Expert Panel Responds: Tournament Nutrition

by | March 31, 2011, 7:00am 0

Last week, Skyd called for your questions about “Tournament Nutrition” and introduced our panel of training professionals and elite level athletes (Tyler Kinley, Melissa Witmer, Leslie Wu and new addition Dr. Jamie Nuwer). We picked the top five questions submitted, as voted by you, and dished them out to our panelists. If your questions were not answered in this panel please submit again to our next training professional panel. If you have follow up questions, please ask them in the comments. We have encouraged our panelists to respond there.

And now for the questions and responses:

1. Hanna Leible asks:

Can you give a rough plan for the macronutrient percentages recommended in the week before a 2 or 3-day tournament? I hear a lot about carbo-loading before an endurance event, so can you address that, but also touch on recommended protein and fat intake percentages in the days leading up to a tournament?

JAMIE NUWER, Sports Medicine

Let’s take a step back and discuss a general review of energy balance in the body. Energy balance = energy in – energy out. “Energy in” is determined by the nutrients food and drink that we ingest. “Energy out” is determined by two main factors: (1) resting metabolic rate and (2) exercise (Ultimate involves sprinting, running, jogging, walking).

In order to calculate how many calories you need to take in, you’ll need to estimate resting metabolic rate using this calculator (http:// Then you have to estimate how much time you actually spend doing each type of exercise during a typical day of Ultimate. Your energy spent during exercise can be calculated by the following equation: Energy expenditure (calories/minute) = 0.0175 x MET (from table below) x weight (in kilograms).

Metabolic Equivalent Task (MET) Table

Activity MET
Standing Quietly 1.2
Walking slowly (2mph) 2.5
Jogging (12-minute mile speed) 8.0
Running (8-minute mile speed) 12.5
Sprinting 18.0

Once you have determined how many calories you need for one day of Ultimate, then you have to get those calories in a way that’s useful to the exercising body.

Carbohydrates are the most important source of calories when exercising and should make up 55-65% of your calories. Carbohydrates come in many different forms. Some carbohydrates are converted rapidly to provide energy and others are converted slowly to provide energy later. The glycemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrates based on their conversion into rapidly available energy. High glycemic index (max is 100) will be converted fastest. Use this website to to look up the glycemic index of various foods.

Protein should comprise 10-15% of an athlete’s calories. Fats should comprise 25-30% of an athlete’s calories.

Now we can answer the question of pre-tournament nutrition in the week and day before a tournament. It’s really easy. You should eat a balanced diet, just like you should on any day. Fats and protein requirements are the same on regular and tournament days. The only thing that changes is the amount of carbs and their glycemic index.

Carbohydrate loading only works if you are carbohydrate deficient. Unless you are fasting or are on something like the Atkins diet, you should not be carbohydrate deficient. You should not be trying to lose weight during the Ultimate season. Eat a balanced diet that includes sufficient carbohydrates.

TYLER KINLEY, Captain of Seattle Sockeye

I’ve found that optimal eating is simply unattainable for me, as well as many teammates. Therefore, read my responses with that in mind. My goal is not eating perfectly, but eating as best I can, consistently. As for macronutrient percentages, I don’t even think about this– I’ve tried, and been overwhelmed. Instead, I’ll focus on simple things like trying to cook my own food as often as possible, and eating a protein, a vegetable, and a starch. Last night it was 2 pieces of trader joe’s margherita pizza, brussel sprouts, and scooping hummus with broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower.


I personally don’t eat any differently in days leading up to a tournament.  Foodwise my tournament prep begins the dinner before tournament day.  Even that is not much different.  I’ll just be a little more conscious of not eating anything too greasy.  The most important thing about that meal is to do no harm.  Don’t eat unfamiliar foods or foods that you suspect might disrupt your normal digestive or sleeping patterns.

Eating pasta for dinner the night before a tournament is not truly carb loading.  True carbohydrate loading is more complicated.  I forget exactly how it’s done, but it takes some planning.  First there is a hard workout to deplete glycogen stores, then some protocols require a few days of very minimal carbohydrate intake before the intake of a lot of carbs in order to “trick” the muscles into storing more glycogen.  Otherwise, no matter what you eat, glycogen will be stored in pretty much the normal amounts.  I wouldn’t even recommend following this protocol before every tournament because it would interfere with your ability to perform optimally in training and in practice.  I think the whole idea of carb loading for an Ultimate tournament is overrated because Ultimate is not an endurance sport.  You are not constantly running.  You have time to eat and digest carbohydrates during the event unlike a marathon runner or triathalete.

LESLIE WU, Mobile Health

In general, Ultimate athletes need a higher carbohydrate intake than the average person. Muscle glycogen is used after ATP-PCr supplies run low (~10 seconds), and the glycolytic system is used up until 80 seconds or so after the initial ATP-PCr 10s burst (source textbook).

Carbs are the most readily available form of glucose for energy transfer, and thus since much of high-level Ultimate happens in less than 80s bursts, it is recommended to eat a somewhat higher amount of carbohydrates, while reducing fat intake (don’t cut out healthy fats!). Try to eat a complete source of protein at each meal, as per usual, without forgetting your nitrate-rich dark green veggies!

Endurance Sports Nutrition recommends 3-4g / bodyweight (pounds) of carb intake during regular training, and a 60/20/20 (carbs/protein/fats) macronutrient ratio for endurance athletes. You’ll want to load up on carb-rich foods in the 3 days before a tournament, but a safer way to do so is to “gradually increase carbohydrate and fluid intake each day, beginning the week before competition, while exercise is tapered downward. This reasonable, safe strategy maximizes glycogen storage.” (Advanced Sports Nutrition p.143. This book also has a full 7-day pre-tournament eating plan for the hardcore…)

If you aren’t playing 6-8 games a weekend and don’t have an ectomorphic body type, you’ll gain weight eating this way, but if you are exercising 10-20 hours during a tournament week and are ectomorphic (like many Ultimate players), this is one way to go. For more information on a different carb loading protocol, check out Dr. John Berardi’s video on Carb Loading.

2. Phil writes:

Gatorade, Powerade, Brawndo, sport drinks, picklejuice etc…. is any of this stuff actually better than just drinking water? Obviously, the sugar is going to give you some energy, but how much truth is there to the need to replace electrolytes?

JAMIE NUWER, Sports Medicine

Water is really important during tournaments. Let’s talk about water for a moment before discussing sugar and electrolytes. When you urinate in the morning before you start playing, your urine should be light-colored or clear. This is a great way to gauge how hydrated you are. You certainly want to start the day completely hydrated. People sweat at different rates. Heavy sweaters probably need about 2 L of water per game whereas light sweaters may only need 1 L per game. If it is hot or humid, add another ½ – 1 L per game. That’s the minimum; you can certainly drink more if you can tolerate it. When you finish for the day, make sure you get plenty of water after the tournament in order to start the next day fully hydrated again.

Sugar is an important source of immediate carbohydrates. Based on your calorie needs that you calculated from question 1, you can figure out how many calories of sugar you need to add to your water over the course of the day. You’ll probably be surprised to find that you don’t need that much sugar to meet your calorie needs for the day. Whether you get that sugar from a brand name sports drink or juice, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s palatable to you.

The ever-popular electrolyte obsession is often over-emphasized. Salt (sodium chloride) is the most important electrolyte to replace. Marathon runners who drink only water and sweat excessively can become clinically deficient in sodium during the race. Only a small amount of sodium is needed to replenish your body’s stores when you are sweating. One small bottle of Gatorade or the equivalent should be sufficient. Your kidney will balance the rest of the electrolytes.

Off note: you can permanently damage your kidneys by becoming severely dehydrated. You can also damage them by taking large amounts of pain medication of the NSAIDs class. This includes more than 1 naproxen (Aleve) before/during games or more than 2 ibuprofen twice during playing (Motrin, Advil, etc.). There are many other medications and multi-cold medications that contain NSAIDs. Be aware and read labels. Getting dehydrated while taking NSAIDs is very dangerous to your kidneys.

TYLER KINLEY, Captain of Seattle Sockeye

My experience is absolutely. You need electrolytes, badly. At tourneys, I try to constantly sip on a drink while playing, and after games will immediately chug a drink. We had Clif sponsor us, so I happened to drink lots of their sports drink. Beyond that, I drink a Red Bull before most games, and always have pickle juice at hot tourneys.


Absolutely yes!  Especially on a warm day it is imperative that you replace your electrolytes.  Drinking any of the items you’ve mentioned is an easy way to do that.  The main electrolyte lost in sweat is sodium.  Sodium is needed to maintain fluid balance in the body and is also used in muscle contraction.  An advantage of sports drinks is they they replace a variety of electrolytes.  However, a 4 inch pickle actually has ten times as much sodium as 32 oz of Gatorade.  Different players will have different sodium replacement needs.  I would not recommend eating a ton of pickles for the same reason I wouldn’t recommend drinking salt water.  But the short answer is “yes” to sports drinks and “yes” to a few salty snacks during tournaments.

LESLIE WU, Mobile Health

Pickle juice is high in electrolytes–including salt and potassium–and also offers acetic acids, and is often used as a defense against muscle cramps. I recommend it, or at least it works for me, however I have not tried Pickle-Juice Sport.

In any case, you ought to be consuming at least 1g of salt per 1L water intake at a tournament (pick up some little bitty salt packets). Why do you need electrolytes, such as salt? You can lose quite a bit of sodium through sweat, and drinking plain water dilutes the remaining sodium. That said, you’ll probably get salt enough if you take in sports beverages and some solid foods (see Endurance Sports Nutrition p.70 for more information).

During exercise, beverages should contain a low concentration (6-8%) of carbs & electrolytes, for example, 60g carbs + electrolytes per 1L (source: Precision Nutrition Sport & Exercise Nutrition textbook).

These carbs often mean simple sugars, such as fructose, glucose, sucrose and so on, which is what you’ll find in Gatorade or Powerade. Carb intake, whether in solid or liquid form will aid performance, but liquid carbs address both energy & fluid requirements. Athletes should try to consume approximately 1g of carbohydrate per minute of exercise (Advanced Sports Nutrition p.98).

Personally I have been experimenting with creatine (repeated sprint performance), Chia seed, and protein powders in tournaments, but am not quite sure I’m ready to recommend any of these just yet. There is some research that shows that liquid (carbs + protein) can help with endurance.

3. J-Mar asks:

How do ultimate and alcohol mix? It’s no secret that teams like to party before, after, and during tournaments. What health concerns should I present my teammates with to encourage them not to drink before/during a big event? How about after a long day of playing? Why do I get drunk so easily after a full day of ultimate?

JAMIE NUWER, Sports Medicine

Dangerous to your health in ways you may not usually think about (drunk driving, injuries, etc.). Alcohol causes two major problems before and during tournaments: (1) it increases dehydration and (2) it causes poor decision- making. Poor decisions can be as simple as not hydrating or eating and subsequently underperforming. Poor decisions can also be catastrophic if you lose body control and seriously injure yourself or another player. After a tournament youth teams should not have alcohol (duh). College teams should take care not to peer pressure under-age players into drinking and to present equally attractive non-alcoholic beverages.

There are several reasons why you feel drunk faster when drinking after Ultimate. The first is obvious: you are tired! Alcohol is a depressant and it will only add to your fatigue. Second, your body is primed for food intake after exercise and trying to absorb any calories you give it quickly. The digestive system works quickly to process the liquor from your empty stomach and sends it straight to the bloodstream and the brain. Third, if you only binge drink on weekends, your liver won’t develop the necessary enzymes to break down alcohol and get it out of your system.

TYLER KINLEY, Captain of Seattle Sockeye

You get drunk because you’re dehydrated, have no food, and your body sucks up alcohol like a sponge. And, alcohol is a poison, so don’t be surprised to be more sore than usual after a long Saturday followed by a hard Saturday night, as your body processes the alcohol before healing sore muscles. I don’t ever drink while playing (not even at fun tourneys, I just get annoyed when I can’t do things I normally can), but am a fan of a beer or two after Saturday games, especially in an ice bath. As for pre-game drinking, don’t expect to play well. In the week leading up to a tourney, I am not against a beer or two in any given night, but if you drink hard and/or stay up late, it can definitely have negative effects on your performance.

One final note- sometimes teams (esp men’s teams) bond over a big party night. At an early season tourney, this bonding can be worth far more than a “peak performance” Sunday, and one big night isn’t going to derail performance to any meaningful extent. Habitual binge drinking on the other hand will certainly negatively affect athletic performance and growth.


The main risk would be dehydration.  Alcohol is a diuretic.  In a mid-summer tournament that’s something you want to be careful about.  If your teammates are going to drink do warn them about the risks and advise them to drink water before going to bed.  Replacing vitamin C by drinking orange juice might help also.   Drinking heavily is also often accompanied by staying up late.  Neither of these things are good for performance.

LESLIE WU, Mobile Health

If you’re going to be drinking alcohol, try to consume an adequate amount of nonalcoholic liquids first to avoid dehydration.

Alcohol “Pro’s”: Lowers anxiety, may encourage team bonding. People who drink moderately tend to live longer than those who abstain completely. People who drink more tend to exercise more (see this NYTimes article).

Alcohol “Cons”: While alcohol does provide 7 calories/gram, it “must also be considered an antinutrient because of the way it inhibits the normal metabolism of vitamins and, therefore, the main energy susbtrates (carbohydrate, protein, and fat) if consumed in excess.” (Advanced Sports Nutrition, p.174) Alcohol also increases excretion of calcium and magnesium, a cofactor in enzymes needed for energy metabolism. More than one drink per day can negatively affect reaction time, coordination, and energy metabolism.

For more information read “Interaction between alcohol and exercise: physiological and biological implications” by El-Sayed et al. in Sports Medicine (2005); 25(3): 257-269.

Next Page: Protein and Tournament Fueling

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