Have you experienced “hitting the wall”, the sensation that you can’t jump no matter how hard you try during practice? What about dizziness, shaking, or difficulty concentrating? It is very important for the competitive athlete to pay attention to the proper hydration and nutritional consumption for maximum athletic performance, cognitive function, and recovery when you prepare for competition.  

The following KEYS explore some ideas for how to improve your nutrition and hydration:

Know what you are eating

Carbohydrates: It is well documented that no athlete should be on a low-carb diet.  Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source during workouts. Therefore, it is essential that pre-workout meals and snacks include plenty of carbohydrates to assure you have the required fuel available for workouts.  Not only do muscles require glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrate, but the brain also depends on glucose exclusively for its cognitive functions (thinking, learning, understanding, and remembering).  A few examples of carbohydrate-rich foods include; whole grains, bread, pasta, brown rice, fruits, vegetables, beans, peas, potatoes, bagels, pretzels, and graham crackers.  

Proteins: Proteins may not be an immediate energy source, but they are very important for our recovery (muscle growth and repair).  Protein-rich foods include; chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, grains, and soy products like tofu.  

Fats: Healthy fat intake is necessary for prolonged, low-intensity exercise. Consuming too little may limit the duration and quality of exercise.  However, you should avoid high-fat foods right before and during exercise to prevent digestive distress.  Examples of healthy fats include plant-based oils such as olive, canola, and sesame oils.  Others examples include avocados, nuts, nut butters, salmon, and soy beans.  

Other nutrients: Female athletes are particularly susceptible to calcium and iron deficiencies due to menstruation. Adequate vitamins and minerals play very important roles in the immune system, tissue repair, and proper organ function, so you don’t want to leave them out of your diet.


Water constitutes 60-70% of the body weight for the average adults.  Thirst is the body’s signal for dehydration, therefore, athletes need to consume fluids throughout the day.  Caffeinated, carbonated or alcoholic beverages are not ideal fluid options, but water, low-fat milk, 100% fruit juices and sports drinks with electrolytes are suitable. It is a good idea to monitor your weight and sweat loss after heavy workouts. Additionally, monitoring your urine color can provide a good measure for your hydration status.

What and When?

Pre-workouts: 6-8 ounces of water or sports drink.  2-3 hours before a meal should be pasta, stir-fry, sandwiches, fajitas, eggs and toasts, chicken, potato and vegetables, fruits and pancakes.  1 hour before snack would be smoothies, granola bars, raisin bagel, a banana or apple, pretzels, a handful of trail mix.

During workouts: 6-8 ounces of water and sports drink to alternate every 15 to 20 minutes.  30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour (a banana, a bagel, a granola bar, etc).

Post-workout: It is critical to replenish the fluid and nutrients lost during activities as soon as possible.  Carbohydrate rich snacks should be consumed within 30 minutes of exercise to restore muscle glycogen, followed by a substantial meal including sufficient amounts of carbohydrates and protein to promote muscle repair and recovery, and 24 ounces of fluid replacement for every pound lost within 2 hours after activities are recommended.