best for you. Finding the right diet will be more of an art than a science at times.
No one can feel what you are feeling in your body. Just like no one can run the miles or do the drills for you, fueling up is something you must learn for yourself. Pre-game nutrition—just like everything in your sport—is something that you must practice to perfect.
Try This Smoothie!
1 frozen banana, peeled and sliced
2 cups frozen strawberries, raspberries or cherries
1 cup milk*
1/2 cup plain or vanilla yogurt*
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 to 3 tablespoons honey or to taste
Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Pour into glasses and serve.
*For non-dairy smoothies, substitute 1 cup rice milk for the milk and yogurt.