In Season Nutrition For Maximum Performance

Last year we had the chance to speak to a couple athletes about their nutrition during weekend long competitions. While some had a solid grasp on performance nutrition, others did not, exemplified by the fact they didn’t eat for the entire day! You can only imagine their performance and energy levels in the final competitions of the day….not good.

In season you have one goal: performance!

UWDBC - Ian Muirhead

Performance is the most important goal during season. Photo cred: Ian Muirhead.

Nutrition plays a very important role in sustained performance and peak performance but also in your ability to recovery. It would be a shame if you trained all off-season and the gains you worked so hard for were ruined because you neglected to fuel appropriately. Tsk Tsk…

To make sure you are performing at your best, here are some key focuses to maximize your performance during season:

Focus on performance, not your 6-pack or bicep measurement.

In-season your focus should be on sport performance, not body re-composition. Yes we all know how important it is to look awesome but that should have been taken care of in the off-season when you had less to worry about. While some people may get leaner throughout season due to the increase in activity levels, do not actively pursue body composition goals and calorie restrictions for the sake of wash board abs. This will take focus away from being the best athlete you can be.

Take away: As our great friend and mentor, Dan John would say “the goal is to keep the goal, the goal.” Translation: Performance is what matters in season, not how you look, so don’t get distracted from the prize.

Focus on hydration before, during and after competitions.

Even if you don’t feel overly thirsty, its more important to get a little too much water vs not enough. Even SLIGHT dehydration can drastically impair performance by a number of ways: muscle cramping, fatigue, weakness, headaches, nausea and a bunch of other nasty side effects (see THIS ARTICLE for most details). All those side effects can shut down your ability to perform at peak performance extremely quickly. As a rule of thumb, if you are thirsty, you are already starting to enter a dehydrated state. So on competition weekends, make sure you prepare with lots of easily accessible, high quality H20.

Take away: Be prepared. Always carry a water bottle with lots of H20 and drink regularly even if you are not overly thirsty.

Making sure you’re getting enough calories.

In season often comes with a lot more physical activity which leads to a greater caloric expenditure. Practices, competitions and any additional training add up to a lot of activity throughout the week. To avoid losing too much weight – which may negatively affect performance – you need to ensure you’re adequately meeting energy needs. If you aren’t eating enough, the body won’t have enough fuel to power through the demands that are being placed on it and you may feel lethargic, tired, sleepy all the time and flat when trying to practice or compete. If these symptoms show up, try adding a few hundred calories to your daily consumption.

Try filling a lunch bag with fuel sources if you know you’re going to be in the sun competing for an entire day. Fruits, nuts, seeds, protein bars and other quick snacks will be a great way to ensure your performance remains consistent throughout the day and keep energy levels high.

Take away: If you are losing weight or extremely tired, add another meal or snack to offset the calories you’re burning in practice and competition.

Carbohydrates (nom nom nom) are your friend.

Along with adequate calories, carbs are your best friend during long weekend bouts of physical activity. The brain and muscles run on glucose and need a steady supply of it to ensure maximum performance. Focus on fast-digesting carbohydrates, such as gatorade and fruit, to help fuel you during practice and competition especially if they are longer in duration >1 hour or full day events. You want to make sure that the carbs you are choosing for competition days won’t make you feel bloated or bogged down as that’s exactly what your performance will be. For most people that means go easier on the pastas and breads during competition day but adding more of those the night before and night after. These carbohydrate rich foods can be a great food  to replenish glycogen (stored muscle sugar) stores after a long day of competition.

Oatmeal, berries and protein powder are great post competition or practice fuel.

Oatmeal, berries and protein powder are great post competition or practice fuel.

Take away: If you have a whole night to digest, go with the pastas, rices and denser carbohydrate foods. If you have 2-3 hours to digest before the next competition, fruits, gatorade and other easily digestible carbohydrate sources are your best bet.

While not necessarily nutrition based, SLEEP is of paramount importance.

Poor sleep will mean you recovery slower and performance will be hindered. This is the missing link in most people’s game plan. They train, they eat, they live and breathe their sport, and then they stay up late watching netflix, working, or browsing facebook and they end up under recovered and performing sub par. Shut down the TV, computer, phone and any other screens 30 minutes before bed, and prepare for quality rest. Check out THIS ARTICLE by Precision Nutrition for more info.

Take away: You should be sleeping 7-9 hours per night, and waking up rested and ready to rock. QUALITY is just as important – if not more – than quantity.

Make food easy.

In season time usually comes with reduced time for a lot of other things and that can include cooking. Preparing meals for practices and when you know you will be short on time to make food becomes priority in-season. Have a fresh supply of snacks and other easily accessible calorie sources will make sure you aren’t fretting last minute trying to find food. A lack of preparedness usually leads to a Micky D’s trip which might not be the best choice if you’re an athlete. One way to combat this is batch cooking: cooking everything for the week or a couple days at once.  Slow cookers work well, cooking all your proteins a week in advance and/or preparing your fruits and veggies before hand can go a long way in ensuring you have proper fuel for your body.

Take away: Prepare food in advance to save time and scrambling which will lead to poor nutritional decisions.

Slow cooker

Best batch cooker in the world.


Supplement when needed.

Supplements are meant to be supplements, not the backbone of your diet. They can be really helpful however in certain situations where you may be short on time or not getting adequate nutrients from the diet. Carb supplements are a great choice for replenishing glycogen stores and can be substituted for eating whole food close to or around physical activity. They generally digest much faster and can be utilized quicker compared to eating rice, pasta or even fruit.

Sometimes people find gatorade or certain sport drinks upset their stomachs during activity, whereas carbs supplements such as Vitargo might be easier on the digestive system. Finding ones that are easily digestible can go a long way in ensuring you maintain performance over hard practices and long weekends. There are numerous different ones out there; you’ll have to play around with what works though as people respond differently to different sugars. Protein supplements will also be a big help as getting quality protein in during season might be a bit more of a challenge. Protein will help repair the muscle damage caused by long hours of physical exertion, and if mixed with gatorade/carb supplement and water can be the perfect recovery drink.

Take away: Use supplements to aid your recovery process and fuel your training and competition days.


  • Don’t get distracted with other goals. Focus on performance.
  • Always have water available and try to avoid thirst.
  • Focus on energy levels and maintaining body weight. Save focused fat loss or muscle gain for the off-season.
  • Carbs are the performance nutrient. Make sure you’re eating the right kinds at the right times.
  • Sleep 7-9 QUALITY hours per night.
  • Batch cook to make food easy.
  • Supplement as needed to fill the gaps.

Ignoring nutrition in season or believing you don’t need any different strategy can be a big issue for many athletes. Following the above nutritional guidelines will help you be the best athlete you can be in the 2015 season. If you have specific questions about what to change, shoot us an email at [email protected]