Nutrition for Basketball Performance
Lisa Middleton – Advanced Sports Dietitian, Melbourne United Basketball Club
For professional athletes there are many factors that contribute to elite performance. Nutrition has become increasingly recognised as one of those factors, and the majority of professional sporting teams these days utilise the services of an accredited sports dietitian. Here we provide a snapshot into the role of nutrition for basketball, and the range of performance concepts that are also relevant to other sports and personal fitness, training and performance goals. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to eat a high performance diet!
First let’s consider the physiological requirements of basketball, as this provides the base upon which we plan nutrition recommendations. Basketball is a game of stop and start, with 10-12 minute quarters that involve numerous stoppages throughout the game. At the professional level, games may take two hours or more to complete, but athletes will not be active for all of this time. Basketball is fast-paced and involves repeated sprints and anaerobic efforts with varying periods of recovery. Players utilise both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, and also rely on concentration, focus and technical skills for successful performance.
How is nutrition important?
The physical demands of basketball require adequate energy to be consumed, including appropriate carbohydrate for fuel, protein for recovery and adaptation, fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The energy needs of basketball players are often high, due to the large body size of many individuals, high muscle mass and high metabolic rate. Added to that are training needs and requirements for muscle growth – it’s no wonder the hotels sometimes underestimate food volumes and run short when catering for basketball teams!
A dietitian’s role with a sporting club involves working with individual players to determine their specific nutrient requirements which may vary quite a lot with training needs, body composition goals, health, genetics and growth. Some athletes follow specific nutrition plans, while others prefer more general advice to help them make food choices that will help them to perform at their best.
If you think about the physical characteristics of a basketball player you often think tall! At a professional level even the smaller players are still usually 6ft or above, but there is still a wide range of different body types. Speed, agility and strength are key goals, along with the ability to sustain performance, which relates back to body fat levels and weight also. Part of my role working with professional teams is to measure and monitor body composition changes and work with other High Performance staff to ensure consistency with fitness goals, body composition goals and nutrition to support desired outcomes.
Hydration is important for energy levels, concentration and co-ordination. The aim is to start training and games well hydrated and replace fluids to prevent excessive losses and dehydration. A useful way to estimate fluid losses is to measure weight before and after a game or training session. This allows players to understand more about their individual sweat losses (some players lose a lot) and how much to drink during and after training and games in preparation for the next basketball session.
During training and games
Players will often eat a meal around 3 to 4 hours prior to training or games to top up fuel stores and prevent hunger. Professional basketball teams have a range of different game times, with many falling right on dinner time. This can create some challenges in planning pre-game intake, but it’s a matter of trialling different strategies and working out the best regime for each player. Another snack 1-2 hours prior to the game can be useful and at Melbourne United we always have some light snacks in the changerooms for when players arrive, along with plenty of fluid. If training is an early morning start, it’s hard to eat 3 hours prior, so a lighter breakfast may be preferred, with a high priority then placed on the post-training meal and intake during if required.
With the high intensity and long duration, players with high minutes on court may benefit from some carbohydrate during the game, however a greater focus is often on hydration. Part of my role at the club is to monitor hydration levels, fluid losses and intakes on game day to help players develop individual hydration plans.
Recovery is all about replenishing the body to return to its previous state in preparation for the next training session or game. This involves re-fueling, repairing muscle damage and rehydrating. Recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrate (fuel), some protein (for muscle repair and development) and plenty of fluids and electrolytes to replace those lost in sweat. Recovery nutrition extends well beyond the initial hour or so post-game, and recovery practices become particularly important for basketball when the next game can often be in less than two days.
Practical Sports Nutrition
It’s great to know the theory, but the practical side of preparing high performance meals is the really important part. Young athletes who have moved out of home may not have done much cooking before, so learning the basics in the kitchen is super important. Part of the sports dietitian’s role is to assess shopping and cooking skills and run practical sessions to help athletes plan and prepare sports performance meals.
Special offer for readers – if you would like to receive free nutrition updates, tips and recipes, please leave your details on my website Thoughts page, where you will also find a range of performance nutrition articles.
To find an Accredited Sports Dietitian in your local area, go to www.sportsdietitians.com.au.
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