Between practices, workouts, games/matches/meets, tournaments, schoolwork, internships, social life, and other extracurricular activities, student athletes ask their bodies to do a lot of work. And when you ask your body to do a lot for you, your body will ask for a lot in return to recover and keep you going day after day.
Nutrition plays a major role in your body’s ability to heal. Choosing the right foods for fueling your sport and training body can mean the difference between first or second string. If your body isn’t recovering efficiently and effectively, both your mental and physical performance can suffer, and you’ll increase your risk of injury.
So what should you eat? Well for starters, while everyone has unique needs, foundational nutrition and lifestyle principles will always apply. One nutrition program may work well for one person and have the opposite effect in another who may play the very same position. You know the drill—that one athlete on Instagram had their PB season and looked ripped eating one way, so you followed their program and your energy tanked or your body comp may have even worsened. Yeah, we’ve heard that lot, which is why we work with you to help determine the best foods and fueling plan to support your sport, optimize your body composition, and reach your individual goals.
To establish a firm foundation, the essential first step is to commit to choosing mostly real, minimally processed foods—doable yet challenging when you’re time crunched and packaged foods are easy and everywhere! Our Grocery Guide, found on our website’s resources tab, helps get you started right away. Once you have stocked up on high-quality, nourishing foods for your grab-n-go, you’re ready to think about planning your meals.
At each meal, the goal is to work toward having the following on your plate: a quality source of protein like meat or fish; real-food carbohydrates from starchy vegetables and/or whole grains such as colorful potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, rice; healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, ghee or butter; and an abundance of colorful vegetables like leafy greens, broccoli sprouts, purple cabbage, yellow/red peppers, etc. Finally, focus on timing. Keep pre-activity snacks not too high in fat to keep digestion humming along, and limit added and processed sugars to keep blood sugar steady for optimal mental and physical performance. Many of our athletes like overnight oats soaked in almond or macadamia nut milk (and add a scoop or 2 of collagen peptides). Post-game or practice, shoot to have a meal within an hour after your activity wraps up. If your training is intense enough to require a recovery shake, have your meal within 2 hours, and always make sure you’re rehydrating right. You can be eating the best food on the planet and it won’t matter if you’re dehydrated.
In addition to basic nutrition strategies to support recovery, other lifestyle habits play a critical role, sleep being the most important to prioritize. Did you know that when you sleep your body builds and grows lean mass and hormones, and it is when “the trash” is literally removed from your brain?
Getting 8 or more hours of quality sleep each night is one of the most important performance strategies our pros incorporate and it is a real challenge for many to meet. For some helpful tips, check out our blog post on optimizing sleep. If you use these sleep hygiene tips and are still struggling to get enough zzzzzs, you may need support in modulating your stress hormones, in particular your cortisol. Cortisol imbalances result from many sources including training, injuries, and mental and emotional stressors. Such imbalances can cause a shift to occur in your chemistry that makes recovery much more difficult. The great news is that there are many ways to balance your nervous system and train your body to quickly move out of a super-focused and alert “stress mode” and into a calming, “rest and recovery mode.”
Some examples include scheduling regenerative activities such as restorative yoga, walks/time in nature, and meditation, along with setting your phone alarm to take mini breaks to belly breathe, write down something you’re grateful for, or even just let your mind wander to nurture creativity. The SportFuel team’s and our athletes’ most reliable stress-modulation and recovery system is the patented neuroacoustic system called NuCalm—check out Julie’s appearance on their Podcast.
All-in-all, stress modulation, nutrition, and lifestyle play essential roles in promoting your mental and physical recovery process. Experiment to find what is right for you, and if you’d like a customized plan, we are here to help!