How do you talk with student-athletes about adequate hydration & fueling? Expert nutritionists weigh in. The theme? Keep it simple, and keep it healthy!
Photo by Joshua Grow, New Mexico Interscholastic Cycling Association.
This post was provided by nutritionists from NICA partner, The Feed.
The Feed is excited to help student-athletes and coaches keep fueling smarter and stronger via our partnership with NICA. The Feed’s nutrition coaches provide meaningful advice to help educate on the importance of proper fueling to meet the body’s demands.
Here are a few simple recommendations that coaches can share with student-athletes to help them develop positive nutrition habits:
Photos by Katie Sox, Oregon Interscholastic Cycling League
While NICA races are typically shorter in duration, this means the time leading up to the event is more important for fueling up and being ready to race. This process doesn’t just start the morning of, it starts a couple of days out. Help athletes understand that nutrition and fueling properly a few days before their event can make an impact on race day.
Encourage athletes to stock up as best they can roughly 2-3 hours in advance of any event or workout. It’s not the time for the heartiest of meals, but it is the time to initiate storing fuel away – specifically carbohydrates. Stick to simpler meals like eggs with toast and jam or oatmeal. Heavy foods that have a lot of fat and protein won’t digest in time and may cause some stomach issues.
It’s also helpful to remind athletes to find things that work for them while on the road, because they may be traveling for some events!
Most NICA race events will hover between 30 minutes and an hour in duration, so athletes may not necessarily need that much food. However, being hydrated and adding some fuel to a workout or race can improve an athlete’s potential to perform well.
To keep it simple, have riders think of these two rules: 1 bottle per hour and 1 serving every half hour.
This means to aim to drink 1 bottle of fluid per hour and eat 1 serving of fuel every half hour. It can be important to include more than just water in your bottle. Some athletes will want to have some electrolytes (namely sodium/salt) to improve hydration. At The Feed, we are big fans of products like Skratch Labs Hydration Drink Mix and Nuun Sport Tablets.
For the serving of fuel, think about using straightforward foods like bars, simple snacks, and gels + chews. If athletes have a serving of these approximately every 30 minutes, you will be helping your body stay on top of its needs.
If your event is around 30 minutes, athletes may only need a bit of hydration to get you through. If it’s around an hour, then athletes can consider taking 1 bottle and 1-2 gels/chews/servings of fuel with them. Great options come from GU Energy, Chargel, and Clif for simple chews, gels, and snacks for training.
NICA Coaches: Don't forget to join the NICA Coaching Community at The Feed and get $80 in annual store credit ($20 every 90 days), including $20 that you can spend right away to stock up on sports nutrition. Claim your annual credit
Head Coaches & Team Directors can receive an additional 20% off orders with access to a unique code. To request a code, please fill out our coach benefit form.
The time immediately following a race or practice is a great opportunity for athletes to get a leg up on the recovery process. Not only is an athlete’s body more receptive (or accepting) to the nutrients they are consuming in this window, but it’s also more effective at replenishing those energy stores.
We suggest immediately that athletes have a recovery shake or snack following a workout, and then having a full lunch or dinner later. As you congratulate buddies and teammates, and debrief your day, be sure to remind athletes to eat to maximize their recovery.
Remind athletes to capitalize on getting in nutrient-dense foods in their first post-workout full meal. This supports all the stress going on in a body that just went through a big effort.
Coaches can be pivotal in improving an athlete’s nutritional performance. Remember: just because an athlete can “get by” on something for ride or race doesn’t mean it’s ideal. Here are three main things we can teach NICA riders:
During practice, coaches can support athletes to make sure they are fueling properly. For example, if you see an athlete that has a full bottle in the middle of practice, check in on them about drinking. Additionally, use little breaks in practice or team rides to remind the athletes to snack or drink. They can easily forget about it, and being reminded to fuel can help instill positive habits.
To get specific, make sure athletes are consuming a reasonable amount of fuel while training, and that it is simple and easy to digest. We never want to tell athletes “not to eat” or suggest that “they’ve eaten too much”, but instead want to remind them they can (and should!) eat and drink to fuel all of their mountain bike adventures.