Pre-Season Nutrition Strategies

Pre-season is that time of year to start getting ready for the season but it is important to remember you don’t need to achieve an entire seasons fitness in the preseason.  It’s great to aim to be fit but also fresh as you have the whole season ahead of you!  Depending on what sport you are competing in, different sets of skills are important but one thing in common is you want to maximise your potential in the fundamental skills required for your sport. And what better to help adaptations and fuel your body and get the most from your training than having a great nutrition plan!

Here are some tips for the pre-season to help you get in shape:

1.     Hydration:

In the humidity and hot conditions of the Brisbane summer it is ESSENTIAL to make sure you are hydrated!  Not just around training, but on a daily basis.  It is not uncommon for athletes to lose up to 4kg or more in one training session.  Some tips for hydration include:

  • ALWAYS begin sessions WELL HYDRATED! You should be drinking regularly on training AND non-training days.  The general rule of 2L of water per day is often not enough in our summer heat.   Keep a water bottle on you at all times and sip regularly.  Your food intake should also include foods with sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium in them to keep your electrolytes up.  Dairy foods are naturally high in these minerals.  Of these minerals, sodium is the most important in hydration.  Foods naturally high in sodium include vegemite, cereal, milk, cheese, ham, salted rice crackers and salted popcorn.
  • Know your ‘hydrated’ weight.  Weigh yourself regularly to know what weight you should be in the morning.  If you are lighter than usual, it can mean you do not drink enough fluid the day before or recover adequately after a session.
  • Weigh yourself before and after training to make sure you know how much fluid you have lost and replace it! You should aim to drink around 150% of what you have lost over the next 4 hours.
  • Check your urine colour.  It should be a clear to pale yellow colour.  If not, you need to increase your level of fluids.
  • You should be also drinking during sessions, particularly those >60minutes.  Sip on a water and/or sports drinks depending on intensity, humidity, duration. Plain water can be an effective drink for fluid replacement, especially in low intensity and short duration sports. Sports drink can be useful during high intensity or endurance sports, as it contains both carbohydrate for fuel and flavour and electrolytes (sodium) to help the body ‘hold on to’ fluid more effectively as well as stimulate thirst. Fluid needs are highly individualised and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to fluid intake.
  • It is important to formulate a plan for harder and longer sessions on your fluid and electrolyte needs during the session.  This will allow you to get the most out of your training sessions and know what you need to bring to training as well as before and after a session.  A sports dietitian can help individualise this specific to you.
  • The preseason is an important time to also practice your hydration routine BEFORE competition and get it right.  Use the preseason to learn what works best for you and master your routine before it really matters.
  • Be prepared!  Carry a water bottle with you, bring what you need for during and after training.

 2.     Fuelling:

The right nutrition before, during and after training can help to optimise your gains during the pre-season.

  • Before training:

Not only is it important to eat the right food the meal before training, but also leading up to sessions so your muscles are well prepared for the training ahead. Your daily diet should be rich in carbohydrate in order for your muscles to have good stores of glycogen (stored carbohydrate). You then should be topping up at your pre-training meal.

This will allow you to perform at your best at training which will in turn lead to training adaptations and greater fitness gains.  If you struggle to eat before training (such as an earlier training session), use the pre-season to experiment with trialling different foods and timing before training.  Try a very small amount of that food and gradually increase with improved tolerance.

  • Eating protein regularly during the day also helps to keep your body in a ‘positive nitrogen balance’ which means there is a good supply of protein available to help with muscle repair, recovery and muscle building and adaptation.  Include a good protein source at all meals and snacks.
  • Eating during training:

With sessions >60-90mins (depending on intensity), it is important to consume fluid and fuel during training.  This could be done as a water, sports drink (which allows you to get both it) or gel or easily tolerated foods.  Once again, pre-season is PERFECT to get your game day routine down pat.

  • Recovery:

Your next session will only be as good as your last recovery.  It is important to consume a meal with a good source of protein and carbohydrate for optimal recovery of cardiovascular training and 20g-25g of protein following weight training.

Your meal after training is best to be eaten within a 15-30 minute window after training to help kick start the recovery process.  If you struggle to eat straight away, try combining your fluid and fuel needs by having a sports drink, milk drink, sustagen, Up and Go or smoothie etc.

Other Nutrition Tips:

  • Days which you are training more, you should be eating more.  This will not only help you with prepare, fuel and recover well but will allow you to reach or maintain your body composition goals.
  • If you struggle to consume foods on heavy training days, try food in ‘fluid form’ or liquid meal replacement such as a smoothie, milo and sustagen in between meals.
  • If you are interested in any particular supplements (beetroot juice, beta alanine etc) , this is also a good time to give them a go.  Ask your sports dietitian for guidance!
  • Rest and recovery are important!  The pre-season can be intense so it is important to allow your body adequate rest between sessions.  Sleep well, have a nap if you need, get massages and eat and drink well!

General Fitness Tips:

  • If you are in a sport which is a skills-based game (AFL, rugby, soccer, netball etc), this is a good time to give priority to skills training while you are not tired from week to week competition.
  • Endurance training requires at least 6 weeks of fitness to achieve an appropriate level of fitness. It is important to use the pre-season to get to a good level of fitness as rushing this can increase your risk of injury
  • For training adaptations it is important to include all specific areas of training specific to your sport, which include weight training, skills, endurance, speed focused training to name a few.  This should be periodised by changing the intensity, duration, time, type of training to enhance performance.  Additionally adding variety to venues will help stop boredom. An exercise physiologist or strength and conditioning coach is important to help with your pre-season plan.
  • Don’t forget your warm up and cool down!  This will help prevent any injury.

All the best with the pre-season and getting the most out of your training!  Remember, you have an opportunity to gain the most from your training but also get your nutrition routine in place.  Make the most of it!


Written by our Eat Smart Dietitian Peita Hynes.





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