By Shawn Hueglin
You don’t have to be a professional athlete to professionalize your approach to softball, and nutrition is one area where you can do this.
Based on my experience, the earlier you pay attention to nutrition and begin to learn about how and why it impacts your performance, the more you’ll benefit later in your athletic career. Consider these 4 P’s to get you started!
Pinpoint: Begin by looking for areas where you can improve your nutrition strategies. This may be:
- Hydration on or off the court.
- Recovery nutrition habits following practice or weight sessions.
- Sleep habits.
- Training meals and snacks.
- Fueling before and during training sessions or matches.
Sometimes it’s helpful to ask others – like a coach or teammate – for feedback or assistance to pinpoint areas of improvement.
Plan: Develop a plan to improve the strategies you identify as important to performance. If you notice your pee color is darker in the morning when you wake up, you don’t have to use the bathroom very much throughout the day, and you are thirsty, hydration is an area you can improve on. Start by assessing how much fluid you currently drink each day both on and off the court. A general guideline for fluid intake is to drink a cup of water when you wake up (before coffee or tea!), 1-2 cups with each meal and snack, and 1-4 cups per hour of training. Fluid intake and sweat rate are individual characteristics, so these estimates are simply a starting point. If you determine this is an area for improvement, set a goal to increase your baseline amount. For example, drink 1 more cup of fluid with each meal and snack each day.
Another area you might identify is your recovery nutrition plan. If you currently eat something “sometimes” after practice, set a goal to consistently eat a snack that includes carbs and protein after each practice. This allows you time to shower, drive home and prepare your next meal.
Practice: Now it’s time to put your plan into practice and hold yourself accountable. Outline an appropriate timeline to trial your plan before evaluating the impact of your behaviors. This might be a week or a month. At the end of the timeline, ask yourself some questions. In relation to the hydration goal:
- Did you notice a change in your morning urine color?
- Did you notice practice felt harder than it should?
- Did you notice a change in your heat tolerance?
- Were you consistent in sticking to your plan daily?
Again, it may be helpful to check with a coach or athletic trainer for advice or help with your questions.
Polish: Depending on your answers to the above questions, you may need to polish your plan and set another trial period. Maybe the amount of fluid you increased wasn’t enough to impact your hydration status or maybe you were not as consistent with the behavior as you could have been. Try it for another week and re-evaluate.
When you consider the definition of professionalism, “the practicing of an activity,” it can refer to many aspects of softball. Nutrition is just one piece of the professionalism puzzle, but certainly it’s one that is under the control of all athletes. Take control of your nutrition and practice good fueling and hydration habits daily to professionalize your approach!
Shawn Hueglin is a Senior Sport Dietitian at the United States Olympic Committee who works regularly with players on the U.S. men’s and women’s national volleyball teams.