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Nutrition for Basketball, Part 2

January 30, 2006 Print This ArticleShare

Author: Trainer-X

Daily Nutritional Needs

Think about your approach to nutrition the same way you approach a test – do you study just enough to pass, or enough to get an A?

Exceptional basketball players require a high-carbohydrate (CHO) diet to maintain stamina. Stored carbohydrates (i.e. muscle and liver glycogen) are the primary fuel for energy. When the stores are low, focus and timing begin to suffer.

For athletes, the American and Canadian Dietetics Associations recommend 55 to 58 percent of calories be CHO, 12 to15 percent protein and 25 to 30 percent fat (1). These are the same requirements for sedentary individuals. However, there has been a growing body of evidence that protein and fat requirements may need to be altered for active individuals, especially when 15 percent of the diet is protein (2,9,10). In order to avoid muscle loss, the protein and fat requirements have been slightly altered here for the recommended training diet as described below.

Here’s how to eat smart.

The Training Diet – In Season

In Season

During the season, a training diet should be comprised of 55 percent CHO, 25 percent protein and 20 percent fat. The goal of the training diet is to provide adequate energy for recovery and tissue repair quickly and efficiently, without adding body fat. For simplicity, if you ate 2,000 calories a day, 55 percent of that is 1,100 calories from CHO, which is equal to 275 grams of carbohydrates (there are four calories of CHO per gram; thus, 1100/4 = 275 g of CHO per day. For protein, there are four calories of protein per gram also). For some it is easier to keep track of grams than calories.


Some research suggests that protein should be 1.4-1.7 g/kg bodyweight (bodyweight in kg = bodyweight in pounds / 2.2 kg) per day (9) or as high as 2g/kg bodyweight per day in athletes (10). The Recommended Daily Allowance of 0.8g/kg bodyweight per day protein is based on what is healthy for the average sedentary individual, which is not necessarily enough for athletes.

The additional protein is crucial not only for muscle repair, but also as an additional energy source. During times of low CHO stores and exhaustion, the body will use its own muscle as an energy source. Because it is so difficult to build and maintain muscle, athletes should be careful not to lose it.


Keep fat intake to 20 percent of your total calories, consisting primarily of essential and monounsaturated fats. Essential fatty acids are the type of fat that the body cannot create found in fish, flax seeds and walnuts. Monounsaturated fats, which are fats with one double bond, can come from olive or canola oils, seeds and/or avocados.

For someone consuming 2,000 calories a day, the fat intake should be about 400 calories. This is equal to about 44 to 67 grams (each fat gram contains nine calories).

Fat is used as fuel for endurance, but it also aids in neural recovery. Keeping your fat intake to less than 15 percent may have a harmful effect by inhibiting absorption of those vitamins that dissolve in fat, and it has no effect on improving your body fat percentage.

Nutrition and Pre-Season vs. In-Season vs. Off-Season

Off Season

During the Off-Season, basketball players should strive to either add muscle or lose body fat. It is common for players to gain body fat during the off-season then want to drop it quickly once pre-season begins. Some resort to crash or fad diets, which typically result in a loss of strength and muscle mass rather than body fat.

Players hoping to acquire lean muscle mass should also pay close attention to caloric intake. Their diet should consist of 60 percent CHO, 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat.

Muscle Mass Gaining Training Diet

The recommendations of the training diet may be controversial because methods of muscle-building depend upon body type, sex, age and current training status. In order for this diet to be effective, one must be involved in a weight-training program.

According to the research, each of the following should be practiced before, during and after training:

  • Try consuming 20 grams whey protein 30 to 40 grams carbohydrates 30 to 40 minutes prior to exercise.
  • Sip carbohydrates during weight training (i.e. Cytomax).
  • Immediately after, consume a protein shake with at least 20 grams whey-casein combo or drink 20 oz. of skim milk or fat free chocolate milk.
  • Eat a whole food meal with the above ratios one hour later.
  • Increase protein to 1.5-2g/kg bodyweight.
  • Zigzag your calories


In the Pre-Season, the training diet for basketball players should remain the same as the Off Season in terms of 60 percent CHO, 20 percent fat and 20 percent protein. However, the athlete should not be trying to lose or gain weight. The focus should be on maintaining the current weight and on becoming stronger and more powerful.

Pre-Game Meal

The primary purpose of the pre-game meal is to offset fatigue during the game.

There is no one-size-fits-all prescription because different people react differently to the same foods. Athletes should try to find food that won’t cause GI distress and will help to maintain focus and endurance. A few guidelines:

  • Eat low-glycemic foods, such as whole grain cereals, certain fruits, sandwiches made with whole wheat bread, etc., approximately two to three hours before a competition. The closer to your match, the smaller the meal. This will help sustain blood-sugar levels.
  • Keep protein and fat intakes low because they slow digestion.
  • Avoid bulky foods, like raw fruits and vegetables, dry beans, peas and popcorn, which can stimulate bowel movements.
  • Avoid gas-forming foods such as vegetables from the cabbage family and cooked dry beans.
  • Drink 400 to 600 mL (14 to 22 oz) of fluid two to three hours before exercise depending on tolerance (1).
  • Do not try new foods just before a match. Eat foods familiar with your digestive system.
  • Some athletes prefer to use their favorite foods, which may give them a psychological edge.
  • During the Game

    Although eating as directed above will allow you to top off glycogen stores coming into the event, you still have to contend with two potential enemies – dehydration and rapid glycogen utilization and depletion.


    When games drag out longer than expected, one can lose a great deal of sweat, and become dehydrated. A player’s rate of fluid loss will depend on the environmental conditions, intensity of play, acclimatization, aerobic fitness, hydration status, age, and gender.

    Glycogen Depletion

    Glycogen depletion varies with the intensity of the game and aerobic fitness level. Although liquid carbohydrates can help restore lost glycogen, it is never replenished as fast as it is lost.

    To remedy both problems, bring a water bottle containing a solution of six to seven percent carbohydrate and electrolytes, such as Cytomax, Heed, or Hammer Gel if your team does not already. The more a player plays, the more he may need to drink, therefore, do whenever possible.

    Try to avoid Gatorade, Powerade or any of the common sport drinks seen on commercials because they contain a considerable amount of table sugar, which may lead to GI distress and poor replacement of muscle glycogen.

    Still, something is better than nothing. It is important to consume carbohydrates in order to prevent performance decrease. For games longer than an hour, a carbohydrate-electrolyte drink, rather than water, is recommended.

    If in doubt, try testing a drink during a practice game. If you feel good, go with it during competition.

    Post- Game Meal

    DO NOT FORGET the post-game meal!

    Consume 1.5 g/kg bodyweight of CHO-rich, low fiber foods and beverages within 30 minutes or as soon as possible after a game and again every two hours for four to six hours to replace glycogen stores (1). This may be difficult when traveling, but failing to do so will encourage under-recovery and potential muscle wasting.

    After physical activity lasting longer than an hour, the body best restores lost glycogen when carbohydrates and protein are consumed together in a ratio of 4:1 (6) or 3:1 (7,8), rather than simply consuming carbohydrates alone. Furthermore, the combination of CHO and protein has the added benefit of stimulating amino acid transport, protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair, all of which will further speed recovery and re-energize you for your next competition.

    Products such as Endurox R4 by Endurox and Recoverite by Hammer Gel will provide both nutrients. When in a bind another option is drinking 20 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk post-exercise.

    It is better to consume the “meal” as a liquid in order to facilitate recovery faster, and follow with a variety of whole-foods between two and four hours later.

    Return to the normal Training Diet at the next meal.

    Tournament Nutrition

    The tournament schedule in basketball is difficult to accommodate nutritional strategies for recovery, flexibility and ingenuity. Not only must the athlete be committed to looking after fluid and CHO needs between matches, but he or she must also do so without a definite timetable. For a basketball player, one of the worst “injuries” is a cramp from eating too soon before a game.

    As soon as a game schedule is known, plan a meal routine that schedules convenient pre-event meals and recovery strategies. When several games are played in succession over several days, pro-active recovery techniques will be important to maintaining performance through the end of the schedule.

    A lack of a nutritional plan can be a critical mistake. For away games, plan where you will be eating meals and try to organize the menus in advance. While on the road, take control of meals eaten on planes, buses and other travel options. Do not depend on others to have optimal nutrition choices available. Always carry some high-carbohydrate snacks or meal replacements, such as health bars, ready-to-drink shakes and fruit and yogurt for emergencies.

    Alcohol The temptation of binge drinking may come more after a match for a celebration of victory, receiving a higher ranked belt or a gathering to ease the pain of defeat. A sensible amount will not hinder performance or health. In general, this means one drink for women and two for men.

    But alcohol intake can interfere with the game and post-exercise recovery (3-5).

    Get a post-exercise meal and fluids in first before drinking any alcohol. This way, less alcohol will have a tendency to be absorbed into the bloodstream and pass into the small intestine with the rest of the food.

    Avoid any alcohol 24 hours post-exercise if you have any soft tissue injuries or bruises.

    Alcohol and injuries are a bad combination, and it may actually increase swelling, bleeding and delay recovery (3-5).


    1. Nutrition and athletic performance – Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine. J Am Diet Assoc.;100:1543-1556, 2000.
    2. Kraemer, W.J., J.S. Volek, K.L. Clark, S.E. Gordon, T. Incledon, S.M. Puhl, N.T. Triplett-McBride, J.M. McBride, M. Putukian, W.J. Sebastianelli. Physiological adaptations to a weight-loss dietary regimen and exercise programs in women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 83, 270-279, 1997
    3. El-Sayed, M.S. Effects of alcohol ingestion post-exercise on platelet aggregation. Thromb Res. Jan 15;105(2):147-51. 2002.
    4. Peters, T.J., S. Nikolovski, G. K. Raja, T. N. Palmer, P. A. Fournier. Ethanol acutely impairs glycogen repletion in skeletal muscle following high intensity short duration exercise in the rat. Addict Biol.;1(3):289-95. 1996.
    5. Burke, L. M., G.R. Collier, E. M. Broad, P.G. Davis, D.T. Martin, A. J. Sanigorski, M. Hargreaves. Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise. J Appl Physiol. Sep;95(3):983-90. 2003
    6. Williams, M. B., P.B. Raven, D. L. Fogt, J. L. Ivy. Effects of recovery beverages on glycogen restoration and endurance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. Feb;17(1):12-9. 2003.
    7. Zawadzki KM, Yaspelkis BB 3rd, Ivy JL. Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. J Appl Physiol. May;72(5):1854-9. 1992.
    8. Ivy, J. L., H. W. Goforth, Jr., B. M. Damon, T. R. McCauley, E. C. Parsons, T. B. Price. Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J Appl Physiol. Oct;93(4):1337-44. 2002.
    9. Lemon, P.W. Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals. J Am Coll Nutr. Oct;19(5 Suppl):513S-521S, 2000.
    10. Tipton, K. D., R. R. Wolfe. Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. Jan;22(1):65-79. 2004

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