Nutrition is complex, to say the least. Throughout the years, I’ve asked nutritionists, athletic trainers, and professional athletes about their secrets to finding the perfect nutrition plan, and I’ve never received a straight or similar answer. I believe that’s because nutrition is such a personalized part of our bodies that it’s impossible for someone else to know what’s best for it. So for the past few months I’ve been experimenting to see how much of an impact food has on my performance. Going down the nutritional rabbit hole is certainly a chaotic and confusing adventure, but what I discovered about my body’s fuel needs makes it all worth it.
When I first started playing in tournaments as a freshman in college, I carried a liter of water with me. That was it. I didn’t consume tournament food or sports drinks, and because of that, I was already incredibly sore, semi-delusional, and nursing a massive headache by the last game on Sunday. But having only danced ballet prior to my ultimate career, where eating food in front of people was considered scandalous not only due to the unfortunate prevalence of eating disorders but also because dripping peanut butter on a $1500 tutu was simply out of the question, it was all I knew about the world of nutrition.
Over the next few years my nutritional intake during tournaments only slightly improved. The last year I played on Scorch my coach asked me what my tournament buddy could do to help me throughout the weekend. I instantly replied she needed to help me remember to eat. Playing as many as 100 points during a weekend made fueling my body only a secondary priority, and I needed someone to put an energy bar or a water bottle in front of me because I was too consumed with the game to remember to do it myself. At least at this point, I realized eating and drinking properly could directly help my performance on the field.
It wasn’t until I played with Barrio in 2010 that I learned the importance about the kinds of fuel I consumed. After an especially hot and humid first game on Sunday, I started showing early signs of hypovolemia because I didn’t have enough salt in my system. I never want to repeat the horrible feeling of trying to play ultimate while nauseous. Since then, I started testing out combinations of food, and after a little experimenting I found it: tomato juice, clementines, lunch meat, and chocolate almond milk. It’s certainly a strange assortment, and it’s usually around the time I take the tomato juice out of the cooler and chug directly from the bottle that I start getting a lot of stares, but it works for me.
I applied the same strategy when it came to my nutrition when I started training for Fury tryouts. When I was weight lifting during the winter, I discovered that if I didn’t eat enough protein or drink enough water, I ended up extremely sore the following day. I also realized that following a standard weight lifter’s diet of chicken, brown rice, and broccoli every day made me incredibly grumpy. I needed to find a balance between what I enjoyed eating and what helped my performance.
Finding this balance had a lot to do with observing my body’s reaction to the kinds of foods I eat and when I eat them. If I eat just before a practice or workout I usually end up with bad heartburn, but if I eat too early, I can’t sustain my energy level and mental focus. Eating about an hour prior is usually the perfect amount of time. I also have a bad sweet tooth, but eating sugary treats leaves me exhausted after the inevitable sugar crash, so instead I add fruit to my meals. I dislike spending time calculating all the calories, carbs, proteins, and fats I need for my meals so I eat the same thing every day, but I don’t beat myself up if I “cheat” every now and then. I also don’t like keeping track of how many glasses of water I drink, so I carry around a single gallon of water, which I make sure to finish by the end of the day. I found it’s the little tricks that make all the difference.
As much as I discovered about what I need to perform at my best, I know there is still a lot more out there. Nutrition is one of the most complicated components to my training. But if there is one thing I can say for certain, it’s that in order to find an answer, you need to head down the rabbit hole, and trust you can find your way out.