Tournaments! Weekend-long (sometimes longer) events where athletes play multiple games in one day with very short breaks between games. Definitely not long enough to get a solid meal in before the beginning of the next match. All of our baseball and volleyball players have, seemingly, an endless stream of tournaments during the club seasons; it blows my mind a bit.
Anyway, this can pose a problem when it comes to being able to fuel properly before/after games. The aim for this post will be to provide tips how to eat leading up to the tournament, during the tournament (i.e. between games/matches), and sample snacks to bring. One can make this a complicated subject (eat 23.5 grams of protein, 15.8 grams of carbohydrates, eaten during the half-moon's light for optimum performance), but it's not really. It's easier than tracking orcs through the plains of Rohan.
If you glean nothing else out of the post, glean this: EAT. REAL. FOOD. There's no magic bullet supplement that will enhance your performance any more than eating solid, real food regularly.
Leading up to the tournament:
For (at least) the week prior, ensure that your meals consist of REAL foods, that is, plenty of vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Conveniently, the same rules that appeared in the post Eating for Strength and Performance, apply here. Craziness. As I've said before, if you fill your tank with crap, you're going to feel like crap, thus leading to performing like crap. Simple yes? We live in an age where technology makes our lives "easier" (though I would argue against a few of the more recent inventions) yet eating, the most basic human need, is over complicated. Our volleyball and baseball player (and all our athletes!) will take their training to the next level if if they just ate real food. Practical tips on how to achieve this below.
During the Tournament:
The length of the competitive day (6, 8, 10 hours?!!) will, to a degree, determine what types and how much food to bring. Obviously, longer tournament days will require more food than the shorter days. Here are three main points to remember when seeking foods for between games/matches.
1. EAT. REAL. FOOD. (notice a theme?) Don't go to 7-Eleven and pick up a Slurpee and whatever else they sell there. (You should NOT find body fuel at the same place you find car fuel.) Grab some fruit, make some sandwiches, and bring plenty of WATER. We'll go over a couple of beverages down below, but the number one liquid you should slurp: good ol' water. Divide your bodyweight in half... that's how many ounces (MINIMUM!) you should be drinking. If it's hot, and sweat is soaking your garments, drink your body weight in ounces.
2. Choose food that you know will sit well in your stomach. If you never eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches (though if you don't, I don't know what's wrong with you. Try it. But not on tournament day.), don't pack them. The combination of nerves and high activity doesn't provide the best situation to try new foods. Pack food that you know you can handle (I also recommend staying away from a lot of dairy and highly acidic foods/drinks as both can lead to upset stomachs during intense activity).
3. Pack a cooler. I know it's extra work, but you'll be glad you did when you're able to chow down on healthy, delicious and filling foods while your friends are relegated to protein bars, candy, and who knows what other food they scrounge up.
What does all this look like? Fill in your preferred food choice utilizing this general template. Think of it as a nutritional MadLib.
1-2 fist-sized Protein source (eggs, cottage cheese, lean meat, Greek yogurt) + 1/2- 1 cup of Complex Carbohydrate source (fruit, oatmeal, whole grain toast, sweet potato, beans, any kind of vegetable) + 1-3 Tablespoons healthy fat (nut butter, real butter, olive oil, egg yolks, 1/2 avocado, nuts, pumpkin seeds) + at least 1-2 fist-sized serving of vegetables!
As an aside, I made cauliflower cream of "wheat" (and you know I love my cauliflower) the other day for breakfast. I tried this recipe and I just found this one. I think the second one would be a tastier option; the recipe I tried still had a cauliflower-y aftertaste. Maybe I needed riper banana or something. Anyway, this is an example a creative way to incorporate vegetables in tastier ways. And make them a DAILY part of your diet.
1-2 fist-sized protein source + 1/2 cup/serving of carbohydrate* + 1-3 Tablespoons healthy fat + at least 1-2 fist-sized serving of vegetables!
You guessed it: 1-2 fist-sized protein source + 1/2 cup/serving of carbohydrate* + 1-3 Tablespoons healthy fat + (you guessed it) at least 1-2 fist-sized serving of vegetables!
The same composition as the meals, just take half the serving side. For example, a hard boiled egg and an apple would be perfect. If you want some ideas of various foods to try, check out my posts here and here for other, less publicized super foods that have a plethora of benefits to offer to the competitive athlete.
* the amount of carbohydrates will fluctuate depending on if you work out/practice that day or not (see linked post about performance nutrition for more information). Eat 1-2 extra cups of carbohydrates spread throughout the day if practice/workouts are on that day. The "carb-loading" tactic is not a good idea unless you're running an Iron Man. A huge pasta meal the day before a competition doesn't do much for you except make you feel really full and sick.
Here are some sample snack options that might do well during long tournament days:
- Fruits (always a great option) such as bananas, apples, oranges, kiwis, melon etc.
- Homemade granola (complex carbohydrate source)
- Trail mix- a healthy blend of nuts and seeds (to provide satiety) and dried fruit with maybe a little chocolate thrown in (because let's be honest, the M&Ms are the best part).
- Celery, carrots, sliced bell peppers, jicima slices (or any raw veggie) and hummus
- Hardboiled eggs (this is where the cooler becomes handy), deli meat, tuna fish, sardines (if you're ok with no one sitting near you while you eat)
- Sandwiches: meat/cheese or peanut butter variations
1. Water, water, and more water. Water is the oil that keeps the body's engine running smoothly. No water? The engine starts grinding and struggling, like Gimli over long distances, and eventually poops out entirely. Not a desirable result during a big showcase tournament.
2. Drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are ok, but don't make them the primary source of liquid. They're useful if there's copious amounts of sweating going on (to help replace electrolytes) but too often I see athletes downing multiple bottles, when really, 1 bottle should be plenty.
3. If there's a decent chunk of time between games/matches, chocolate milk is actually a pretty good option for providing carbohydrates and protein (both of which are needed after a workout). I don't recommend drinking if there's only 15-20 minutes between games as dairy can sometimes upset stomachs.
4. Soda = fail.
Do you see a pattern? By eating quality food throughout the week and during the tournament days ensures that your body has the proper fuel for competition. Matter of fact, eating this way ALL the time does wonders for your health and performance.
Think of it this way: leading up to the tournament, athletes practice and strength train to prepare their bodies to ensure they're ready to compete. Any coach would tell you that if you try to cram all those hours of practice in the day before the tournament, things won't work out so well. The exact same principle applies to nutrition. If eating nutritious food starts the night before, well, things won't work out so well. Be vigilant in your preparations and take care as to what goes in your body as diligently and enthusiastically as you practice for each tournament.