Written by Elsa Chu, P. Dt.
Elsa is part of Coast to Coast Nutrition - an Instagram page dedicated to helping Ultimate players navigate their nutrition
Your van is parked in the Motel 6 parking lot, your teammates are all gathered for the team meeting, and your bag is packed with your jerseys (from BE Ultimate, of course), deodorants, discs, and socks (BE socks, obviously. Maybe those sick new white ones?). But what about your food?
In a way, the most and least important nutrition is going to be when you’re competing. This is because there is an enormous range of different types of eaters in ultimate. Some people can eat absolutely nothing and perform like rock stars, while others only need to ingest one bite of food beyond their usual intake to be bogged down with stomach cramps. The work you put in over the weeks and months before tournaments counts more than the work you put in the day of. This is true for nutrition, fitness, and team strategy. However, poorly managed food habits during tournaments can result in exhaustion, bad digestion, cramps, dehydration, and more.
Both Daisy (our C2CN co-author) and I have had to experiment with lots of different foods and methods to address our personal athletic needs and digestion. If you factor in budget, time, convenience, and packaging, the result is lots of trial and error (coolers, despite the name, rarely stay that cool). Here are our top five recommendations for eating well during tournaments.
Listen to your body
Some athletes find that they have very small appetites on game day. This doesn’t mean they should eat nothing at all. Fasted exercise has a negative impact on your maximum output, so you might find your legs giving out on that deep cut. Find ways to eat small amounts, in liquid or solid form, frequently. Smoothies for breakfast, gummies, bites of salted pretzels or crackers, sports drinks, and protein powders are all ways to keep your body fueled without weighing it down.
Additionally, many athletes may find that irregular eating hours are what messes with their hunger (it does for me!). Waking up at 6 a.m. and going straight to breakfast might not be possible most days, so plan ahead and bring a drinkable yogurt, smoothie, or PB&J to snack on when your hunger eventually sets in.
Eat as you usually do
Tournaments are not the time to experiment with new methods, products, or foods. When packing lunch or choosing breakfast, stick with foods that appear frequently in your diet and that you know will digest well. If a teammate offers you a super-nitrogen power-blast energy drink, turn it down.
Keep a schedule
Keep an eye on the clock! Our bodies keep time, and if you usually have breakfast, lunch, and dinner at certain times, try to maintain that schedule during tournaments. This may take some creativity, such as eating half your breakfast in the car and finishing the other half after warmups. When we ignore our hunger rhythms, we may experience other symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or foggy brain.
As you can see from our previous recommendations, the theme is to think ahead! A good athlete is always prepared, whether it’s with Advil, athletic tape, or snacks. Keep a snack for when the day’s games finish, since it’s always a while before you finally sit down for your next meal. Some of our favorites are CLIF bars, sandwiches, and yogurt parfaits. In order the check all the boxes for your nutrition, take some time the week before a tournament to make a list of what you’ll need to pack, buy, or make. Pull out the tournament schedule and see when your byes are (if any), what time you’ll be waking up, and how to manage each scenario. It’s a lot of work, but your team will be impressed with your level of dedication to your performance!
Don’t overthink the restaurant
As dietitians, when our teams sit down to eat in the restaurant, we get a lot of questions! “What should I have tonight, Elsa?” and “Daisy, which pasta plate is the most healthy?”
We want people to keep it simple! Recovering from the day doesn’t have to be scientific or complicated. You burned a lot of calories, so you need a larger portion than usual. Include protein-rich foods, some starchy carbs like potatoes, pasta, or rice, and don’t forget vegetables! Try to drink at least two glasses of water with your meal, and if you’re playing the next day, avoid alcohol.
There are just the basics, so stay tuned for some practical recommendations about breakfast, snacks, and hydration during tournaments!