EFFECTS OF STRENUOUS PHYSICAL ACTIVITY ON THE ATHLETE’S BODY: HOW NUTRITION CAN HELP RECOVERY
For student-athletes, the day-to-day practices and competitions are rigorous enough; however, back to back competitions (i.e., double-headers, tournament play, track invitationals, etc.) bring additional stress to the student athlete’s body. So, what does a student-athlete do with back-to-back competitive events in one day or on consecutive days? There are several considerations.
Hydration: Providing plenty of water throughout the entire day of competition is always imperative. More importantly, providing sports drinks for student-athletes will not only hydrate the student-athletes, but also provide glucose (quick energy). This will help to “spare” the muscle glycogen that is stored; hence, the student-athlete will have more energy and feel less tired with each event. The student-athlete’s performance will be impaired if they are not well-hydrated.
Glycogen Stores: Glycogen stores will become depleted if the student-athlete does not replace them. After the competition is completed, the student-athlete should take in about 7 grams of carbohydrate for every pound of body weight. This helps to speed glycogen restoration in the liver and muscles so they will not be tired during the next event. As stated above, sports drinks are a good, quick, easy way to replace glycogen stores. For events scheduled within several hours of each other, a student-athlete will need to experiment with the amount and type of foods and beverages to consume between events. A small meal of about 300 calories, which has high carbohydrates and some protein, is usually well-tolerated by most individuals competing in back-to-back events. For instance, dry cereal and a carton of skim milk, a fruit-flavored yogurt, some fig bars or graham crackers with chocolate milk, a can of Boost, two packets of Carnation Instant Breakfast mixed with water, or a sports bar may work for your student-athletes. These should be consumed with a sports drink and/or water. For events on consecutive days, post-event rehydration and glycogen replacement are important beginning within the first fifteen minutes after the event. Water is the best post-event rehydration fluid and carbohydrate can be replaced with fruit juice, fruit, and/or carbohydrate loading drinks like Ultra Fuel or Gatorlode. Carbohydrate should continue to be a high priority for the next two hours, but student-athletes should not neglect the protein and fats. A meal consisting of pasta, Italian bread and broiled chicken, or thick-crusted pizza with lemonade are a couple of possibilities.
Appetite: Some student-athletes can tolerate more food closer to an event than others. Experimenting with what student-athletes can tolerate during practice times rather than at the time of a competition is important to prevent any gastrointestinal upset the day of the big event.
Psychology: Many student-athletes have “rituals” which they perform prior to every competition. These “rituals” may include some food practices. Be sure that these “rituals” are not harmful to the student-athletes or their performance. If you have any questions or concerns about any of your student-athletes’ “food rituals”, please refer them to the Sports Nutritionist.
Summary: Student-athletes who compete in back-to-back events have a more difficult challenge to rehydrate and refuel themselves. It is important that fluids are constantly available, including sports drinks. Additionally, it is important that the student-athlete consume some more substantial foods (in solid or liquid form) before they compete. This helps to speed glycogen restoration in the liver and muscles. Remember: hydration, replenishing glycogen stores, appetite, and psychology are all important considerations. Taking them all into consideration can help the student-athlete’s performance tremendously.
A Final Note: High fat, empty-calorie foods and beverages like candy bars, pastries, carbonated beverages, etc. immediately after an event may not supply the proper amounts of carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, and fluids to enhance recovery. In addition, alcohol slows down the recovery process and may increase the risk of injury or fatigue.