Team unity, nutrition drive athlete pre-game rituals

Art by Hannah Singer
Art by Hannah Singer

Anxious to consume their proper calorie intakes in preparation for a game the following day, hungry football players surround a row of tables topped with an assortment of foods.

Junior Dylan Taylor, a varsity running back and linebacker, said team dinners like these ones help players bond with their teammates before their upcoming games.

“Some days we have pizza days,” Taylor said. “Some days we have a barbecue, (other days) we have pasta. We’ll always have Gatorade along with water and salad.”

In addition to the dinners provided for the team, Taylor said he supplements his day-to-day meals with other foods designed to maximize his performance on the field.

“Before my games, I like to eat bananas, pickle juice to avoid cramps, protein bars and water,” Taylor said.

Just as technique and training vary between sports, different athletes turn to different sources of nutrition specialized for their performance.

Sports medicine teacher and former Paly Athletic Trainer Stacey Kofman said proper nutrition extends beyond the basic food pyramid.

“You want to have your simple and complex carbs for explosive sports like football so you’re not depleting your energy stores,” Kofman said. “Swimmers have multiple events varying from 50 to 1650 meters, which is a mile swim. You need those complex carbs to keep you going for prolonged periods of time.”

Proper pre-game planning takes time and athletes should take precautions to make sure their bodies can digest the food properly prior to their games, Kofman said.

“Even for salads, it’s best not to have it right before you play,” she said. “Ideally, you want to have it about six hours before.”

One such precaution, Kofman said, involves athletes trying to break up their meals to load up on the nutrition they need before their games.

“Multiple, smaller meals throughout the day are better for most athletes anyway,” Kofman said. “Most swimmers need about seven to 10,000 calories, which they’re not going to get in three meals in a day.”

Some athletes choose to load up on fewer calories in preparation for their games, opting to consume more afterwards.

Freshman and tennis player Azad Wralidhara said he mostly eats lighter meals.

“Normally, I drink a lot of water,” Wralidhara said. “I also eat a protein bar or an RX bar. When I come home after my games, I always enjoy my mom’s cooking. In particular, I like her chili.”

For many athletes, having a familiar routine can matter just as much as taking the proper precautions to eat healthy. Kofman said the best pre-game routines often fall into the category of those tried and trusted.

“Put in your system what works for you,” Kofman said. “Don’t try to do anything else and push your fluids to make sure you have enough in reserve and recover.”

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