Sports Nutrition for Basketball
by Clare Wood
Basketball is a sport played all over the world, all year round. Being an indoor sport it can be played at any time of the year, in fairly controlled environmental conditions.
The game itself has four quarters of 10-12 minutes each, with lots of stoppages throughout for time-outs. Players can be on the court for longer than 60 minutes for senior players and up to 2 ½ hours for professionals, but active play is less than that because of substitutions.
Basketball players will use both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, having to perform repeated short fast sprints interspersed with varying recovery times. The game is characterized by repeated explosive activities, such as sprints, jumps, shuffles and rapid changes in direction. Other requirements are high skill levels, quick reaction times, and a high level of tactical and technical play during the high-intensity game.
Training for basketball players will vary greatly depending on the level of competition, from one session a week, to two sessions per day. So the amount of training completed will change your nutritional requirements and energy needs.
A baseline of healthy eating will set any player up for optimal nutrition requirements. The addition of vitamin and mineral-rich fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains will provide the healthful balance to promote good immunity, along with some healthy fats.
Given the aerobic base required for basketball, appropriate levels of carbohydrates are needed to fuel the amount of training completed. This will depend on the different stages of training and the varying loads and intensities required week to week. Higher daily carbohydrate and energy is needed for heavier training weeks or days, with a lower emphasis on fueling needed for lighter weeks.
The consumption of quality lean proteins is required for muscle recovery and repair, especially for developing athletes looking to increase muscle mass, or athletes going through a gym strengthening block, for maximal muscle gains.
Being a sport played all year round, hydration needs will depend on the weather conditions. Extreme weather is sometimes avoided with the game being played indoors, however, there is less air movement, and not always air-conditioning, meaning that sweat losses can be very high without evaporative cooling, which can be very dehydrating. Dehydration can impair the performance of basketball-specific skills like goal shooting sprint and defensive movements on the court, as well as concentration and coordination. Therefore hydration is an important consideration to ensure that training and gameplay are optimized.
Sweat rates vary greatly among athletes, and creating an individualized drinking plan is required to match a player’s known fluid losses. Fluids and electrolytes are crucial to replace when temperatures and/or sweat rates are high. Maintaining electrolyte balance is necessary to stave off the development of dehydration, fatigue and cramp.
Good hydration starts with regularly having a drink bottle with you at training and games, as well as checking for pale-colored urine daily. Fluid intakes should be individualized but general recommendations are to consume the following:
- Aim to start training or the game well hydrated.
- Avoid daily fluctuations in body weight which show changes to hydration.
- ~1 cup every 15 minutes in milder conditions.
- up to 2 cups every 15minutes in hot and humid conditions.
- Take advantage of breaks in play to optimize drinking opportunities.
- Use of sports drinks, or electrolyte-containing fluids for long training sessions and matches in hot environments.
- Measure and understand your sweat losses so they can be adequately replaced.
Continuing to replace lost fluids in the hours after basketball training and games is important to get the body back to a euhydrated state, and ready for the next session.
more about Rehydration for Athletes
Game day tips
Being well fueled and hydrated is the key to any basketball match preparation. General pre-exercise rules include a main meal about 3 hours prior, followed by a top-up snack about 1-hour prior to the activity. Pre-exercise eating should include carbohydrates for fuel, fluids for hydration, and be low in fats and fiber for quick digestion to avoid delayed gastric emptying, or stomach upset.
Meal choices could include:
- Sandwich or bread roll with meat and salad
- Bowl of porridge with banana or berries
- Cereal and milk, with jam toast
- Pancakes with banana, low-fat ricotta and honey
- Pasta in a tomato-based sauce
- Soy-based stir-fry with white rice
Suitable snacks options include:
- Fruit like sliced watermelon or banana
- Banana sandwich on white bread with honey
- Pikelets (mini-pancakes) with jam
- Fruit muffin or fruit buns
If you are a nervous athlete, try some liquid options to promote faster digestion, like a banana smoothie, boost juice or blended fruit drinks.
more about Pre-Competition Eating
Replacing fluids and electrolytes is a priority for any basketball game. Being such an active game, it is difficult to eat any solid food during a game, even though your body will need carbohydrate top-ups after about 90 minutes of active play. If you are a player that finds yourself on the court for much of the game, you should consider taking in some liquid carbohydrate options. For example, specialized quick digesting sports foods like gels, and sports drink to get some carbohydrate fuel in during the game is ideal. At a minimum, all players should be consuming water throughout a game, and luckily the game of basketball having so many time-outs in play, lends itself plenty of opportunities for drinks. Always practice in training what you need to do in a game.
more about Competition Nutrition
After The Game
Recovery is a very important aspect of sports nutrition. A regular season of basketball may only require one game per week, with one to two training sessions, allowing plenty of time for recovery. However, during tournaments, teams may play a game each day leaving less than 24 hours to recover. Speedy recovery within 30 minutes of finishing exercise, is really important if your next game in the competition is less than 12 hours away. The 4 R’s of recovery include;
- Refueling with carbohydrates
- Repairing muscles with protein
- Rehydrating with more fluids
- Replenishing with colorful fruits and vegetables
Immediate snacks post-game including as many elements from the above list is essential, followed up with a more substantial meal about 90 minutes later. Sooner if you have a late evening game, to avoid eating really late into the night. The quicker the recovery the quicker you will be back to feeling refreshed.
Including sodium in fluid options after exercise will help with better overall hydration. This helps three-fold by replacing the sodium lost in sweat during the exercise, by enhancing greater consumption with more flavorful fluids, as well as helping the fluids be retained within the body due to the sodium content. Salty snacks along with water can also be beneficial for this rehydration process.
more about Recovery Nutrition
Other Nutrition Issues
- Basketball at the competitive level may require some travel. There are many nutritional considerations prior to travel, and while away, like jet lag, water safety, eating out, and accommodation kitchen facilities. Pre-planning is definitely required to make sure you are well prepared. See this Nutrition Guide for Traveling Athletes for more detail on this topic.
- Food at basketball venues is not always appropriate for athletes, so be organized and take food, snacks and drinks with you to games and training.
- Junior developing athletes should try and meet all nutrition needs from a well-prepared eating plan, rather than from supplements. A food-first approach should give you the boost you need, and starting to learn how to cook and prepare healthy foods will be an important step before moving out of the home.
- Julio Calleja-González, Nicolás Terrados, Juan Mielgo-Ayuso, Anne Delextrat , Igor Jukic, Alejandro Vaquera , Lorena Torres, Xavier Schelling, Marko Stojanovic, Sergej M Ostojic. Evidence-based post-exercise recovery strategies in basketball. The Physician and Sportsmedicine. 2016;44(1):74-8.
- SDA factsheet on Basketball. https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/food-for-your-sport/basketball
- Osterberg, K., Fueling the Basketball Athlete: The Practitioner's Approach, Sports Science Exchange (2016) Vol. 28, No. 168, 1-4.
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