Ideal Cooler Contents For An Ultimate team

The best foods to keep on hand for optimal tournament performance.

coolerAlthough I’d recommend having everyone pack their own tournament snacks, let’s be realistic: a team cooler is a convenient and relatively cheap way for you (team captain) to make sure everyone on your team is properly fueled for two or more days of ultimate.

So here is my ideal ultimate team cooler.  The snacks below are a mix of quick-digesting carbs (for immediate fuel), and healthy fats and proteins that provide lasting energy and promote muscle recovery. While each can be eaten on its own as a quick bite, they can also be combined for a longer lasting snack or mini-meal between games.

Quick Bites

Bananas: Bananas are one of my favorite pre- and during-tournament foods because they’re rich in quick-digesting carbohydrates that provide you immediate energy. They’re also on the lower spectrum of fiber content, so they’re easy on your digestive system, and small enough to be a great option for between-points.

Peanut Butter: I like to pair high-carb snacks with protein or fat to give my snacking more staying power. While carbs provide immediate energy, the fats in peanut butter slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream, which will give you the fuel to play harder and longer.

Pretzels: Pretzels are another good option for quick-digesting carbs, and their higher sodium content will help you stay hydrated. Pair them with peanut butter, avocado, or hummus to add protein or fat. My favorites are Pretzel Crisps, as their flattened shape gives them a better service to volume ratio for ideal scooping (into peanut butter or avocados).

Berries: Berries are quickly digested and absorbed, making them another good source of immediate energy. But they’re also high in water content, helping to keep you hydrated (hydration can come from foods!). They’re a refreshing choice on long, hot days when it can be difficult to force yourself to eat. Any berry will work, as nutritionally, there’s not much of a difference (my captains should feel free to pack raspberries in our cooler).

Trail Mix: A small handful of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and chocolate is probably your best bet if you’re feeling low on energy. Offering all three macronutrients, the carbs from chocolate and dried fruit provide immediate energy, while the fats and protein in nuts and seeds help maintain steady blood sugar levels and provide longer-lasting fuel.

Between-game snacks and small meals

Sliced turkey: Heavier proteins, like high-fat deli meats, can be difficult to digest in a short amount of time. Plus they divert blood flow to your digestive system and away from your muscles. While you’re primarily fueling up with carbs during a game, aim to get small to moderate amounts of protein between games to begin promoting recovery.

Sliced cheese: Traditionally, most sports dietitians will tell you to avoid dairy during exercise, as it can cause digestive troubles. However, I’ve seen a lot of ultimate players — both vegetarians and omnivores — eat cheese between games without any trouble. The key is knowing whether you’re one of those people; if you do notice any stomach upset, avoid dairy and opt for leaner sources of protein.

Whole grain bread: Bigger snacks or mini-meals, like a turkey and cheese or a peanut butter and banana sandwich, are essential for keeping energy up during a bye. They’re also a great option to start replenishing glycogen stores and promoting recovery after your last game if your team tends to be slow packing up.

Avocados: Spread avocado across pretzels or use them as a spread on a sandwich. High in fat and fiber, avocados are a nutrient-rich source of calories that will help fill you up without weighing you down. Plus, they’re high in potassium, which can help keep you hydrated and ward off cramps.

Baby carrots and snap peas: People like to munch between games; instead of being weighed down by Cheez-its or other heavy and processed snacks, choose crunchy vegetables like baby carrots or snap peas.

Pickles: It’s not necessarily the sodium concentration of pickles that helps relieve cramps; instead, new research points to another (unidentified) component that causes a neurological response to deactivate cramping. (Read more on hydration here)1


  1. The research, which I mention it in the hydration article, is pretty new:  “We suspect that the rapid inhibition of the electrically induced cramps reflects a neurally mediated reflex that originates in the oropharyngeal region and acts to inhibit the firing of alpha motor neurons of the cramping muscle.” 

  1. Kate Schlag
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    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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