Recently I had the opportunity to work with a New Zealand Netball Player who contacted me because she had concerns about her nutrition and energy levels.
Here is her initial email:
I have massively upped my activity levels this year, as I have been selected in a Premier netball team. I have been focusing on my career over the last couple of years, and this year I have company support to push my sport — if I don’t go professional before I’m 24, I essentially miss my chance.
(Netball is largely a women’s sport, pretty big in Commonwealth countries — it’s kind of like basketball, except you can’t travel/bounce the ball).
I eat a largely paleo diet, as my family has a history of wheat/gluten allergies, and my sister is lactose intolerant. I lost about 10 kg last year this way. This year, however, with increased activity levels I am struggling. I cannot eat enough to fuel for the practices and games, as well as my strength training. I am so hungry all the time, and I cannot concentrate at work as much — it’s almost as bad as before I stopped eating bad refined carbs.
I wonder if you have any recommendations for increased energy levels? I have upped protein, but there’s only so much meat I can eat!
- She’s a competitive athlete and my assumption is that she’s not eating to fuel an athlete’s energy demands
- She’s eating a paleo diet — that’s already a challenge because she’s probably not getting enough carbohydrates to support all of her training
- She’s told me about her family history, which is interesting because it’s definitely influenced her eating choices, right or wrong
- She’s missing key macro nutrients, specifically carbs, when she says “there’s only so much meat I can eat.”
So how did I address these concerns?
First, I don’t tell, rather I ask for more information — I replied and asked her to complete a few questionnaires, health history forms, as well as a 3-day diet log.
Most often I can spot the major issues that need addressing in a person eating habits. Here’s an example from one day of eating (the other two days were similar):
Amanda’s Saturday Diet Log
Game day: 70 minutes high-intensity activity (warm up + 60-minute game)
Halftime snack 10am:
couple of lollies and orange segment
smoked salmon salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce
2x gin & sparkling water with lime, carrot sticks and homemade hummus dip (chickpeas whizzed with lemon juice)
BBQ grilled steak and asparagus, with roast pumpkin & greens salad
Amanda’s diet is woefully inadequate to fuel her energy needs. No wonder she can’t concentrate at work — both her body and brain need more glucose, the sugar that comes from carbohydrates.
With this new information in hand I met with Amanda on Skype for an hour. I went go into more detail with her and found out that she was doing intense strength training with a personal trainer two times per week during the competitive Netball season.
Again, it was no surprise to me that she was over hungry and tired. From a physical preparation perspective it’s best to back off from intense strength training during the competitive season because it’s simply too much over-load for the body.
I suggested to Amanda, that during the current competitive Netball season to either take a break, or do very few sets and minimal reps in the heavy lifts if only to support strength levels. She would benefit more from focusing on mobility and joint flexibility as an injury prevention protocol during this intense period of game-play.
Playing a sport like Netball requires high levels of endurance and strength training would reduce her capacity to play well and could cause injury due to over-tired and over-worked muscles.
Follow-Up Email From Amanda
I really appreciated the call! Made me realize that I need to be a bit more engaged with what I put into my body, and I’m stoked that I’ve got some support.
- Download your kick-ass eBook from EatMoveBe – tick!
- Good carbs to reintroduce into my diet: steel cut oats, rice, quinoa
- Try eating cottage cheese as an extra protein source, maybe as a dip for raw veggies and apples
- Better than lollies for game day: a protein shake with water or diluted fruit juice 1:1
- Eat a meal 1 hour before training (probably closer to 2 hours would work for me)
- Eat 5 meals a day. Like meals, not snacks. Meal = protein + veggies
- More good fats (too bad it’s the end of avocado season here, I was chowing down 1 a day!)
- Possibly try Ezekiel bread as a source of carbs.
Again, great talking to you and look forward to your additional notes and recommendations 🙂
My Recommendations and Nutrition Plan For a Female Netball Player
You made some great notes in your email! Happy that I was able to help. Here are my recommendations:
Carbs: You might do well with white rice post game and training. Yes I know it’s processed, but as a recovery carb, I’ve been reading a number of articles that support this. Also add potatoes and sweet potatoes.
You will see some of my cottage cheese recommendations in my Healthy Snacks eBook.
You might want to try 10 grams of BCAA to sip on in a large shaker bottle with filtered water during training to spare muscle loss. You can also add 25-30 grams of plain protein.
If you find you need more energy try a fruit or a healthy shake pre game/workout, or a comfort food. During play, sip Gatorade or fruit juice diluted 1:1 with water. You can add BCAA here as well.
Note the portion size recommendations in my Healthy Meals eBook. One fist-sized protein of protein to two fists of veggie. Eat all the colours of vegetables and fruit. Because you are so athletic you might need starchy carb with more meals. Determine this based on energy levels, strength, endurance, recovery, sleep and satiety.
Definitely eat more protein (try 2-3 whole eggs with veggie and oatmeal or a quinoa cereal) for breakfast. You can also eat any type of meat with vegetable.
Healthy fats are avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, fish oils, organic grass-fed butter, nuts and nut butters.
Are you taking any supplements? Would you list any protein and vitamin supplements so that I know.
I’d recommend you take liquid fish oil in the amount of 1-2 tbsp. per day.
Check out my shake recipes here: Perfect Green Protein Smoothie Recipe.
After Putting my Suggestions into Practice for Over a Week, Here was Amanda’s Feedback
I have started having steel-cut oats for breakfast — adding protein powder & coconut oil to the mix gives it a nice vanilla flavour and means I don’t have to supplement the meal with anything else.
I have been having an extra meal around 7am, 11:30am, 4pm, and then 8pm. Based on your recommendations, I have been having some brown rice risotto in the 4pm meal to give me a carbohydrate boost before the after-work trainings.
With my trainer we have been focussing on joint strength and flexibility, and he has given me a home program which takes 20 minutes every night.
Just these changes have had a solid impact. I am alert at work all day and able to be super efficient, and I’m not as exhausted after trainings as I was (but still sleeping really well). I can see now I definitely wasn’t eating enough!
The only game-day change is I have a protein shake to sip on during breaks. No noticeable difference yet, but it’s not doing me any harm (I thought I might get bloated) so I might as well keep it going.
What Are the Take-aways From this Review with Amanda?
- You need to eat to fuel for you activity levels — if you sit behind a desk all day and do little activity, your diet will be very different from Amanda’s
- An athlete’s energy demands are much, MUCH higher than those of the general population. It’s not just about protein, rather athletes need a lot more healthy fats and far more carbohydrates than most.
- Supplements like whey protein, fish oils and BCAAs are entirely appropriate for athletes to support their immune system and metabolic needs due to many hours per week of intense physical and mental training.
Would you like to take your health and fitness to the next level? I can help. Learn more about my coaching services:
- Nutrition and Meal Planning
- Personal Training in Toronto
- In-home Cooking Classes
- All About Grains
- Should You Avoid Grains?
- Essential Guide To Ezekiel Bread: Nutrition Facts, Recipes And Benefits
- Workout Nutrition Explained
- Workout Nutrition Infographic
- Do You Need a Protein Shake Right After Your Workout?