By Tommy Clark
In my practice as a nutrition coach for basketball players at the youth, high school, college, and professional level, it doesn’t really matter what level you look at…
The same mistakes keep popping up over and over and over again!
Now, if you’ve read the previous blog article I wrote, you already understand that nutrition matters big time for hoopers (if you haven’t read it yet, you can check it out HERE).
Nutrition fuels your training sessions, fuels your performance in-game, supports recovery, keeps you healthy, and overall enhances your potential to dominate your competition on the basketball court.
In today’s article, I want to highlight one of the most common mistakes I see basketball players make all the time when it comes to nutrition that are quite literally destroying their performance on the court. I’m willing to bet money that you’re making this mistake right now!
By the end of this article, my hope is that you’ll be aware of that and have some tangible next steps to help you use nutrition as a secret weapon for you to significantly enhance your performance on the court.
With any further delay, let’s get into it!
THE MISTAKE - NOT EATING ENOUGH
By far, this is the most common mistake that I see basketball players make.
I’ve yet to have one player come to me for coaching that was actually eating the appropriate amount of calories to fuel performance in their training sessions, weight room workouts, games, and other daily activities.
Like I said earlier, I’m willing to bet money that you are probably making this mistake right now!
Now, there are several reasons why under-eating is such a grave mistake...
The first, and most obvious, is that the energy your body gets from food is the energy that you use during your training!
During training and during games, lack of energy available for your muscles to use to fuel their activity will result in fatigue. When you get fatigued, your reps get sloppy, you lose sight of your man on defense, your shots fall short, etc. Not a good look if you’re trying to showcase your talents, getting the most out of each workout, and most importantly be able to perform when your team needs you.
You can think of going into a training session or a game under-fueled like starting a road trip with your gas tank half empty already. On that trip, you’re going to have to stop and pull over to refuel a lot sooner than if you would have started with a full tank.
Similarly, in your training and in games, you’ll have to stop and rest a lot sooner than if you would have fueled up properly!
Poor fueling habits will not only impact you physically through decreased strength and endurance on the court, but they also have the potential to impact your mental performance (concentration, coordination, etc).
Not only that, under-eating will also affect a variety of other factors when it comes to your athletic performance and overall health.
For example, under-eating can contribute to increased injury risk, impaired bone health (which can contribute to said injury risk), immune system suppression/increased risk of illness, and more.
Long story short, the last thing you want to be doing when it comes to nutrition for athletic performance is not eating enough.
Yet, like I said earlier, it’s the most common issue I see time and time again in my work with hoopers at all levels.
Perhaps the craziest example of this occurred last year when I began working with an overseas basketball player playing in the Italian first league. He is 6’9”, 240lbs and when we first started working together I found out that he was only eating 1800 calories per day!
Keep in mind, someone of his size should have been eating somewhere around 4500 calories.
It was no surprise that he was complaining of “dead legs” at the start of the second half in nearly every game, and feeling worn down from the season even though it wasn’t even half way over.
I’m glad to report that we were able to get him up to ~5000 calories per day and he was feeling much better on the court by the end of the year (now he’s eating 4000 due to slightly reduced energy demands during the quarantine situation).
Now, your situation might not be as drastic as my 6’9’ 240lb friend here. But, if you’re a hooper the reality is that you’re probably under-eating, and it’s definitely costing you on the basketball court. When you correct that, you will notice the difference in your performance on and off the court almost immediately!
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
So, now the question becomes - how can we combat this?
Well, the gold standard would be to track with an app like MyFitnessPal and get crystal clear on how many calories you're eating per day.
However, this is more of an advanced strategy. If you’ve never done anything with your nutrition before, I likely wouldn’t recommend starting there. Just like with basketball, we need to start with the fundamentals.
Here’s what I want you to do:
Eat 3-5 meals consistently every single day. No questions asked. No excuses.
What’s my thought process behind that?
Why is this the first thing I do with nearly every athlete that I work with?
Well, most hoopers are undereating.
And in my experience, most hoopers are getting anywhere from 1-3 meals in per day, and that can vary from day-to-day.
So, if we need to get calories up, it’s reasonable to assume that we can do that by increasing the number of meals you eat from ~1-3 meals per day to 3, 4, or 5 meals per day.
The really cool thing about this is that it requires almost ZERO extra effort on your part. There’s no tracking, no weighing foods out on a scale…
Just pick 3-5 times per day to eat. We’ll deal with the rest later.
WHY 3-5 MEALS?
Well, if you’re only eating 1 or 2 meals per day, it’s going to be pretty difficult to squeeze all of your calories into those meals.
For example, I’d be confident in saying that no hooper should be eating less than 2000 calories per day and many tend to need upwards of 3000, 4000, even 5000 calories…
Even if you somehow only needed 2000 calories, that’s still 1000 calories per meal if you’re stuffing those calories into 2 meals. For most people, that’s not the easiest thing to do!
Now, what if you go above 5 meals per day?
You can, but it’s really not going to do anything extra for your performance.
Also, more importantly, getting 6+ meals in per day will require you to be eating almost all the time! From a convenience perspective, it just doesn’t make sense for most of us.
There’s also concerns about maximizing muscle protein synthesis, but that’s a topic for a different blog article…
Long story short, 3-5 meals per day allows you to effectively get all your calories in without feeling like you have to constantly be eating throughout the day.
WHAT SHOULD THOSE MEALS INCLUDE?
Don’t worry about it ;)
All jokes aside, obviously what you’re eating is important. We’ll get there.
But right now, I just need you to make sure that you are eating! That alone will get you very far, and immediately have you performing better on the court.
Once you get that dialed in, then we can progress into what the structure of those meals should be.
WRAPPING IT UP
Hopefully now you understand that the last thing you want to be doing as a hooper is under-eating!
The reality is that most of your competition is making this same exact mistake, so you have a really cool opportunity to use this as a secret weapon to level up your game and really separate yourself from the pack.
If you have any questions about what was covered in the article, please feel free to hit me up on IG (@tclarknutrition), Twitter (@tclarknutrition), and any other social media platform. I’d love to hear your questions, as well as any other topic suggestions that you have.
Also, if you’d like some more individual support, feel free to check out my free Basketball Nutrition Support Group on Facebook HERE.
See you in the next article!
Behind the creation of UPBYCF lies years of activism for both Turners and a sustained interest in bettering communities in The Bay Area. They know the statistics that six times as many low-income students drop youth sports when compared to those from high-income families because of access (Aspen Institute Project Play Initiative). They also know firsthand the power sports has to build character because “a survey of 400 female corporate executives found 94% played a sport and that 61% say sports contributed to their career success (EY Women Athletes Business Network/espnW, 2014). The launch of UPBYCF is bounded in these statistics and in past experiences both Turners have had with nonprofits such as The Boys and Girls Club, Big Homie Project, and Play MakeHers. Yearly clinics at UPB have focused on women’s empowerment, and tackled issues like access to sports, and hunger.