It should be no surprise that for anyone, the nutritional requirements follow Energy in vs Energy out. We can easily figure out how many calories one needs for a normal day, and we can prove this through trial and error. However, during tournament weekends, this becomes more difficult to assess and thus, nutrition generally gets thrown out of the window. After a day of eating like this, some can see decreased energy, and an overall poorer performance: Not something we want to happen during a tournament. How do we stay on track with nutrition, but still have fun?
The simple answer is in carbohydrates. Whenever I go to a tournament, I make sure that I have plenty of options for carbohydrates, and I even increase my planned daily intake of them. Why? Carbohydrates are cheap, easy to eat, and generally concentrated. I can eat a granola bar in less than a minute between games, and easily eat 30-40 grams of carbohydrates. However, I want to make sure that all the carbohydrates I eat are not just sugar. Sugar tends to give you a great energy spike, but generally gives you a decent crash afterwards: not something you want when playing at a tournament. So, it is important to eat plenty of complex carbohydrates, like oatmeal or pasta. If you need a good oatmeal recipe that is extremely easy to bring to tournaments, see my article on overnight oats.
Carbohydrates are good and all, but you cannot just eat carbohydrates all day, it will not do you much good at the end of the day. That being said, the most natural choice for athletes is protein. Protein provides numerous benefits for athletes in both recovery and sustainability. The problem with protein is that they are generally more expensive, and more difficult to consume than carbohydrates. However, there are a few foods that can be brought to tournaments that can help you hit your protein for the day. My personal favorites are: beef jerky, protein bars, protein shakes. Beef jerky is really expensive, but generally you only need one or two packages for a whole day. Protein bars are pretty similar, but they have the added benefit of adding some carbohydrates and generally a decent amount of fiber. Protein shakes are one of my favorites, because I can drink them quickly, and they generally have a large amount of protein in them. I prefer using MTS Machine Whey Protein, but there are cheaper brands out there with the same quality.
The last important thing are fats. Generally, I do not focus much on fats during tournament days. Generally, if the team goes out for food afterwards, I will get plenty of fats from that meal. If not, a few tablespoons of peanut butter at the end of the day is enough to put me where I need to be. If you want to have foods available that help meet your fat requirements, almonds or any other form of nut is a good source of fat that are pretty easy to snack on. Generally, the fats do not bother me much.
When discussing the end of the day team meal at some restaurant in town, it is important to realize that if the tournament is over, you can go all out as you please. However, if you have another day of tournament play, your food choices should remain sensible. You should not go for that greasy hamburger with fries, and instead get the grilled chicken with potato and vegetables. It might not be the most appetizing meal after a long day, but the next day will be a struggle if you fuel your body with junk the night before.
At the end of the day, it can be difficult to find balance in keeping up your diet, and playing in the tournament. In my opinion, players should try to make good food choices, but also realize that they likely will not be on point with their diet, and that is okay. As long as you do not completely blow your diet out of the water on tournament days, it will not make a huge difference in the long run.
Go out, have fun, be conscious.
Let me know if you have any suggestions for foods to bring to tournaments!