Coaching Today

Nutrition: The Forgotten Edge


By Lori Dather

Nutrition: The Forgotten Edge_DBThe intensity of sports competition at all levels has risen during the past several years.  Our athletes are better trained, better conditioned and mentally tougher than ever before.  Coaches are always looking for the “edge,” the strategy or tool that will give them the victory over an otherwise equally matched opponent.  What is on your “gaining the edge” checklist?

If it is not already, nutrition should be a part of your overall strategy.  Following are three key nutrition strategies that may give you the advantage you seek over an equally matched team: 

Nutrition Strategy No. 1 

Training Nutrition 

Do not neglect proper nutrition in the preseason and training sessions. Training is where your athlete will determine what nutrition plan and foods work best during competition. The day before a cross country meet or big football game is not the time to be trying out new foods and hydration products with your athletes. Take the time to perfect your nutrition/hydration strategy prior to the season opener and your athlete will be less likely to experience unwelcome “surprises.”

Nutrition Strategy No. 2 

Pre-competition Meal 

Make sure your athletes are consuming adequate macro- and micro-nutrients prior to competition. The timing and composition of these meals and snacks are important factors to consider. 

3-4 hours pre-competition:    

  • Choose foods low in fat and fiber to ensure optimal digestion 
  • Include protein foods 
  • Foods rich in carbohydrate to top off muscle stores 
  • Some foods to choose may include:   
    • Peanut butter and honey on toast + instant breakfast drink 
    • Low-fat cottage cheese + apple butter + crackers  
    • Lean hamburger on bun w/mustard, lettuce and tomato + fruited Greek yogurt 
    • Turkey and cheese sandwich w/ mustard + fruit + sports drink 
    • Low fat tuna sandwich + fruit + fat free or low fat Greek yogurt 

30-60 minutes pre-competition:  

  • If pre-competition jitters are an issue, liquid meal replacements may be a better choice than whole foods 
  • Some foods to choose may include: 
    • Sports drink or water with half banana 
    • Sports gels, sport beans or gummies, sports bar (test for tolerance of these items during practice and training- do not try for first time pre-competition). 
    • Jelly sandwich (white bread) 
    • Crackers and honey 

Nutrition Strategy No. 3 

Recovery Nutrition 

The goals of recovery nutrition include:

  • Restore lost fluid and electrolytes
  • Replace muscle fuel (carbohydrate) burned
  • Provide protein to aid in repair of damaged muscle tissue and stimulate development of new tissue
  • Begin nutrition recovery with snack or meal within 15-60 minutes following practice or competition

If your athlete does not have an appetite following competition, offer liquid foods (such as chocolate milk, Boost, Slim Fast, Carnation Instant Breakfast) to meet recovery goals.

Recovery Snacks include: 

  • Smoothies made w/ yogurt and fruit
  • Cheese stick + fresh orange slices+ water
  • Sports drink + sports bar containing protein
  • Graham crackers w/ peanut butter + chocolate milk
  • Peanut butter + crackers + banana

Recovery Meal Ideas:

  • Turkey sandwich w/ mustard + veggies + pretzels + chocolate milk
  • Rice + beans + cheese, salsa, avocado + tortilla chips or whole grain tortilla
  • Steak, broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, brown rice stir fry
  • If your team stops at McDonalds- choose cheeseburger w/ mustard + salad + low fat fruit yogurt +chocolate milk

Informing parents of the importance of nutrition throughout training, pre-competition and post-competition will be a key factor in implementing your nutrition strategy.  The link below contains Sports Nutrition Fact Sheets to share with your athletes and parents to keep everyone on the same page.

Nutrition may have been the missing strategy that you have been seeking to gain the “edge” over your competition.  Start with the three strategies outlined here and take your athletes to another level!

Important to Note:  The serving sizes of recommended foods are not provided due to the wide range of caloric and hydration requirements of different athletes (gymnast vs. linebacker). 

For more information, go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics- Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition Dietetic Practice group Web page:

About the Author:
Lori Dather has been a registered dietitian for 20 years. She is currently the health and wellness program manager for Midwest Dairy Council for Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma and southwest Missouri.




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