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Power Up Pregame

Planning takes a team effort to overcome obstacles. Taking charge to make changes will help assure that your team is powered up to play well with fewer injuries until the end of the season.
Power Up Pregame

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By Sherri Norstrom Stastny, Ph. D., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.R.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

Most high school athletes and their parents and coaches know the importance of eating right. Powering up is critical to perform at one's best and prevent injuries during practice or competition.

Having enough carbohydrate from foods and drinks to keep the fuel tank full is important. Carbohydrate is the foundation for energy found in many foods: breads, grains, pastas, cereals, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products, especially milk.

When working hard, muscles break down. They need extra protein to slow the breakdown and assist it in healing. These building blocks in protein are called amino acids. Amino acids are found in a variety of foods: meat, fish, chicken, turkey, dry beans such as kidney and pinto beans, milk and dairy products. Therefore, having a balanced diet, including carbohydrate, protein and moderate fats throughout the day, is important. However, carbohydrate and protein are crucial, especially pregame (or one to four hours before practice) and postgame (within one hour of practice, and again a couple of hours later).

Unfortunately, obstacles persist that keep teen athletes, whether at the top of their game or new to their game, from getting the right types of foods and drinks when needed most. One of the biggest roadblocks to good nutrition is lack of planning, or not having control over one's day. Having a game plan and taking control are key strategies to keep athletes at their best, not only on the court, but also in the kitchen.

Teens who participate in school sports, along with their parents and coaches, can do more by working together on a nutrition plan and learning a some of the "tricks of the trade" from a registered dietitian.

1. Time the pregame meal. Don't let the typical sack lunch get you sacked. Three to four hours before a tough practice or on-the-road game, eating is rushed. After sitting in class all day, power up with enough carbohydrate for energy and protein to keep the amino acids flowing for that 6 or 7 p.m. game. Aim for less fat and enough protein plus carbohydrate.

2. Drink to delay fatigue and keep the mind sharp. Don't let the lack of fluids let you hit the wall. Hydrate with every meal or snack. Also, one hour before practice, training or a game, have at least 1 to 2 cups of fluid. During practice or anything that includes intervals or hard training, energize with carbohydrates; this is the time to drink calories. Sports drinks are made to be used during practice or hard training. Power up. Drink at least 6 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes or so. Marathoners who miss first or second place by a few seconds report "skipping" sports drink stations. Also to aid recovery, hydration and eating are critical. Don't go to bed the night before without hydrating. What you drink the day before can make or break your hydration the next day.

3. Any time you drink, choose your drink carefully. Don't miss out on good nutrition when you drink. According to "Consumption of Sugar Drinks in the United States 2005-2008", males consume more sugar drinks than females, and teenagers and young adults consume more sugar drinks than any other age group. Most sugar drinks are obtained from stores and not from restaurants or schools. Stopping at a convenience store for a drink is an OK idea, but consider trying a new trendy protein drink for athletes: reduced-fat chocolate milk. Sugar drinks such as pop and fruit drinks contain mostly sugar and few nutrients. Low-fat or reduced-fat milk contains a good concentration of protein, calcium and potassium, which are beneficial for bone health, plus supply energy, electrolytes and amino acids. Many soy milk drinks also are fortified with calcium. Check the label.

4. For tournaments and days of intense activity, pregame nourishment and regular hydration are not enough. Plan for salty snacks along with hydration during the activity. Choose pretzels or Chex mix-type snacks for salt and energy, and also add apples, oranges, and bananas to add back minerals while getting carbohydrate to refill emptied fuel tanks.

5. For everyday prepractice snacking, choose a variety of packable snack items. Examples include string or other small prepackaged cheese, trail mix with nuts, dried fruit, seeds and added crackers, yogurt, fruit juice, bottled milk and nut spread on bagels, and always carry a water bottle. A snack should include two to three food groups.

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