USA Basketball's Jay Demings (Youth and Sport Development Director) and Don Showalter (10-time gold medal winning junior national team coach) discuss coaching actions for player growth.
Basketball is a high-intensity sport requiring a high level of skill, power, speed, agility, and endurance. Due to the high-intensity nature of the sport and the substantial energy demands of the game coaches should encourage and help athletes fuel and hydrate appropriately to support their performance. As a coach you have a prominent role in helping athletes understand how to practically implement nutritional strategies in and around their game. Establishing good hydration and fueling habits is beneficial to any athlete no matter their performance level as this can help athletes’ prepare for competition, perform at their best, and recover.
Sports nutrition is a foundational element for players to be able to perform at their best. Educating players and establishing good fueling and hydration habits will help players to arrive prepared, perform, and recover from a practice, training, or competition. Athletes often realize the importance of training and continued dedication to practicing their basketball skills in order to develop their game. However, the emphasis and impact of fueling and hydrating can be overlooked. It is important for athletes to understand that proper nutrition strategies can help maintain their basketball performance. Further, the fundamental aspect of nutrition post-exercise helps athletes with recovery to be prepared for the next basketball session and promote muscle adaptation throughout the course of the season. Nutrition is important factor among many behaviors that can be used to successfully drive individual performance. This section will focus on the principles and strategies of hydration and fuel selection. The goal is to provide education and practical tools for coaches in order to help their players. Specifically, understanding the timing of fluids and fueling, being able to personalize nutrition to meet the athlete’s unique needs, preferences, and tolerances will be addressed. An important reminder to coaches is to tailor your message based upon the age of the audience. The same nutrition strategies and principles will still apply but should be presented in a simple and straight forward manner, so the athlete is able to digest and understand the information in order to implement it into practice, training, and competition.
Arriving adequately prepared to practices and games is a critical component to help athletes perform at their best. Research indicates that a body mass reduction of 2% (2.2 lb for 110 lb player) could impair performance of basketball specific skills (field goal shooting) and movements (sprints and defense) . The purpose of a hydration plan is to help replace fluids lost from sweating and reduce the level of dehydration in order to maintain performance. Many factors will influence sweat loss including genetics, temperature and humidity of the environment, and exercise intensity. Therefore, it is important for coaches to understand their players’ personal fluid needs by measuring the amount of fluids consumed during exercise and body mass before and after practice or games. Fluid loss measurements should be done throughout multiple practices based on various exercise intensities (i.e., low, moderate, and hard practices) prior to the start of the season. This method will allow coaches to calculate their players’ sweat rate and provide education on how much fluids should be consumed. It is important for the athlete to realize that some dehydration is ok and expected but to try and avoid a body mass loss of >2% during practices and games.
PRE-EXERCISE. Players should aim to consume 0.076-0.107oz/lb of fluids 4 hours prior to practice and should be encouraged to consume fluids slowly . Practically, for a 110 lb athlete they should aim to consume 8.4-11.8oz of fluid. If no urine is produced or the urine is dark after consuming fluids an additional 0.046-0.076oz/lb (5.0-8.4oz for 110 lb person) should be consumed 2 hours prior to the practice or game . This is a key education point for players. Several studies examining youth athletes’ hydration status prior to practice show that a larger majority of athletes arrived dehydrated [3-5]. A practical point for players to monitor their hydration status is through the use of urine color. Athletes should aim for light yellow colored urine, like lemonade, throughout the day but not clear urine. Further, if a player’s urine is dark yellow or brown this could indicate that the player is dehydrated.
DURING EXERCISE. Consume sufficient fluid to maintain body mass losses within 0-2%. A hydration beverage with sodium helps retain fluids consumed, replace sodium lost in sweat, and stimulates thirst. Focus on sipping fluids often throughout practice or in timeouts and at halftime during games compared to guzzling fluids. The amount of fluid an athlete needs during this time depends on the calculations discussed above. As a coach, you need to give your players adequate opportunities to drink during practices. Practicing the break/timeout strategy of a game could be a good rule of thumb.
POST-EXERCISE. After practice it is important the athlete rehydrates to restore fluids and electrolytes. When weighing in after practice minimal dry clothing should be implemented in order to get an accurate weight. Once sweat loss for the given practice or game is known players should be encouraged to consume 20-24oz of fluid for each 1 lb of body weight deficit. Consuming beverages with sodium is also beneficial during the recovery period to help replace sodium lost in sweat, and important for recovery, to help retain the fluids ingested. Also, small amounts of salty snacks can be beneficial to help replace sodium losses occurred during exercise. In order to stay hydrated throughout the day in preparation for the next practice or competition encourage players to drink fluids throughout the day and watch their urine color. Try to limit drinks with high amounts of caffeine and sugar, like soda and energy drinks.
PRACTICAL HYDRATION PRACTICES
As a practical tool an athlete can ask themselves the following questions to understand if they are hydrated:
• Am I thirsty?
• Is my urine a dark yellow color?
• Is my body weight noticeably lower than yesterday?
Tips for coaches communicating practical hydration strategies to athletes:
• Important for athletes to know their sweat rate.
• Encourage athletes to customize a plan to meet their unique needs.
• Rehearse their game-day strategy during practices.
• Make sure they can tolerate fluids without any problems.
• Start slow if the athlete is not used to consuming fluid during during practice or games.
• For the coaches, plan hydration breaks during practices
For basketball athletes, ensuring they have enough fuel to perform must be a fundamental approach to the game. Due to the high-intensity nature of basketball carbohydrates will be the primary energy source used during practice, training, or competition. Therefore, carbohydrates should be a primary focus for a basketball player’s daily diet. The recommendation for daily carbohydrate needs with team sport athletes is 2.27-3.18g/lb/day [6, 7]. As a guide players should aim for each meal to be about 2/3 carbohydrates. Specific to sports nutrition, consuming carbohydrates can be put into three key timeframes: pre-exercise, during exercise, and post-exercise. It is important that each athlete tailor to their needs, preferences, and tolerance. Athletes should also be encouraged to establish a plan prior to the season (i.e., during practices before the season starts) by experimenting with the pre-exercise meal and carbohydrate intake during exercise.
DAILY SOURCES OF CARBOHYDRATES INCLUDE:
• Bagels • Breads • Pasta
• Rice • Beans • Fruit
• Pancakes • Cereal • Granola
PRE-EXERCISE. 1-4 hours prior to exercise, consume 0.45-1.81 g/lb of carbohydrates. This would represent 81-327g of carbohydrates for 180 lb player. This is a large range, and gives a starting point to figure out appropriate amount. For basketball, the closer the athlete eats to the game, the lower they would fall in this range. In the hour before exercise, smaller amounts of carbohydrate are recommended (~100 calories). Examples of what a meal and snack would look like pregame for 150 lb player with a carbohydrate recommendation range of 68-272g:
Meal 3-4 hours prior to the game:
• 12 fl oz apple juice
• 1 large banana
• 1 plain bagel w/ 1 Tbsp. light margarine
• 1 container (6oz) of yogurt with fruit on the bottom topped with ½ cup granola.
Total: 209g carbohydrates, 25g protein, 9g fat
Snack 2 hours prior to the game:
• 2 slices of toast with jelly (2 slices white bread, 1 Tbsp. fruit preserves)
• 1 cup of apple cranberry juice
Total: 78g carbohydrates, 4g protein, 2g fat
The pre-exercise meal should also be low in protein, fat, and fiber. The exact timing and amount of carbohydrates consumed during this time should meet the individual preferences of the athlete. Also the timing may be dictated by when the coach sets up a pre-game meal, so coaches should make sure to give adequate time for digestion and be flexible if needed.
DURING EXERCISE. Consume 30-60 g/h of carbohydrate when playing for 60 minutes or more [6, 7]. Players should have ample opportunity to meet fueling recommendations during the game with timeouts, between quarters and halftime. During a game a player could eat a small carbohydrate snack at halftime and consume a sports drink throughout the game. The coach can also provide various opportunities for players to consume carbohydrates, or fluids and carbohydrates during practice with structured breaks. If athletes are currently consuming less than the recommendations of 30-60g/h of carbohydrates, players should gradually increase intake to minimize gastrointestinal issues. Players should also consider the intensity of the basketball practice. In a moderate to high-intensity practice athletes should be encouraged to consume fluids with carbohydrates, such as a sports drink, to help maintain performance. However, during low intensity short duration practice, such as a shoot-around, players can consumer lower amounts of carbohydrates or water during this time.
POST-EXERCISE. Consume carbohydrates to replenish the muscle and liver glycogen (stored carbohydrates) used while playing. The athlete should be encouraged to consume carbohydrates shortly after exercise and throughout their day during meals and snacks. Since carbohydrates are the main fuel used during basketball, with the body storing a relatively small amount it is important to replace what was used during exercise in order to adequately recover and prepare for the next practice or competition. If an athlete has less than 24 hours between the next training session or competition then a primary emphasis should be placed on recovery nutrition. This becomes especially important during tournament play when multiple games can be played in one day with minimal time to recover. During tournaments or multiple practices during the day when the athlete has less than 8 hours to recover 0.45-0.54g/lb of carbohydrates should be consumed every 4 hours[6, 7]. Practically for a 220 lb athlete this would represent 100-120g of carbohydrates every 4 hours.
An integral part in helping athletes recover is by consuming the appropriate nutrients immediately following the practice or game. This is a window of opportunity to replenish carbohydrates that were used as fuel during practice or games and to replace the fluid and sodium lost in sweat. This time period also represents a good opportunity to consume protein to help rebuild damaged muscles, promoting muscle adaptation and enhancing recovery. The amount of protein can be individualized based upon a player’s body weight.
PROTEIN POST-EXERCISE. 20 g of protein consumed after practices and games works for most athletes. Smaller athletes may need a little less, larger athletes a little more, so 0.11 g/lb will help you figure out the specific amount for a player . It is important for athletes to understand that only a moderate amount of protein is needed post exercise (i.e., 20g) and that consuming more protein will likely have no further benefit on helping the muscle to recover. Good protein sources for post-exercise recovery are whey or milk proteins, for example, milk or Greek yogurt. Meat, eggs, and soy are other valuable protein sources. Studies have also shown the timing of protein consumed throughout the day is important to help muscles recover. Consuming moderate amounts (i.e., 20g) of protein in regular intervals during the day (every 3-4 hours), with snacks and meals, is recommended compared to consuming larger amounts of protein at longer time intervals . Players should not over consume protein throughout the day in place of carbohydrates. As carbohydrates are the main fuel source for muscle contraction during basketball. An example of a breakfast and snack containing 20 g of protein:
• ½ cup of oatmeal
• 1 large eggs
• 8 oz of skim milk
Total Protein: 20 g
• 1 granola bar
• 1 oz of almonds
• ½ cup of Greek yogurt
Total Protein: 20 g
PROTEIN BEFORE BED. Eating protein before bed may also benefit an athlete’s recovery. Encourage players to have a protein snack before bed which could include a glass of milk, yogurt or cottage cheese.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Coaches have a prominent role in communicating this message to athletes in order to help develop players of all levels and aspects of the game. Putting these fueling and fluid strategies into action will go to help your players adapt to hard training and get ready for the next practice, training session, or competition. Educate the athlete on preparing not only mentally but physically with the right nutrition tools discussed for pre-exercise, during, and post-exercise. Remember it is important to practice these habits and experiment with foods and fluids prior to implementing these practices into competition. Taking small steps to implement these nutritional strategies into practice will help the athlete maintain their performance. To summarize and highlight the key messages of this section:
• Focus on carbohydrates for the meal and/or snack.
• Low amounts of protein, fat, and fiber.
• Consume fluids throughout the day and in the hours prior to practice.
• Keep an eye on urine color as a practical way to educate players of their hydration status.
• Individualize food and fluids to taste and tolerance.
• Rehearse game day strategy during practice.
• Consume fluids throughout practice during breaks and during timeouts, quarters, and at halftime in games.
• If possible, develop a hydration plan based on body weight changes
• Consider a sports beverage during practice and games when playing for 60 minutes or more to maintain performance. This will act to hydrate, provide electrolytes, and carbohydrates to fuel performance.
• Focus on sipping fluids as compared to guzzling fluids.
• Know your sweat loss. 20-24oz. of fluids should be consumed for each pound of body weight lost. Sodium, either from fluid or food, will help promote complete rehydration.
• Eat some protein in order to start rebuilding damaged muscles. Milk is an excellent option.
• During tournament play with multiple basketball games in one day, focus on consuming carbohydrates in order to prepare for the next competition.
• In the post-exercise meal consume carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates should make up 2/3 of the meal and this can be obtained from a variety of sources.
• Try to include fruits in the post-game meal as this will help add in carbohydrates to recover.
• Consider consuming a protein snack before bed in order to help your muscles recover during sleep.
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