Nutrition Strategies for Tournament Days
There are many things to keep in mind on game day, especially if you are involved in a tournament that schedules multiple games on the same day. Nutrition should be at the top of your list of things to plan for, because fueling properly can make or break your performance.
It's important to begin the day properly fueled. If you have a later game time, have a balanced breakfast three to four hours prior to your scheduled warm-up time. This meal should consist of whole grain carbohydrates (e.g., 100% whole wheat bread), lean protein (e.g., egg whites), and healthy fat (e.g., natural peanut butter). The size of this meal will depend on how much your stomach can handle, your specific sport, position and individual goals. (Learn more about building a healthy breakfast.)
If your first game of the day is early in the morning, eat a mini-breakfast or a pre-game snack, such as toast with natural peanut butter or yogurt with granola. This will top off your fuel stores and provide consistent energy throughout the game. If you feel that you can't stomach too much food, have a slice of toast, a piece of fruit or a sports drink. Something is always better than nothing.
It's difficult to plan main meals during a tournament, because start times may vary and/or change with little or no notice. So pack some simple snacks to munch on during the day. They will provide the nutrients you need to perform and ensure that you are optimally fueled. Some good things to pack include: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, granola bars, fruit, sports bars and pretzels. Avoid high fiber foods during tournament days to reduce the chance of upsetting your stomach. (Check out the best grab-and-go pre-race snacks.)
It's important to consume something within 30 minutes after your game for optimal recovery and injury prevention. Both protein and carbohydrates are essential during this window of time. Some good post-game options are low-fat chocolate milk, recovery shakes, turkey sandwiches or recovery sports bars. (Discover 3 healthy smoothie recipes)
You must also ensure that you are properly hydrated. A good rule of thumb is to have 1/2 to one ounce of water per pound of body weight per day—e.g., a 150-pound athlete should drink 75 to 150 ounces of water per day. Adequate hydration assists with cardiovascular efficiency, ensures optimal aerobic and muscular endurance and reduces the chance of muscle cramping. Spread out the amount you drink so that you don't get a stomachache and don't have to urinate frequently throughout a tournament day.
Nothing New on Game Day
Do not try a new food or beverage on game day. Experiment with foods and beverages during a practice or training session to determine whether your stomach can handle them. The last thing you want is for your body to reject something on game day. You never know how you're going to respond, so don't risk it. (Check out Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix's race-day nutrition.)
The key to optimal results: plan ahead and experiment with foods and beverages on non-game days. Keep it simple and familiar and you'll be 10 steps ahead of your opponents.