Basketball Athlete Nutrition

Proper athletic nutrition helps prevent injury, supply vital energy for training and competitions.

Proper athlete nutrition is often overlooked in amateur sports. The philosophy of WBA is to educate players and their families about the importance of proper athlete nutrition to support a growing child that is physically active. As an athlete matures, the physical and mental demands increase. It is important to match these new demands with a proper nutritional profile for optimal athletic and mental function and performance.

Athlete nutrition is a little different than nutrition for less active individuals. Basketball players and other athletes require more calories and carbohydrates than “average” individuals. This is because more energy is burned and more cell recovery is needed for a more physically active individual. Basketball players need to maintain their mental acuity to remember plays and “read” the game at all times. For this reason, a focus on brain foods, especially the omega 3 fatty acid DHA need to be a daily part of their dietary intake.

The game of basketball requires the combination of endurance, speed, power, agility, specific basketball skills and mental acuity. By incorporating proper performance nutrition, players can maximize their training and competitive abilities.

Fatigue, both physical and mental, is one of the most crucial opponents to the basketball player. Therefore, one of the goals of basketball performance nutrition is to reduce the onset of fatigue in practise and game situations. Delaying fatigue not only gives players an advantage over their competitors but it also helps to prevent injury. Many injuries occur in the last few minutes of the games or practises when players are physically drained and mentally tired. So, maintaining high energy levels throughout game and practice give a player a distinct competitive edge.

5 Tips for Basketball Nutrition

  1. 1. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates supply the essential energy required during physical and mental activities. The two main forms of carbohydrates are a)sugars such as; fructose, glucose, and lactose, and b) starches, which are found in foods such as starchy vegetables, grains, rice, breads, and cereals. The body breaks down most carbohydrates into the sugar glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream. As our glucose levels rise in the body, the pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin is needed to move sugar from the blood into the cells, where it can be used as a source of energy.

Carbohydrates are stored as glycogen in the muscles. The muscles need to have sufficient glycogen during physical exercise as this is the fuel that is burned. It is very important that basketball players eat sufficient, good quality carbohydrates before training and games to ensure that the energy is there when needed.

A good rule of thumb is to have your carb intake be about 60% of your diet. Carbohydrates are the first source of energy used for physical activities such as basketball. Carb deficiencies can lead to fatigue and poor performance or training.

Carbohydrates should be the largest source of calories and included in every meal. Carbs are converted to glycogen, and then back to glucose to fuel your body and give you energy. It is the first and foremost source for any athlete’s energy.

Carbs are especially important shortly before and after physical activity. You’re larger meal 3-4 hours before an activity should include “starchy” carbohydrates such as breads and pastas and be between 500-1,000 calories. Meals with higher fat percentages should be avoided at this time.

You should also take in some carbs 30-60 minutes before an activity in the form of a smaller meal or snack. This snack should be primarily carbohydrates, but not include large amounts of gaseous foods like raw fruits and vegetables. Total carbs should be between 25 grams and 100 grams, depending on your body makeup and the duration of the exercise.

It is very important to replenish your carbohydrates within 15-30 minutes after your activity. This depends on your body make-up, how many carbs you took in during your game/training, and the length of the event.

In an athlete’s carbohydrate supplies in the body become depleted they experience fatigue which means decreased speed, quickness, reaction time and declining endurance, decision making abilities, and mental focus. Therefore athletes need to come to games and practices fully fueled with adequate carbohydrate. Carbohydrates can come from many different foods, but quality sources mainly come from the fruit, vegetable, and grain food groups. Some examples of good carbohydrate foods are bananas, oranges, berries, dried fruits, carrots, peas, pastas, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grain breads, granola bars, and oatmeal.

  1. 2. Protein

Proteins are often called the building blocks of the body. Protein is made of structures called amino acids that combine in various ways to make muscles, bone, tendons, skin, hair, and other tissues.

It is important to eat protein regularly because it isn’t easily stored by the body. Various foods supply protein in varying amounts with complete proteins (those containing 8 essential amino acids) coming mostly from animal products such as meat, fish, and eggs and incomplete protein (lacking one or more essential amino acid) coming from sources like vegetables, fruit and nuts. Vegetarian athletes may have trouble getting adequate protein if they aren’t aware of how to combine foods. They need to combine their vegetarian sources of amino acids in the right way to ensure they are getting complete protein intake.

Protein Needs for Athletes

Athletes need protein primarily to repair and rebuild muscle that is broken down during exercise and to help optimize their carbohydrate storage in the form of glycogen. Protein isn’t an ideal source of fuel for exercise, carbohydrates are. Proteins can be used for fuel as a back up when the diet lacks adequate carbohydrate. This is detrimental, though for the athlete, because if their protein is used for fuel, there isn’t enough available to repair and rebuild body tissues, including muscle.

Basketball players need 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day (1.4 to 1.7 g/kg/day). For instance, a 100 lb boy (45 kg) would need to eat 0.6 x 100 lbs= 60 g of protein, or 45 kg x1.4= 63 grams of protein per day. Good sources of protein are: chicken, turkey, beef, cheese, yogurt, eggs, nuts, and soy.

  1. 3. Fats

Basketball players need to ensure that they consume enough healthy fats. Fats are important as they make up every cell in the body. Fats are required for brain function and mental acuity, both of which are vitally important for the basketball player. Essential fatty acids are necessary for cellular function and for the brain’s thinking capabilities. The omega 3 fatty acid called DHA, which stand for Decosahexanoic acid is the most important omega 3 fatty acid for the brain and memory. This omega 3 is not made by the body and needs to be supplemented by the diet. Unfortunately, the best source of this omega 3 fatty acid is fish, and fish have become so toxic that they are no longer the best way to supplement this fatty acid. DHA can be obtained from Omega 3 eggs and from high quality fish oil supplements that have concentrated DHA, like VitaFish Oil from VitaTree Nutritionals. (

Fats are actually used before protein as an energy source while engaged in physical activity. Many athletes are not getting enough fat from their diets.

Too much fat is not good, especially before a game or training because it can cause sluggishness and muscle cramps. Try limiting high fat foods before and during training.

Too little fat in your overall diet is detrimental as well. Since it is your body’s second source of fuel behind carbohydrates, a deficiency in fat can cause you to fatigue more quickly. After “prolonged” outputs of energy, fat (the “good” kind/unsaturated) is the primary source of fuel for your body. Your diet should consist of about 20% fat. As with protein, it should be included in all meals, but not overdone.

Basketball players need at least 0.45 grams of fat per pound of body weight per day (1 g/kg/day). For example, a 100 pound player would need 0.45 x 100 lbs= 45 g of fat per day, or 45 kgx1 g= 45 g of fat per day. Choose heart-healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, and nuts.

  1. 4. Hydration

Maintaining adequate hydration before, during, and after practices and games is very important for the basketball athlete. Dehydration can happen to a player before he/she realizes the effects. Symptoms such as thirst, fatigue, headaches, and muscle cramps are often felt after it’s too late.

A great way to monitor your hydration levels and prevent dehydration is to check the color of your urine. Light-colored, clear, odorless urine throughout the day means an athlete is probably well hydrated. Strong, dark yellow urine suggests dehydration and indicates that athletes should begin drinking water until well hydrated. Fluid losses of only 1-2% of body weight can negatively affect performance and cause dehydration. Many athletes can easily lose this much fluid in just an hour of exercise.

  1. 5. Weight gain

Basketball players are normally tall, slim individuals and may be looking for ways to increase muscle mass as they reach the teen years. There are certainly safer ways to “bulk up” and to build lean muscle mass. One of the keys is adequate protein and calories. Athletes usually expend more energy than less active individuals and need to consume a higher number of calories in a day.

Weight Gain the Healthy Way

Most basketball players are tall and slender, and are looking to add muscular bodyweight. In order to gain weight, you must consume more calories than you expend on a daily basis. This means if you are looking to put on weight, you must eat, eat, and eat! Now for the select few looking to lose weight (i.e. reduce body fat), they must do the opposite — consume fewer calories than they expend. This is done by controlling their portion sizes.

A great way to supplement extra calories and protein is to drink protein shakes during the day. The best time is after a workout or practise, to refuel the muscles. We like to recommend vegetarian sources of protein powders or whey proteins, however be sure you do not have a dairy sensitivity if you choose whey (made from cow’s milk). Be sure to check the labels carefully on protein powders, that they do not contain any artificial sweeteners, colours or synthetic vitamins and minerals.

Fruity Weight Gainer Shake

  • · 1 cup of frozen strawberries
  • · 1 cup of milk (soy or almond milk is preferred)
  • · 1 large banana
  • · 1 cup of yogurt
  • · 2-3 scoops of protein powder
  • · Ice

Blend in a blender until smooth.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Weight Gainer Shake

  • · 1 large banana
  • · 11/2 cup of milk (soy or almond milk is preferred)
  • · 1 tbsp chocolate milk powder
  • · 2 tbsp peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
  • · 2-3 scoops protein powder
  • · Ice

Blend in a blender until smooth.

Top 10 Foods for Basketballers!

  1. 1. Eggs-Provide complete protein and a great source of energy. It is a myth that eggs will raise your cholesterol levels. Eggs should have a dark yellow yolk for the most nutrient density. Omega 3 eggs are healthy for the DHA component , fuel for the brain and spinal cord, just be sure the integrity of the egg’s nutrition is not compromised by the added DHA, meaning the yolk should still be a dark yellow.
  2. 2. Oatmeal- Oatmeal is a great carbohydrate and fiber source for basketballers. It also contains a small amount of essential fatty acids. Oatmeal should be unsweetened and the kind you cook on the stove, not the instant kind that you add hot water to. The instant type of oatmeal contains a lot of sugar and food additives that are not considered healthy.
  3. 3. Bananas- Bananas supply instant energy and fiber and are a great source of potassium for refuelling tired muscles and to help prevent cramping. Potassium is also important for cardiovascular health. Bananas can be eaten on their own or blended into a protein shake.
  4. 4. Sweet potatoes- Contain healthy carbohydrates and vitamin A. Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber and carbohydrates that do not spike insulin levels abruptly. They also contain important anti-oxidants to combat free radical damage brought on by exercise.
  5. 5. Soy/almond milk- These are great sources of protein and fat and carbohydrate and can be used in protein shakes.
  6. 6. Broccoli- Contains important anti-oxidants that help counteract the free radicals that can damage cells, brought on by exercise. Broccoli also contains vitamins, minerals and fiber, important for proper digestion and elimination.
  7. 7. Blueberries/blackberries- Contain anti-oxidants due to their highly dark pigmented skins. These berries are very nutritionally dense, meaning that the nutrients they hold are very high compared to other fruits. Berries in general are high on the ORAC scale, meaning their ability to quench free radicals is very good.
  8. 8. Chicken- Chicken is a good source of lean protein for basketball players. Protein is needed to build muscle mass and provide longer term energy.
  9. 9. Whole grain pasta/breads- Whole-wheat pasta is best for athletes when they are loading on carbs one or two days before their event. Whole grain pastas and breads will provide good carbs, fiber, and a little protein (but you should add a protein to your pasta with something like chicken).

10. Avocado- Avocados contain healthy fats and Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an important anti-oxidant quenching free radicals and protecting the heart and cardiovascular system.