FUEL: Why nutrition is important for Ultimate athletes
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
In any sport, getting better on the field requires work off the field. Many ultimate players think that building their bodies only happens in the gym or on the track, focusing on endurance, explosiveness, and power, but it's also important to remember the other side of the equation: what, when, and how to eat to get faster or stronger. For some people, this might be about avoiding fatigue or digestive issues. Each person has different goals, but it’s clear that nutrition plays a role.
Our bodies are a little like sports cars; you could pour just about anything into the gas tank and it would run, but the best performances come from the best fuel.
So why is good nutrition important for sports? It comes down to several key topics.
1. PHYSICAL PERFORMANCE
The great thing about ultimate is that it blends components of our favorite sports. Ultimate players harness speed and power for short bursts, like in hockey, basketball, or soccer. They also have long games, with lots of medium-speed running, over several hours and several days, like in triathlons, cycling, or endurance events. Ask elite athletes of these sports about their diets, and you’ll notice that basketball players do not eat the same as triathletes. Similarly, ultimate players have to eat the right stuff to be able to excel in their sport.
2. MENTAL FOCUS
The brain is also a muscle, and when it stops getting nutrients and oxygen, it will stop working well. We’ve all experienced playing so tired that our brain and reflexes start turning to mush, just as our legs are. Fueling your body optimally in these moments can keep your brain just as sharp as your legs. On an average day, the brain consumes 120 g of glucose (carbs) per day just to function—that’s about 10 slices of bread. Add the stress of exercise during ultimate, and skipping breakfast starts looking foggy.
3. INJURY PREVENTION
Injuries in ultimate are devastatingly common, due to the intense nature of the sport and the continuous playing format. A healthy body is less likely to get injured, but that doesn’t mean players should only focus on strengthening muscles and improving flexibility. Muscles also rely on getting enough of essential nutrients like Vitamins D, C, and E and high-quality protein - through diet. You know that bottle of bone-health pills your grandma takes? Those contain supplements that provide nutrients that can help athletes, especially womxn, avoid or recover more quickly from fractures and breaks.
There are few sports that ask athletes to compete for several hours multiple days in a row. In ultimate, nutrition becomes essential in the hours between competition, so Saturday-night choices can make all the difference during those important Sunday games. Even on a smaller scale, it can make a huge difference to refuel correctly after a practice or game to make sure you don’t wake up the next morning feeling like you were hit by a truck.
5. DAILY HEALTH
Ask any older athlete, whether casual or professional, what they learned in the latter part of their career, and they’ll tell you about stretching, warming up, and treating your body right. In addition to boosting your game, having principles of good nutrition can improve your everyday quality of life and keep your body feeling young for a lot longer. Keep your radar tuned to see how nutrition can affect your mood and energy each day.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information about nutrition that’s available. Nutrition is a very new field of science, with only about 80 years of serious research; thus, advice tends to change with each new discovery. Humans are incredibly diverse, and not every method, food, or recommendation will work for every person. Dietitians and nutritionists work to give personalized advice to each person, but there are some general guidelines that you should pay attention to.
In our FUEL Guide, we offer a starting point for ultimate players looking to be better than ever.