Mar 23, 2018Tournament Time Fueling
March Madness has arrived. For a sports dietitian, that means figuring out how to give your athletes a nutritional advantage over the competition in tournament play. Here’s how we are doing it at Texas A&M University, where both our men’s and women’s teams made the Sweet 16 this year.
1. Hydration – Making sure basketball players are fully hydrated is essential for on-court performance. With airplane travel, multiple practice and shootaround sessions, variable game times, and the potential for two games on each weekend, not to mention the nerves and excitement that come along with tournament play, we need to keep on top of hydration. Our basketball teams travel with all their electrolyte products, and we make sure sports drinks and water are available on the bus, at the hotel, and at team meals, as well as before and after team practices and shootarounds.
2. Recovery – To maintain energy levels throughout weekend play, we focus on recovery nutrition. That means players need to have a snack or meal with carbs and some protein after games and workouts. Snacks will typically be provided by the site hosting the tournament game. But if not, providing adequate sports drinks and a recovery meal in the locker room will be essential.
We tell our athletes to eat a lean source of protein (chicken, turkey, ham, roast beef), some fresh fruit, and baked chips or pretzels for a recovery snack. Also, we keep some bars, salted nuts, and fresh fruit on the bus to ensure every athlete finds something they like to hold them over until the next meal.
3. Meal Time – This is a special time of year, and college players should be rewarded for this great accomplishment. Teams will typically get into town two days before tournament play starts. We try something special for that first meal when they arrive: BBQ in Kansas City, a Cajun meal in Louisiana, or a nice steak dinner in a big city. Now I am not saying that they should go out for a bucket of fried chicken if they are playing in Kentucky, but a special meal can go a long way for team morale, and it gives players the opportunity to get a solid meal in a couple days before play begins.
Meals get more important the closer you get to game time. The next day, the day before the first game, we want to hit them with the essentials. At this point in the season, you will know team likes and dislikes, and you can build meals around these favorites. Meals should include a variety of vegetables and fresh fruit, high quality carbohydrates (including oatmeal, cereals, breads, pastas, rice, and potatoes), lean sources of protein, moderate amounts of fat (with an emphasis on the healthy fat sources), and of course plenty of fluids.
While teams should have their game day routine down by this point, on that first day of games in the round of 64, start times can range anywhere from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m EST. With travel and changing time zones, this can make for some atypical start times. Construct a game day fueling plan that will ensure adequate energy and fluid intake, adequate time for digestion, and proper halftime refueling.
4. Sleep – Having a well-rested and recharged body is the final key for tournament success. Travel, changing time zones, nerves, and anxiety can influence both appetite and sleep pattern. Get your players in their rooms early with a salty bedtime snack and get them to put away their phones, computers, iPods, iPads, or whatever may distract them from getting a good night’s sleep.
This is not the time of year to mix things up. If nutrition related issues, such as fatigue or cramping, came up during conference tournament play, plan to experiment during the week of practice following selection Sunday. Don’t bring something new with you to your first round tournament site. Working the basketball teams early to encourage good nutrition as they progress throughout their season will bring you the least resistance come tournament time and help to calm some of the madness associated with this time of year.