I thought a post on game day nutrition for young players might be in order after a funny thing happened at recent local tournament. Donuts and cupcakes were being served in the team tent! Normally, I create a more appropriate supply list, but this was just a fun fall event for my younger recreational teams to play a couple games and someone brought treats. Maybe there was a birthday and I didn’t know?
But it made me think. What do typical parents and coaches really know about game day nutrition; even applicable to young players? What should an athlete eat the night before or the morning of an important competitive event, or between games at a hot summer tournament with long or short breaks?
I recently heard an interview with 4 time NBA Champion John Salley in which he mocked how the greatest athletes in the world with all the top nutritional and medical resources are fed. If they can’t get it right, what should we expect from the “team mom”, even with the best intentions?
So let’s get a little technical about how athletes use and create energy with some fancy big words and then make it real simple, ultimately ending with a near net shopping list and time line.
There are two basic classifications of physical activity – aerobic and anaerobic. Energy to perform any activity is provided (to the brain and muscles) in the form of one source – ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is the result of various biochemical processes. I guess for lack of a better analogy, ATP is the gasoline in the fuel chamber of a car ready to be sparked. But before that state, there are three systems to manufacture energy to that point – Phosphagen, Glycolitic, and aerobic (Oxidative), that are employed depending on the activity. This table serves to simplify the science.
|Activity Description||Activity Class||Energy System||Duration of Energy||Energy System Sources||Speed of Production|
|Explosive movement||Anaerobic||ATP||3 seconds||ATP stored in muscle cells||Immediate|
|High intensity sprint 100 meter dash||Anaerobic||Phosphagen||10 seconds||ATP/CP – recycled ATP processed with the help of creatine phosphate||Very fast|
|Sustained high intensity 200 meter run||Anaerobic||Glycolitic||60 seconds||Carbohydrates||Fast|
|Extended duration running or biking||Aerobic||Oxidative||30 minutes||Oxygen, carbohydrates, fats, proteins||Slow|
Continuing with my mostly inappropriate car analogy, the body is similar to a hybrid vehicle and an athlete needs to have both the tank full and the battery charged. Excessive acceleration is dependent on gasoline energy that is quick and easy to obtain (like food), but it also runs out sooner. Steady cruising is battery dependent and can continue for a long time, but also requires a longer time to generate. While city driving uses both the car’s gasoline and battery for extended efficiency.
Finally circling back to lacrosse and nutrition, one can see that a lacrosse athlete will be traversing all of these activities in the table above, mostly concentrated in the center two rows. A meal plan of all Red Bull or all protein bars, just isn’t going to work to feed these energy system requirements. Athletic energy requirements require macro-nutrients of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Also, not all carbohydrates are the same. “Whole” carbohydrates convert to energy most efficiently and the fiber they provide also aids in digestion, which is important since that also requires energy. By contrast, “empty” carbohydrates, which come from foods that include refined flour, sugar, and white rice have no nutritional value. The chart below shows the ratio of nutrients required and examples for each category.
|Whole Complex Carbohydrates – 65%||Fats – 20%||Protein – 15%||The No List – 0%|
|Oatmeal, brown rice, potatoes, 100% whole wheat bread, 100% whole grain pasta, beans, fruits, vegetables||Almonds, avocados, peanut butter, eggs||Eggs, chicken breast, nuts, turkey breast, tuna, Greek yogurt, beans||Regular pasta and breads, most breakfast cereals, cookies, pizza, cake, bagels, muffins, crackers, chips, ice cream, fried food, candy, donuts|
Ideally, for elite athletes the “pre-game” meal process starts days before competition, but since this scope is most focused on youth athletes, here is an example meal plan for an 8th grader with a 1:00 PM lacrosse game.
Sample Dinner the Evening Before:
Long grain rice
Strawberries for desert
Sample Breakfast by 9 AM (4 hours before **last time to include fats and proteins):
Whole wheat toast
Fruit (grapefruit, blueberries, cantaloupe)
Pre-Game by 12 PM (1 hour before **carb only phase):
Halftime (only if needed):
Banana, Apple, or Orange
Post-Game within 30 Minutes (**protein and carb heavy examples):
Greek yogurt with fruit
Hard boiled egg
Kind Oat & Honey bar
Millville Protein Granola Crunch
Kashi Blueberry Almond Bar
Some Notes on Hydration
I can’t understate the importance of hydration and think it’s important enough to cover separately in a Part 2, but I did come across a useful factoid in my research that can serve as a quick and easy guideline at the field. According to this paper by the Canadian Pediatric Society an athlete should consumer at least .2 ounces per pound of body weight per hour during competition and .06 ounces after for fluid replacement. To make it simple, if our 8th grade example weighs 100 pounds and plays a 1 hour lacrosse game, she roughly needs a 24 oz. bottle of water of which she should drink 3/4 of the bottle during the game and the rest after.
I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. The information presented in this post was compiled after hours of research of more than a dozen other papers and articles and then restated in a parent friendly way like an old fashioned one thousand word high school term paper. While I do consider it accurate, I have not personally conducted any scientific research on this subject.