Just the thought of preseason makes many volleyball athletes tremble with fear and excitement. However, it is far more than just a time to prep for competition. It is also a time to prime your body for the rigors of the upcoming season.
Food is an essential component of performance for athletes, just as important as training in the gym and on the court. Without the right nutrients, or without an adequate amount of food, muscles aren’t able to perform at their full capacity, which can dull performance, decrease speed, and limit power. There are certain times in an athlete’s season that require a more diligent focus on food and nutrient timing, and one of these crucial times is during preseason training.
Think about your body as a car; most vehicles could probably run for a few miles after the gas light comes on. But after a while, not even the most expensive, fine-tuned car can keep running without enough fuel. Additionally, constantly running that luxury car on low fuel can have long-term effects on the engine.
Your body works in a similar way. You can always get through some training with low fuel, but after a while muscles begin to break down, energy stores get low, and injuries become more likely. If you’re training more than usual, this body breakdown can happen even faster.
During preseason, many athletes train for upwards of 6-8 hours per day, doing double (and sometimes triple) practice sessions, weight lifting, and fitness testing. Keeping your energy up during this kind of training is crucial, as this is not the time to worry about calories or weight loss. In fact, actively attempting to lose weight during such a high-intensity period can lead to an increased risk of injury, which is not in anyone’s game plan going into the season.
That said, just because you don’t need to be hyper-concerned with calories during preseason doesn’t mean that you should go to the other end of the spectrum and start eating everything in sight. There are certain types of foods, and optimal times to eat them, that can help boost your energy, strength, and performance.
One of the most important factors during preseason training is breakfast. Even if you are not a regular breakfast eater, and the thought of food before a 7 a.m. practice makes you queasy, give it your best shot to ingest some sort of caloric boost before your first training session. Try to stick to a combination of carbohydrates and protein in your first meal, and avoid an over-abundance of fat if you will be training immediately after eating. Fats will slow the digestion of the other nutrients in your stomach, which is ideal when trying to stay full for a while, but less than ideal when your body needs those nutrients quickly to get through practice.
A shake or smoothie is a perfect option for those who don’t like to eat first thing in the morning, as these drinks provide a quick, easy way to get calories in without a full meal. Whole eggs, Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese are all great options for protein at breakfast, while fruits, low-sugar cereals, and sprouted grain breads can be excellent sources of carbohydrates.
For each practice session, it is important to remember to eat a snack about 1-2 hours before, or a full meal about 2-3 hours before. When planning a snack before a practice or training session, keep in mind that a combination of carbohydrates and protein is necessary to help your body utilize nutrients appropriately and also to help your muscles repair damage that is done to them through repetitive jumping, hitting, and sprints. Directly following a practice or training session, a similar snack containing carbohydrates and protein is needed again, preferably within one hour of completion of activity. This snack will help your body shuttle those nutrients back into your muscles to help them prepare for the next training session as efficiently as possible.
Whole fruits and nuts are excellent options for snacks, as well as prepackaged fruit and nut bars, if you’re on the go. For those who don’t like to eat directly after a workout, a homemade protein smoothie can be a great option.
Dinner during preseason, assuming it is after your last practice of the day, should be a larger meal including equal parts carbohydrate and protein, and a moderate amount of healthy fat. Fat can be included in dinner because your body has ample time to digest it before your next training session the following day. Including fats like coconut oil with dinner can help your body to utilize this necessary nutrient.
All in all, remembering to keep your calories up with high-quality, high-nutrient whole foods is essential during preseason. You’re asking your body to work as a fine-tuned machine with very little rest and recovery time. Increasing your body’s ability to recover through adequate and appropriate food choices will keep you a step ahead of the pack so you can excel in training and conditioning. Ideally, allowing yourself time to eat three full meals, plus two to three substantial snacks throughout the day, should give you the energy you need to succeed.
Sample Preseason Meal Plan
7 a.m. – Breakfast (carbs & protein)
Yogurt & granola
1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon honey
¼ cup granola
½ cup fresh berries
1 hardboiled egg
9 a.m. – Morning practice
11 a.m. – Post-practice snack (carbs & protein)
2 scoops protein powder
1 cup water
12 p.m. – Lunch (carbs, protein, moderate fat)
Whole wheat bread
1 dill pickle spear
1 string cheese
1 tablespoon peanut butter
3 p.m. – Afternoon practice
5 p.m. – Post-practice snack (carbs & protein)
1 handful of almonds
Another protein shake
6:30 p.m. – Dinner (carbs, protein, healthy fat)
1-2 grilled chicken breasts
1 medium sweet potato, baked, with coconut oil
1 cup mixed vegetables sautéed in coconut oil
9 p.m. – Late night snack (carbs & protein)
1 cup baby carrots with hummus
½ cup trail mix with nuts, dried fruits
Originally published in August 2014