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How the Right Nutrition Helps Fuel Players to the Post-Season

By Dana Ryan PhD, MBA, MA, Director of Sports Performance, Nutrition and Education at Herbalife and Patrick McCarthy MS, PGDIP, Director of Sports Nutrition at Impact Basketball

With the 2024 NBA Playoffs underway, anticipation is building, predictions are being made and the pressure is on for players. Professional basketball players commit a significant amount of time preparing for their sport and are expected to perform their best in every game. Not only have they prepared post-season through rigorous skills development, physical training, and getting adequate rest, but they need to ensure they can perform at the level necessary to make it to the finals. As we’re looking to support players in this endeavor*, it’s critical to lock in on every detail possible. One thing that’s often overlooked by athletes, regardless of level, is sports nutrition which can provide huge results and can be the competitive edge needed in sports.

Through the partnership between Herbalife and Impact Basketball, and in our professional roles, we are committed to optimizing athletes’ performance through evidence-based sports nutrition. One key part of this is offering individualized, athlete-driven support. It’s important to first determine personalized goals for each player. At Herbalife Impact Basketball Center, we start by establishing food preferences, medical history, allergies, previous experience with sports nutrition, and nutrition knowledge. We set short, medium, and long-term goals with regular meetings to analyze progress. Common goals include improving hydration habits, meal timing, body composition, and on-court performance. We continue with an in-depth look at how we can improve their habits, behavior, nutrition and supplements strategy to support their goals. Overall, we want to arm athletes with the necessary tools to make educated, well-planned nutrition decisions that ultimately enhance their sports performance while training and competing.

In basketball, a robust sports nutrition strategy that includes carbohydrates, water, sodium and protein can boost athletic performance in a variety of ways. Nutrition is essential not only before and after the game, but also during the game. The numerous breaks and timeouts throughout a game allow many opportunities for players to hydrate and eat some easy snacks on the bench. Basketball also involves frequent player rotation. Players can play for two minutes, then sit down for 10 minutes, so individual fueling strategies are super important. Sports nutrition is all about putting the right nutrients in your body at the right time – and that begins with a pre-training snack or beverage and ends when you eat your post-workout meal.

Fueling with Carbohydrates

The best fuel for high-intensity activities, such as basketball, is carbohydrates. Consuming carbohydrates before a workout or a game can increase performance and energy levels while delaying fatigue.

Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source during games for working muscles. As supply declines, so does performance. Aiming for at least 30 – 60 grams per hour is key. Players should include plenty of

complex and good quality carbohydrates such as whole grain breads, pastas, potatoes, or grains like rice and quinoa during meals and a pregame meal too.

For athletes, a high-carb diet is needed to sustain the daily demands of training and games. While the needs will vary based on the individual and the type of exercise or sport they engage in, carbs will always make up the majority of calories. Additionally, by eating enough carbohydrates throughout the day, protein is free to do its main job: repair and rebuild muscle tissue.

Continuous Hydration

For those who play for longer periods of time, hydration can be a challenge, so drinking fluids during timeouts and halftime is important to help keep pace with sweat losses. Significant dehydration can negatively impact the performance of skills in basketball. One example of this is its effect on shooting percentage . Cognitive performance and reaction time – essential skills in a game as fast as basketball – are also affected by hydration. To hydrate and help prevent muscle cramps, athletes consume non-caffeinated, non-carbonated fluids before, during and after the game. Sodium is the most abundant electrolyte lost in sweat and should be replaced. Seasoning pre-game meals with salt and drinking beverages containing sodium can help players with sodium intake.

Protein: The Key to Recovery

Protein helps satisfy hunger, build and repair muscle tissue, maintain lean muscle mass and give you energy. Overall daily protein intake and the timing of protein ingestion can impact performance in terms of optimizing the recovery from both resistance training and endurance exercise. For optimal recovery, it’s important for players to consume recovery foods within an hour after the game and again a few hours later. Lean meats, eggs, cheese, yogurt and milk are all great protein choices. Many of our athletes also opt for high-protein post-workout shakes like Herbalife24® Rebuild Strength which can help recover, repair and support the growth of your muscles immediately after a workout.

Nutritional Supplements

The specific needs of these elite athletes can be better met if their balanced diet is supported by high-quality nutrition supplements. Rigorously tested dietary supplements can aid athletes whose intense training calls for additional hydration and specific nutrients to support and maintain muscle mass. For Impact Basketball players, it’s been really important to have Herbalife24 NSF Certified for Sport®** products available to them, coupled with a Performance Nutrition expert who can guide them on how to use the products.

In basketball, it’s not just about qualifying for this tournament, but about being able to perform at the full potential to make it through to the Final Four. To do this, it’s imperative to incorporate integrated sports nutritional programs. A robust nutrition strategy tailored to each athlete’s individual needs, ensuring that they are properly hydrated before, during, and after training and that their nutrition is balanced and provides the essential vitamins, proteins, and minerals to fuel their physical efforts. Armed with these tools and the genuine support of a nutritional coach, NBA players will have what it takes to leave it all on the court.

*Herbalife is not affiliated with the NBA.

** Certified for Sport® is a registered trademark of NSF International.
†These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.