Optimizing Your Nutrition For Tryouts And A New Season, Presented By SAVAGE

It's time for "fat season" to come to an end.

This post is sponsored by SAVAGE Ultimate. Ultiworld was compensated for writing it, but all opinions are 100% those of the author. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Ultiworld possible!

In my years of observing the eating habits of ultimate players, I’ve come across two distinct subtypes of nutrition-minded people. The first, which seems to be of a more rare breed, eats healthy year-round; healthy eating is a way of life for them. The second, which is much more prevalent in the ultimate population, is the person who wholeheartedly embraces #fatseason, which begins the moment after he or she stops winning at Nationals and continues through mimosa-filled brunches and late night burritos. But now it’s mid-April, and it’s time for your body–and your diet–to get back in shape.

A healthy pre-season nutrition plan is an easy upgrade to make–and a change that might just land you a roster spot. And while performance outcomes as they relate to nutrition are more subjective and more difficult to measure than strength and conditioning workouts, adopting these changes now will give you one less thing to worry about at your last tryout and throughout the season. Here are my general recommendations for tweaking your diet to get ready for the club season.

Tone Down Alcohol; Save it for Special Occasions

While one drink a day is generally correlated with some health benefits–the most studied association is with cardiovascular disease–any more than that may impair your performance. Strictly in terms of performance, chronic alcohol use and binge drinking can negatively impact balance, reaction time, fine and complex motor skills, and information processing–for up to three days after consumption. In the long-term, it has even more serious consequences, like permanently changing brain and nerve function and weakening the heart, which may have implications beyond athletic performance.

But there are more reasons why any alcohol at all could impact your performance: from a nutritional perspective, because the liver prioritizes alcohol metabolism over glucose metabolism, it inhibits gluconeogenesis, a process that generates glucose from certain amino acids; it also inhibits fatty acid oxidation. Immediately, both of these result in a lack of energy and reduction in endurance; over time, it reduces the body’s ability to balance blood sugar.

Alcohol also inhibits recovery by decreasing muscle protein synthesis; if you’re putting in work at the gym, your gains may be blunted by alcohol. Finally, the increased caloric intake from alcohol–along with the high-sugar, fried foods that usually accompany a night of drinking–may be adding non-lean body mass to your frame, which will only slow you down in the long run (on this note, it’s probably time to give up soda also).

While overall weight loss might not be your goal, losing fat mass and gaining lean muscle mass should be. Between now and the beginning of the season, changing your body composition to favor lean muscle mass–what helps you run, jump, and throw–will give you a strong fitness foundation that allows you to focus more on skills and finesse during the season. Consuming large amounts of alcohol or sugar will only impede this goal.

Eat enough calories–the healthy kind

At the same time, cutting calories should probably not be the focus of your preseason nutrition plan. Since you’re increasing the volume, intensity, or length of your workouts, you’ll also need to increase your caloric intake to maintain your weight and to support any muscle gains from your lifting sessions (of course, this all depends on your starting weight and health — and how much you were eating during the off-season).

The key here is getting enough calories from high quality, nutrient-dense sources of food and not relying on processed high-calorie, high-sugar foods. When your caloric needs shoot above 3,000 per day — and when you’re famished after a tough workout — it can be easy and convenient to put a frozen pizza in the oven and snack on a bowl of ice cream. It’s decidedly harder to eat more than 3,000 calories of high quality protein, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. However, while the latter has tons of nutrients that will help you recover from your workouts and fuel you into your next ones, the former has compounds (trans fats, added sugars) that may be holding you back.

Healthy foods aren’t necessarily low in calories; there are many healthy foods that are both nutrient-dense and calorie-dense. A 3-oz serving of salmon (about the size of a deck of cards–and many athletes would eat twice that) is about 180 calories, a cup of cooked quinoa or brown rice is around 200 calories, and ten whole walnuts contain around 250 calories. Nut butters, smoothies (made with a combination of fruits and vegetables and add-ins like Greek yogurt), avocado, oats, and chia and flaxseeds are other healthy ways to increase your calorie intake.

Make time for meals

During the off-season, meals take on more of a what-you-want, when-you-want-it shape; some are often forgotten altogether. Without morning workouts, for example, breakfast can be an after-thought or a bagel you grabbed on your way to work.

If pre-season workouts are your priority, though, fueling before and after those workouts (and with the right foods) should be your new priority number two. If you’re making the effort to get to the gym or track to complete grueling workouts but not eating properly before and after, you’re just going through the motions. Fueling up before a workout is important for supplying your muscles with immediate energy; this is especially important if your workout is in the morning, when blood glucose levels are typically lower and glycogen stores are partially depleted. Post-workout fuel is important for restoring glycogen and improving muscle glycogen synthesis. Neglecting to do either one of these can result in an uncomfortable workout or failing to push yourself at best; at worst, it translates into decreased performance come tryout or game time.

So start making time for meals as well as pre- and post-workout snacks. Give yourself an extra ten minutes in the morning to prepare a protein- and fiber-rich breakfast.

If you head to work or class right after a workout, plan a post-workout snack, aiming to get a healthy combination of protein and carbs (more on protein here). Jerky, whole foods-based bars, and nut butter squeeze packs are convenient grab-and-go protein options. After work, give yourself fifteen to thirty minutes to figure out dinner so that it doesn’t get lost between post-work happy hour and other social plans.

Make your own meals and snacks

Ideally, you’ll be able to make time to prepare your own meals and snacks. Cooking at home gives you more control over both the ingredients and portion sizes, giving you the opportunity to eat more performance-boosting foods and fewer unhealthy ingredients.

In general, restaurant meals are higher in calories, saturated and trans fat, sugar, and sodium, while home-cooked meals tend to include more fruits and vegetables.

If time is a major obstacle to cooking at home, prep ingredients ahead of time. Chop a bunch of vegetables on a Sunday and layer them over greens for a quick salad every night of the week. A roast chicken can provide quick and quality protein for a number of meals throughout the week (sandwiches, tacos, green- or grain-based salads, and soups); other grilled meats will last at least three days in the fridge. Batch-cooking — cooking a large amount of food at once to be used in meals throughout the week — saves time and provides a quick meal for when you’re too tired to cook after a workout.

  1. Kate Schlag

    Kate is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Masters in Public Health with a concentration in nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley. As an RD, she is looking forward to a career in sports nutrition and nutrition communications. She started playing ultimate with USC’s Hellions of Troy and now plays for San Francisco Polar Bears.

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