Why Does Nutrition Matter for Student-Athlete Recovery?

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In this article, learn about:

  • The risks of not properly fueling your body.
  • What you should eat to establish a strong foundation.
  • How to build your plate and time your meals.
  • The scientific importance of having a solid sleep routine.
  • Regenerative activities to help you rest and recover.

Between workouts, matches, schoolwork, internships, social lives, and other extracurricular activities, student athletes balancing school and sports 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. With student athlete expectations, choosing the right foods for fueling and training your body can mean the difference between first or second string. If your body isn’t recovering efficiently and effectively, both your mental health 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, there are foundational nutrition and lifestyle principles that will always apply to every athlete. One nutrition program may work well for one person but have the opposite effect on another person who plays the very same position. You know the scenario: That one athlete on Instagram had their PB season and looked ripped from eating one way, so you followed their program but your energy tanked, or your body comp may have even worsened. Yeah, we’ve heard that a lot. That’s 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 athletic goals.

Commit to real, nutrient-dense foods

To establish a firm foundation, the 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 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.

Intentionally fill your plate

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, or 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.

Focus on timing

Finally, focus on timing. Make sure your pre-activity snacks are low in fat to keep your digestion humming along, and limit added and processed sugars to keep your blood sugar steady for optimal mental and physical performance. Many of our athletes enjoy overnight oats soaked in almond or macadamia nut milk (with an added 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. Also, always make sure you’re rehydrating right. You can be eating the best food on the planet, but it won’t matter if you’re dehydrated.

Lifestyle shifts

In addition to basic nutrition strategies to support recovery, other lifestyle habits play a critical role. Of these, sleep is the most important to prioritize. Did you know that when you sleep, your body builds and grows lean mass and hormones, and toxins are 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 into their routines, 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, particularly 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. But 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!

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