As the weather turns colder and the snow starts to fall, you can smell it in the air: basketball season.
Basketball is a unique sport in that most of a player's success depends on his/her skill set instead of cardiovascular endurance. While being in shape is of course a must, no matter how many gut busters a player can do, not being able to sink a shot is the real game-changer. But lest you think nutrition has no affect on skill, think again...
It's about focus
Any of you who play basketball know that without 150% focus, accuracy drops quickly. The ability of the brain to focus depends on whether it has energy. The brain can only - and I repeat, only - run on carbohydrate energy sources. Without adequate carbohydrate intake throughout the day, focus and decision-making is negatively affected - and rather quickly. To make sure your head is in the game, grab a pre-workout snack 45-60 minutes before practice. Try a bagel and peanut butter, a banana with one small handful of nuts, or a PBJ (half if you can't stomach a whole). This snack should be heavy on the carb with no more than 10 gm of protein. You don't want your snack coming back to visit in the middle of your 15th lay-up. If your stomach is super sensitive, sports drink is better than nothing. Don't skip the pre-workout snack.
It's about repeat accuracy
Basketball games are not short events, and the environment is often less than ideal - hot, humid, and stuffy. I'm not sure I've ever set foot on a "well-ventilated" basketball court. Accuracy and intensity needs to last the entire game - not just the first half. But extended playing time combined with hot and humid conditions is a set-up for another nutritional foe: dehydration. Dehydration as little as 2% has a profound effect on your performance. Thirsty? You're already 1% dehydrated. You should be sipping throughout the day. Check your hydration status by monitoring pee color (for real) - it should be straw-colored - and staying ahead of your sensations of thirst. Basketball players can sweat an impressive amount (think liters), so it's also important to drink during practice. Gulp (no sipping this time) at every water break you get. If practice is intense or will last more than an hour, switch to a sports drink instead for additional energy and electrolyte replacement. Aim to drink at least one regular sized sports drink bottle (about 20 oz.) per hour - at LEAST. Are you a heavy sweater? Basketball players are especially prone to electrolyte imbalances and muscle cramping. If you find that you are having muscle cramping during or hours after practice, switch to a higher electrolyte sports drink (such as Gatorade Endurance) or add one serving (normally half of a tab) of an electrolyte supplement to a regular sports drink. The third way to monitor hydration status is to use body weight to your advantage. Weigh yourself before and after practice - preferably in as few articles of clothing as possible. Drink 24 oz. (3 cups) of fluid for every pound lost during practice...which hopefully isn't many.
It's about every day, not just today.
Have a great day at practice or phenomenal game? Awesome! But make sure you can bring the heat next time by focusing on post-workout/game nutrition. You need to eat both carb and protein for proper refueling and recovery of muscles. You should eat a snack within the first 30 minutes after ending. Try to make it a fluid, such as low-fat chocolate milk or sports drink that has added protein. If that's not feasible - that's okay - use real food instead - PBJ (make it a whole one this time), yogurt with fruit or fruit & nut trail mix (heavy on the fruit) all work great. Stay away from "protein shakes" as they usually have far too much protein and not enough carb. Remember: your muscles can't use the protein if the carbohydrate isn't there to open the door.
Have a great season!