When you hear the term "professional athlete," you probably don't think of a weekend warrior who works a regular 9-to-5 job. But for nearly all Major League Lacrosse players—including Boston Cannons superstar Paul Rabil, who works in finance when he's not shooting for the pipes—it's a way of life. And their nutritional strategies have to fit easily fit into their busy schedules.
"For the most part, the players on our team fly in on Friday night, practice Saturday morning, play a game Saturday afternoon, then leave to go back to their regular jobs on Sunday," says Julie Nicoletti, a nutritionist who works with the Cannons. "Their challenges are a little different than, for example, NFL players, who can eat most of their in-season meals at a team facility."
Professional lacrosse players deal with the same questions full-time workers and students face, like what should I grab for lunch? Or which foods should I load into my shopping cart at the grocery store? Nicoletti tries to eliminate their guesswork with her "Food For Thought" guidelines, a single sheet of paper that lists simple rules to help the players consistently make healthy choices.
The advice is simple but effective. One rule: Get the bulk of your food from things that "swam, ran, flew, grew from the ground or fell from a tree." Another: "Avoid or limit foods that come in shiny bags, crinkly wrappers or colorful boxes."
The guidelines also cover what to drink, and when. "Hydration is hugely important, because [Cannons players] play at Harvard Stadium, where it's hot and sunny," Nicoletti says. Also, since air travel dehydrates the body, she recommends drinking 16 ounces of water for every hour spent on a plane.
Nicoletti advises the players to pay close attention to their hydration levels by taking a simple test on the Friday before a Saturday game. She says, "I tell the players that the best gauge of their hydration is the color of their urine. It should be clear. They should be hydrating Saturday during practice, so every time they are sidelined they should be drinking. Then, they should drink half a bottle of water up to 15 minutes before a game, so they have time to run off and use the bathroom."
Nicoletti keeps it simple before and after games, providing the players with a timeline of what to eat and when to eat it. "A banana is a great choice just before a game because it's a great source of carbohydrates, it has potassium to decrease cramping, and it's something your body can digest quickly since it's already semi-solid by the time you swallow it."
Smart eating doesn't have to take a lot of thought. You just need to have the right foods on hand. Check out the Cannons' grocery list for snacks (below). It can help you stay properly fueled throughout your busy days.
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Fueling Before Face-Off
Team nutritionist Julie Nicoletti shares the Boston Cannons' game-day eating plan.
Three hours before the game: Eat a full meal containing carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.
With an hour or less to go: Eat a high-carbohydrate snack—like grapes, watermelon, pineapple or a banana—to top off your energy stores. Limit your intake of fat and fiber. Drink plenty of water.
With 15 minutes to go: Take one last hit of carbohydrates, either with sports chews like Clif Shot Blocks or Gatorade Prime Chews, or with a small box of raisins.
After the game: Immediately consume something with a 3-to-1 carb-to-protein ratio, and focus on replacing the fluids lost during gameplay. This will decrease muscle soreness and improve your recovery time.
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Boston Cannons' On-The-Go Grocery List
Stock your backpack with some of these nutritionally-stacked snacks, which stay good from dawn to dusk.
- Whole fruit (apples, bananas, pears, oranges, berries)
- Natural peanut butter
- Dried fruit (raisins, dates, craisins)
- Nuts (raw pistachios, almonds, walnuts)
- Ezekiel Bread (found in healthy frozen section) or whole-grain bread with at least 3 grams of fiber and no enriched flour
- Bars (Kind, Lara, Clif)