Nutrition can be the determining factor between good and great players. What, when and how you fuel influences many aspects of performance. It is especially important in recovery, and even more so in sports with dense schedules, like the NBA, where there are 82 games in the regular season.
Whether you play recreationally with friends, train with a club or compete at the elite level, fuelling can determine how you play and if you reach your full potential as an athlete.
There is a lot of misinformation out there and it’s easy to get bogged down with information overload. However, understanding and implementing the basics of performance nutrition is the first step to ensuring that this fundamental part of the athletic performance is not a missed opportunity.
SiS’s Elite Performance Nutritionists advise the World’s best NBA players and have outlined three foundations of basketball nutrition to get you started: Fuelling, Hydration and Recovery.
A nutrition strategy including these foundational pieces can improve performance by ensuring high energy foods are consumed in the right amounts and at the right time to fuel speed, endurance, and quick reaction time. These strategies will also help you to maintain and improve performance by recovering well between training and games, and minimizing risk of injury.
Unlocking your potential starts with something as simple as hydration. Our Nutritionists have measured up to ~3 litres per hour of sweat losses in some NBA players during training. Hydration is important day to day, and it is recommended that players aim to drink a baseline of at least 85 oz – 120 oz (2.5 -3.5 l) of fluids daily. Fluid need vary greatly from player to player but will increase on training and game days with losses through sweating. Inadequate fluid intake may result in dehydration which is known to impair physical and cognitive performance. Nailing your hydration before, during and after practice can be a huge win. If you are a heavy or salt sweater, extra electrolytes may be necessary to rehydrate day to day.
Studies have shown that players’ off- court hydration habits may be more inadequate than on-court fluid intake (Osterberg et al. 2009). It is important to hydrate consistently through the day before training or game.
To ensure you are well hydrated, on top of daily guidelines, drink 17-24 oz (500–1000 ml) of fluid at least 2-3 hours before training or a game. Using GO Electrolyte or GO Hydro will ensure your body is hydrated better because of the additional electrolytes (most importantly sodium) in these formulations. Electrolytes are lost in sweat, and need to be replaced to maintain appropriate fluid balance and ratios to support various roles in the body, importantly cognitive. When maintained, sodium helps pull water into your cells, improving fluid balance.
Fluid intake during a game cannot make up for poor pre-game hydration. Even dehydration as little as ≥2% of body mass has shown to impair skill-based basketball performance (Baker et al. 2007).
Weighing yourself before and after a game is a helpful way to determine whether you have met your hydration needs or come relatively close.
As a strong starting point aim to take on at least ~17 oz (~500 ml) of fluid per hour. Keep in mind that your requirements may increase when minutes played, and intensity of the game will also influence sweat rates. Go Electrolyte is your best option for fuel and hydration and Go Hydro is perfect for low minute games, when additional carbohydrates are not needed.
Weighing in before and after games will provide an estimate of your rehydration requirements too. If you are in a deficit, aim to ingest 26 oz (1.5 l) of water for every pound of body mass lost over first few hours (Baker et al. 2007).
Carbohydrate, stored as muscle glycogen, is your primary fuel source at a high intensity. To fuel for the work required, you must consider the demands of your training or game in advance. The more minutes played, the more carbohydrate required both before and during.
Preparing for games where high minutes will be played, consuming a high carbohydrate the day before that hits ~5 -7 g CHO/kg (Michalczyk et al. 2019; Burke et al. 2011; Davis et al. 2021) will increase muscle and liver glycogen stores. The exact timing of pre-game carbohydrate intake targets will depend on the time of the game.
Aim to consume a carbohydrate rich meal ~3 hours before a game (2.5 g CHO/kg; Williams & Rollo 2015). Try including things like rice, quinoa, potatoes, yams, and pasta. Most players like to feel light on the court so topping up with easy to digest high carb snacks such as fruit smoothies, bananas, popcorn and naturally flavoured yogurt are popular choices.
However, the recommended amounts of carbohydrate may be challenging for some players to consistently achieve through food alone. The Beta Fuel range, designed to deliver a high amount of carbohydrates in an optimal ratio for absorption and tolerance, may help close the gap. Beta Fuel is available as a drink, gel, or chew bar – the drink contains 80 g (0.08g/klg) of carbohydrate in just one serving and the gels and chews each contain ~40 g (0.04g/kg).
Before or during the warm-up, high minute players should top up energy with a fast absorbing, easy to digest carbohydrate source such as a Go Isotonic Energy Gels or Surge Gel 30 minutes before tip-off (younger players should steer clear of products with caffeine). Studies have shown that there are performance benefits when ~30–60 g (~1-2 oz) of carbohydrate is consumed during the warm-up.
It is proven that carbohydrate intake during intermittent exercise improves accuracy, sprinting, jumping, skill, change of direction speed, cognition, dribbling speed and passing performance (Baker et al. 2015).
For your best on court performance, shoot for ~30–60 g of carbohydrate over the course of a game. What works for many professional players is:
- Sipping Go Electrolyte during breaks in play (20 g)
- Consuming a Beta Fuel Chew Bar at half time (<40 g)
Experiment with different carbohydrate sources and build a strategy that works for you. Some other carb options are Go Electrolyte or Go Energy Bar. This strategy will need to be modified to match higher and lower minutes and training that compensates for lower minute games to keep up fitness.
When it comes to recovery, focus on the famous 3 Rs: Rehydrate, Refuel and Rebuild.
Aim to replace 150% of the fluid volume lost through sweating. This is particularly important with back-to-back games or long airplane travel between games.
Replacing carbohydrate stores is also important to prepare for next training or game and to maintain immune health. High minute players should aim to consume 1.2 g/kg body weight of carbohydrates immediately in a recovery drink and then again in post-game meal. Optimal refuelling will vary depending on each players’ load.
To recover, get fitter and reduce injury risk post-game consume at least 1.5g/kg body weight of protein daily. This is particularly important following an intense game, as protein plays a vital role in repairing muscle fibres damaged during exercise.
Consuming a REGO+ shake within 30- 60 minutes after a game will start the rehydration, refuelling and recovery process. Continuing, a post-game meal with a protein source, such as chicken, salmon, or black beans, in addition to high antioxidant vegetables and carbohydrate food will provide nutrients to aid recovery. An example of a solid post-game meal is chicken, rice and roasted mixed vegetables.
TOP TIP :
It is not necessary to over-complicate nutrition. When it comes to basketball, a ‘food-first’ philosophy is your biggest win, with supplements used only to meet targeted health and/or performance objectives – essentially when it is not possible to ingest the required nutrients through food alone.
These first few nutrition fundamentals, alongside hard work on and off the court, will help you reach your full potential. For a more advanced look at basketball nutrition check out Science in Sport’s Basketball Nutrition Guide, here.
Michalczyk, M., Chycki, J., Zajac, A., Maszczyk, A., Zydek, G., & Langfort, J. (2019). Anaerobic Performance after a Low-Carbohydrate Diet (LCD) Followed by 7 Days of Carbohydrate Loading in Male Basketball Players. Nutrients, 11(4), 778. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/nu11040778
Burke, L., Hawley, J., Wong, S., & Jeukendrup A. (2011). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29 Suppl 1, S17-27.
Davis, J.K., Oikawa, S.Y., Halson, S. et al. In-Season Nutrition Strategies and Recovery Modalities to Enhance Recovery for Basketball Players: A Narrative Review. Sports Med (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-021-01606-7