The current thinking in sports nutrition is to prioritize real food. Professional athletes of all stripes are ditching goos, gels, crappy bars and carbo-loading. Instead, we are focusing on eating quality fats, protein, and carbohydrates for fuel.
This should be plenty to fuel kids as well. We should all keep in mind that volleyball is a power sport, not an endurance sport, so players don't need to be continuously eating tons of food in between matches. Until they reach the highest levels, volleyball doesn't actually burn a ton of calories. Rallies tend to be short, with plenty of recovery time, and the amount of physical exertion during a match, especially from 11s-14s tends to be overestimated.
One of the biggest issues with the way players are eating is in the protein department. Kids have no issue eating carbohydrates but what they are often missing is quality protein and fat, which they really need to perform at their best.
For pre-tournament breakfast and lunches at tournaments - make sure those meals include protein and some healthy fat (nut, avocado, etc.) and go with something "safe", meals they have had in the past. We prefer players not "experiment" with new foods the day before or the day of a tournament.
What Should Players Eat at Tournaments?
Tournament eating can be tricky. Most sports nutrition guidelines are created around two different types of eating: "pre-competition" and "recovery". So, during a full tournament day, when the players eat, which one is it? The answer isn't simple, though we tend to think of it more as "pre-competition" eating, rather than recovery. One thing is clear: schedules can be highly unpredictable and may or may not contain a convenient break, so we want to avoid one big, hearty meal in the middle of the day and instead look for lighter, healthy meals and a few snacks in between matches.
SNACKS NOT RECOMMENDED
- Jamba Juice/Smoothies
- Cliff shots, Gu, chews or candy*
- Z-bars, Nature Valley or Quaker Granola Bars, or equivalent candy bars*
- Cookies, Aussie Bites
- "lunches" at event vendors - hot dogs, nachos, chicken strips
- Salami & other meats
- Nuts / Nut Butters
- Cut veggies
- Sliced Fruit
- Simple, quality bars (i.e.Kind, GoMacro, Perfect Foods, or those trending more towards whole foods)
- Salads (esp. with protein)
- Bone broths
- Crackers, Pretzels & Pita Chips - all recommended in combination with other things on the list, not necessarily as stand alone snacks.
*even though these are popular with the players, tons of sugar hurts their long term performance, regardless of whether they like it or whether it gives them a short-term energy boost.
The goal with hydration is not to drink massive amounts of water, but to be sure the girls are actually absorbing the water they drink. We recommend Nuun Tabs or some low/no sugar electrolyte added to their water (or even a pinch of sea salt). This will help ensure they absorb and can access the water they drink, instead of just peeing it all out.
We do not recommend "sports drinks" (e.g. Gatorate, Powerade, VitaminWater, etc.) as these all have the similar amounts of sugar as soda and don't support athletic performance as claimed.
Post Practice - Important!
Practices can be intensive and recovery is extremely important. Even though many players aren't getting home until 10pm, we strongly recommend that kids eat 15-20 grams of protein within 30 minutes of practice. Some easy options would be:
- Chocolate Milk
- String cheese and 1/2 apple
- Apple + peanut or almond butter
- 2 boiled eggs