Five Pillars of Basketball Nutrition

Fuel your body the right way by learning about the five pillars of basketball nutrition and identifying high-performance food.

Basketball Nutrition

Basketball is one of the most physically demanding sports any athlete can play. Elite basketball players have the perfect balance of endurance, strength, power and mental stamina. Because of these demands, their bodies must perform like a well-oiled machine. Grant Hill said it best when he said, "you don't want to put regular gas in a high-performance car."

If you play basketball, you can't eat like your non-athlete friends. Keep your high-performance body competitive by fueling it with high-performance food. Improve your diet by fueling for endurance, mental stamina, movement, strength & power and durability.

1. Endurance

As a basketball player, you need enough fuel to complete two-hour practices plus weightlifting on a daily basis. During competition, you need to make sure you have enough in the tank for two intense 20-minute halves.

Carbohydrates fuel the muscles and brain during high-intensity practices and games. When you run out of carbohydrates to burn as fuel, your legs will feel dead and you'll start to slow down. For this reason, it's important to eat foods like bread, pasta or fruit before exercising. Eat 70 to 300 grams of carbohydrate within four hours before your workout. The exact amount depends on your bodyweight and the amount of time you have before training begins.

2. Mental Stamina

It's important to think about fueling during practices and games. When you become dehydrated during a game, your focus and performance will suffer. Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat understood this when he said, "Hydration is so important, so huge, especially with me. I lose five pounds after each game."

Basketball players should aim for five ounces of fluid every 15 minutes. If you're an elite player who rarely leaves the court, consider consuming a small amount of carbohydrates during the game to keep your blood sugar levels normal and your focus sharp. Alternating between sports drinks and plain water will provide the right mix of carbs and fluid to help you stay hydrated and mentally sharp as the game clock winds down.

3. Movement

During the season, you'll complete 40 to 70 sprints per day and experience momentum shifts every two seconds. Combined, the sprints and shifts result in at least 1,000 movements per game. To move quickly, the body relies on the carbohydrates that you consume before and during exercise. If you eat fatty foods (butter, oil, cream, mayonnaise or fried foods) before a practice or game, you'll generally use more fat for fuel.

According to Dr. Fred Brouns, "When fat is being used as a major energy source, athletes can only work at 40 to 60 percent of their maximal capacity." High-fat foods also take a long time to digest. If you eat fatty food on game day, you'll spend energy digesting it during the game, which leaves less energy for running, dribbling, passing and shooting.

4. Strength & Power

Basketball players must have enough strength and power to jump about 45 times per game while passing, shooting and blocking. To build strength and power, you must fuel with carbohydrates before exercise and recover with protein and carbohydrate within an hour after completing training. A post-workout smoothie is an excellent recovery nutrition option. Because your muscles get bigger, stronger and more powerful while you're recovering, the food you eat during recovery is extremely important.

5. Durability

Because basketball players burn a lot of calories during training and competition, they often experience difficulty maintaining or gaining weight. If you're looking to gain weight or prevent weight loss, you must consume quality calories. A common mistake: frequently visiting fast food and pizza restaurants. These foods contain a lot of empty calories that provide no benefit on the court. Try to get most of your calories from whole grains, lean meats, beans, dairy, plant oils (like olive or canola), fruits and vegetables. Nuts are a great source of protein, healthy fat and calories. If you want to gain weight, try to consume nuts every day.

Championship basketball teams understand that endurance, strength, mental stamina, quick movements, strength & power and durability cannot be achieved without a high-performance diet. Contact a sports dietitian (SportsRD) to develop an individualized nutrition plan to meet all of your basketball needs.

1. "Fast Break Nutrition." Jenny Boynton MS, RD (CPSDA Conference Seminar) May 18, 2012.
2. New Breed of Athletes Seeking Edge through Food, Not Drugs
3. Dwyane Wade Submits to Gatorade Tests
4. Brouns F. Functional foods for athletes. Trends in Food Science & Technology. 1997; 8:358-363.

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