Athletes are expected to perform at high levels successfully and a balanced diet can help ensure that they will play to the best of their ability.
The NCAA promotes nutrition, science, sleep, strength and conditioning as the core of college athletes’ healthy performances.
The College and Professional Sports Dietitians Association partnered with the NCAA to create a guide that details the nutrition for college football student-athletes, which can be applied to every college sport.
Kyle Burnett, Cal State Fullerton assistant athletic trainer, said failure to eat before a game can lead to long-term injuries that stack up throughout the duration of a season.
The guide states that coaches should spend a few months in the offseason establishing healthy nutritional habits for their players. Programs should also use downtime during these months to learn about proper cooking techniques and meat preparation.
Skipping meals or not eating before a game can cause health issues and limit an athlete’s performance. The body will begin to burn muscle and organ tissue for energy, which can lead to muscle loss and fatigue, according to LIVESTRONG, a website dedicated to healthy living.
“With performance, you need to optimize and give your body as much of that fuel as possible so that you’re able to function appropriately,” Burnett said. “Not only does it affect your performance, but it could lead to potential injuries because you’re not at your peak physical fitness.”
A few easy pregame snacks can include something as simple as fresh fruit or a granola bar. To replenish their energy and load up on carbohydrates, athletes can consider drinking chocolate milk with a meal that includes a lean protein like fish or chicken, according to the Food Network.
In a 2015 article, ESPN writer Baxter Holmes detailed the chocolate milk reliance the Los Angeles Lakers had when they finished a game. Players sipped on a unique chocolate milk, consisting of organic cocoa and milk from grass-fed cows to replenish their bodies and hold them over until they had a chance to eat an actual meal.
Will Otto, CSUF assistant strength and conditioning coach, tries to keep it simple when helping student athletes come up with meal plans.
“You want to have roughly about one fistful of protein, two fistfuls of carbs. You can trickle that in with your fats and that all of a sudden makes your plate,” Otto said.
Even professional athletes have changed their diets to improve their game.
In 2016, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady started a meatless diet. He partnered with Purple Carrot, a vegan meal delivery service, to create a diet that was 80 percent plant-based.
According to Bleacher Report, NBA stars have followed in Brady’s footsteps.
Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving, two of the premier talents in the NBA, both decided to eat healthier over the offseason. Some of the league’s veterans tried the lifestyle as well. They all made the switch to either vegan or vegetarian diets.
However, challenges arise in maintaining healthy eating habits when teams travel. Players don’t have the convenience to cook or prepare their own meals.
A common practice within the CSUF athletic program is to make sure the players are fed consistently, but this can lead to some unhealthy meals while on the road.
The players are fed breakfast, a post-practice snack and a pregame meal on game days. They are provided a postgame meal, typically a restaurant or fast food chain that is relatively close to the arena and that delivers — usually, something as easy as ordering Domino’s.
Athletes are also encouraged to eat something three or four times a day to keep their energy levels up.
“Being able to refuel consistently throughout the day is going to help it to where you’re not fatigued,” Otto said.