Sports Performance-Optimizing Your Nutrition & Recovery with Irene Gardner

As discussed in my first article, Nutrition 101, food is the energy needed to fuel our bodies
throughout the day. Now, if you are training for a sport, your body requires more fuel…more
high-quality fuel. You want to get high quality nutrients from vegetables, fruits, whole grains, 
lean protein, dairy, and healthy fats.

Pre-Event Fueling...

Adequate fuel for your muscles
Sustained quality and intensity
Increase mental acuity
Reduce risk of injury

Earlier onset of fatigue
Reduced speed and endurance

Each sport requires a variety of skill, demanding a
certain set of physical strengths and mental focus.
Rugby, for example, requires endurance, speed,
and strength, as well as the need to react quickly
and maintain focus when fatigued. 

Therefore, your fueling choices and timing around
training and competition influence your body’s
ability to perform, adapt, and recover.

Prior to training or competition, what and when should you eat? 
Aim to have a meal 3-4 hours prior to an event and a snack 1-2 hours prior. Your meal or snack should be high in carbohydrate, low in fat and fiber, and moderate in protein (Review the food groups here: Nutrition 101). Foods higher in fat, protein, and fiber take longer to digest than other foods and may cause stomach discomfort prior to or during events. Also, include 12-16 ounces of fluid 1 hour prior to an event.

Properly fueling your body will provide your muscles and brain with energy needed to train efficiently and effectively.

Here are examples of pre-event snacks to include 1-2 hours beforehand; pick 1 from each column: 

Carbohydrate: 15-30 grams         Protein: 10-20 grams
1-2 slices of bread                        12-16oz of milk*
1 piece or cup of fruit                  1 cup Greek yogurt*
1/4-1/2 cup dried fruit                   1-2 eggs
1/2-3/4 cup rice/past/oatmeal       1-2ox meat/deli-meat/tuna  
6-12 whole grain crackers           2-4 Tbsp nut butter*
2x6" tortillas                                1/4-1/2 cups of nuts/seeds* 
1/2-1 English Muffin or bagel       1-2 string cheese
                                                     * Contain at least 15g of

What should you include during training or competition?

Drink 4-8 ounces of fluid every 15-30 minutes during an event. Consider sports drinks for training sessions or matches >60 minutes.

After training or competition, what and when should you eat?
Within 15-30 minutes, include a recovery snack that contains both carbohydrate and protein. Re-hydrate with at least 16-24 ounces of fluid. Eat again in 2 hours, choosing a balanced meal, rich in nutrient-dense foods.

Here are examples of post-event snacks to include within 30 minutes depending on the intensity and duration of an event; pick 1 from each column:

Carbohydrate: 15-45 grams            Protein: 15-25 grams
1-3 slices of bread                          16-24oz of milk*
1-2 piece or cup of fruit                 1 cup Greek yogurt*
2-3 apple sauce pouches                 2-3 eggs
1/2-1 cup rice/past/oatmeal             2-3oz meat/deli-meat/tuna  
1/2 - 1 Bagel                                       2- 2-1/2oz jerky
1-1/2 cup quinoa/beans/lentils**    11 cup edamame/beans* 
8-16oz chocolate milk**                  1 scoop whey protein
**Contain at least 8g protein        *Contain at least 15g of        

To optimize recovery and training adaptations, continue hydrating and eating balanced meals and snacks the rest of the day. It takes 24-48 hours for your body to fully recover from training or competition.

Keys to Recovery Nutrition:
Refuel the carbohydrate stores that were depleted from the muscles
Rebuild muscle breakdown with high quality protein
Re-hydrate fluids lost during activity
Reinforce your body’s recovery with nutrient-dense foods the rest of the day –fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts, and plant-based oil.

Create a Fueling Plan for Game-Day:

                    Time        Guideline                         Example
Pre-meal:                    3-4 hours before game   Oatmeal, banana, scrambled eggs, milk
                                                                         Turkey sandwich, fruit, milk/water
                                                                         Your pre-game meal here-

Per-fuel                      1-hr before game             Fruit leather, crackers, turkey jerky
                                                                         Peanut butter & jelly sandwich
                                                                         Your pre-game snack here-                  

Game Time                                                       Water, sports drinks

Post-Fuel                    Within 15-30 min          2 apple sauce, 16oz milk/1 cup Greek yogurt
                                                                         Bagel w/ turkey & cheese
                                                                         Your post game snack here-

Post-meal                   2 hours after                   Pasta/rice/quinoa, chicken, broccoli, milk
                                                                         Black bean burger on a bun, salad, avocado
                                                                         Your post-game meal here- 

Practice your fueling plan at training sessions, not before a match. You need to be comfortable and confident about your choices and how your body will handle them on game-day. Avoid trying out new foods or beverages on the day of competition.

Good luck on putting your fueling plan into practice! You will perform better when well fueled and well hydrated.

How do you make sure you are getting proper nutrition to perform at your best and meet your individual goals?  Meet with a certified sports dietitian to set up a nutrition plan tailored to you!

Irene Gardner, MS RD CSSD 

Irene Gardner, MS RD CSSD 

You can reach out to Irene Gardner in the following ways:
Instagram- @IG_Nutrition

About Irene-Irene is a Sports Dietitian, a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, with a Master's Degree in Nutrition. She is also a former member of Cal Women's Rugby Club, Berkeley All Blues, as well as USA Rugby's Women's National 7s Team. She's also accumulated a number of rugby awards and honors along the way. Now Irene is working full-time to help others live well and improve performance through nutrition! She is currently collaborating with The Rugby Republic to help bring nutrition information and tips to ruggers.