Becoming a basketball player is so much more than practicing for the game and working out to stay fit and able. Having the right meal plan set if also key to ensuring that you are at your best each time you play. Here, let’s talk about the basic meal plan you can get on with as well as the nutrition and supplements you need. Let’s get started.
Let’s start with the very basics- the foundation of the meal plan for basketball players. Before we go into the detail of supplements, foods to add, and foods to avoid, there has to be a basic meal plan that has to be strictly followed. Of course, the three meals of the day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) have to be tailor fitted for athletes. We’ll break it down one by one:
Let’s start with a nice and hearty breakfast. Ideally, a basketball player is supposed to have a high carb breakfast to give energy to the player within the day. A nice example of a good athlete breakfast would be a whole-wheat bagel, slice of whole-wheat bread and some scrambled eggs. After that, eat one banana and a cup of some low fat milk.
During lunch, you’ll want to have a high carb meal with a lot of protein. Some of the good things to eat would be whole wheat pasta with some high protein veggies like broccoli and cauliflower or nuts. Some other things you can incorporate to the diet would include brown rice, chicken breast, salmon, or any other high protein fish. Top it off with some cheese on your pasta and drink some orange juice.
When you’re a basketball player, you’ll want to think of your dinner as a recovery meal to heal your body after a harsh game or training session. At night, you’ll want to concentrate more on proteins because proteins are the ones that will help repair your muscles. You’ll want to cut down on your carbs such as rice and pasta. You’ll want to concentrate on high protein meat and veggies. Grilled chicken breast, baked potatoes, peas, salads, or fish is good. You must also have a nice glass of low fat milk.
In order to keep your energy, it’s also important to have snacks in between. A few hours after your breakfast, it’s a good idea to have a high fiber and high protein snack such as a bowl of whole-grain cereal with some milk. Aside from that, you can also have some Greek yogurt with oranges or other fruits like apples or bananas.
In the afternoon or right before a game, you can also have a nice snack of whole-wheat bread with some strawberry jam and peanut butter. You can also have a banana with some low-fat milk or some Greek yogurt. This is usually taken a few minutes right before a very important game in order to have energy.
Now that you have your basic diet plan, you can now choose the foods that you add to your meal plan based on some of the suggestions that we’ve mentioned above. Even if you have a nice diet plan though, you’re going to have to set rules for yourself if you’re going to follow it. Tendency for most athletes (especially the newbies) is that even if they have a diet plan, they don’t stick to it. That’s why rules have to be set.
These rules, if followed strictly, will eventually turn into habits. Eventually, these habits will turn into a second nature and you’ll discover that you just can’t live without these habits. So to help you set your list of rules, we’ve created 5 nutrition rules for a basketball player. Following these rules is the right approach to following your diet plan.
Did you notice that all of the meals that we’ve mentioned above have some form of protein? This is to ensure that all the muscles are in tip-top shape and optimized. Now, the correct way of eating protein would be about 1 gram per pound of body weight. If you want to really maximize protein intake, you have to have real protein sources from foods like chicken, fish, beef, turkey, eggs, nuts, milk, and yogurt. Other sources of protein include quinoa and chia seeds.
This is a really important rule to follow, which is why we included snacks in the diet plan. If you want your body to work at its optimal, then you have to give it fuel and energy. This is why you must eat something every 3 to 4 hours. So let’s say you eat breakfast at 7:00 am in the morning, you should eat a snack sometime at 10:00 am.
This is to be followed by a good lunch sometime at 12:00 pm or 1:00 pm. Around 4 hours later (probably around 4:00 pm), you must have a snack. From there, you can have your dinner around 7:00 pm. Before bed, you can have your last intake which is either a protein shake or a glass of milk. We’ll talk about protein shakes later on.
They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day-- and they’re absolutely right! Just think, this is the first meal that you’re going to eat in a day, so it has to be filled with all the energy and fuel that you’re going to use within the day during your games and your training. A regular person cannot skip breakfast, what more to say athletes?
Now, if you happen to wake up late, let’s say around 10:00 am or 11:00 am, you might be tempted to just skip to brunch. However, don’t do this because you’ll technically be skipping a meal. Instead, have a quick breakfast then follow your regular schedule. You may skip snacks, but don’t skip out on your three basic meals.
If you want to follow your diet plan, then you have to make sure that you have a schedule that you’re following. You must have a total of at least 8 hours of sleep a day. In order not to skip meals, you have to make sure that your 8 hours of sleep are positioned in a way so that you can wake up on time and sleep on time. The ideal would be to sleep at 10:00 pm and wake up at 6:30 am in the morning. That way, you won’t skip a meal.
Carbs are actually just as important as your proteins because they provide you with the fuel that you need in order to move. If you’re going to do training every day, you’ll be needing a lot of carbs. Of course, you won’t need that many carbs during your rest days. You might want to consume carbs at the same rate as you work out so that extra carbs won’t turn into fat.
Now, you will want to avoid all the harmful carbs from sweets, soft drinks, and white bread. Good carbs would come from oats, fruits, veggies, nuts, whole-wheat, and root crops.
When it comes to volume intake, you may want to intake a 2:1 carb to protein ratio if you have a heavy workout. If you have a very light workout or no workout, a 1:1 carb to protein ratio will do.
Throughout the article, we’ve mentioned how important carbs and proteins are. In fact, those two are the only essentials that we’ve really zoomed in on. That said, there are two questions that usually come to mind as of this point: why are they so important and what are the other important needs in a basketball player’s diet? We’ll go through them one by one:
We’ve already mentioned that protein is the building block of muscles and is the nutrient responsible for muscle and tissue repair. Because of the intense training and exercise requirements of basketball players, extra protein is needed to build up more muscles.
We’ve also talked about carbs in our diet plan above. Just to reiterate, carbs are the fuel of the body. They can actually give you more stamina and help you last longer during your exercise. However, carbs should only be taken in accordance to your workout; otherwise, it will be stored in an excess reservoir and turned into fat.
Believe it or not, fat is important to the diet of a basketball player. However, fat should be taken in moderation as compared to carbs and proteins-- that’s why we have been suggesting low fat food and beverages. As for the type of fat you should consume, it should be polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fat (basically unsaturated fats) which can be found in olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, red meat, and some fruits. Saturated fats, which come from junk foods and oily foods, should be avoided.
Aside from just having a diet plan, supplementation is also very important. You need to have a proper intake of iron, calcium, and zinc. These vitamins would help you conserve energy and make your body healthier as a whole. Magnesium is also important in supporting energy for the body and provide aid in muscle repair. Of course, don’t skip out on your multivitamins to keep your body healthy.
Now that we’ve gone through the things that you SHOULD eat, what about the things you SHOULDN’T eat? Here’s a list that you must follow should you really want to pursue pro ball:
You don’t really need to be a health expert to know that processed foods are bad for you. Junk food such as chocolate bars, fudgy brownies, and ice cream are all loaded with processed sugar which are bad for you. For an athlete, this is a bad thing because aside from destroying health, it can also impair your performance by making you put on excess weight and put some added strain on your organs like your liver and stomach.
As mentioned above, you should only have unsaturated fats in your diet. Saturated fats, which can be found in bad oils, can increase LDL cholesterol levels making your heart weaker. Not only will your stamina deplete, but you’ll be next in line for a heart disease. Avoid fatty and oily foods when you go outside to eat.
Caffeine is a killer for basketball players because it dehydrates them quickly. Imagine working up a real sweat and getting dehydrated double time because of caffeine. That will really do a number on both your athletic performance and your body,
Taking alcohol in excess can really slow down your cells and your reaction time. Other than that, it also rapidly dehydrates your body leading you to more heat strokes and muscle injuries.
Now, let’s talk about your game. So you have your basic meal plan, your nutrition habits, list of essentials, and list of foods to avoid. How do you apply all of that for your game time? Well, we know that carbs and proteins are important for starting the day, so they’re definitely needed in your pre-game meal.
A good pre-game meal would be a turkey or chicken breast sub sandwich with a lot of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles. Follow that up with some non-fat Greek yogurt along with a banana. These foods will give you the energy and strength you need for your game.
Also, make sure you eat at least 2 hours before game time so that the nutrients can get properly absorbed into the blood and the food has digested.
After your game, you now have to concentrate on recovering the body so that it can get back to its optimal state in the next few days. So what makes a good post-game meal?
A healthy meal of cooked chicken or turkey with some pasta or rice. This alone provides some carbs and a lot of protein. Mix this up with some vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and some nuts if you have. For dessert, you can have some fruits like apples and bananas.
While a balanced diet can already provide your body with all the nutrients needed, you may need some supplements to further enhance it and keep it healthy. You’ll be needing your multivitamins, zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium supplements. These keep you both healthy and energized at the same time.
We also recommend that you take some probiotics to make sure that your stomach is in tip top condition. Aside from saving you from stomach problems like diarrhea, probiotics can actually enhance the effects of other supplements by allowing the body to absorb the vitamins and minerals more effectively.
Lastly, you’ll want to stock up on some protein shakes- especially after a hard workout. We don’t really recommend that you take a protein shake every day since your body has enough proteins from the diet plan. We do however, recommend that you take a protein shake 15 minutes after an intense workout (like bodybuilding) or before sleeping if you think that you haven’t reached your optimal protein intake for the day.
Here's a rundown of the supplements NBA players take:
Take note that all of us have different builds which is why we have to make sure our diet plans are customized to suit our needs. For instance, some of us are aiming to reach a lower weight based on our body size while some of us are trying to gain weight. While you may have the basic meal plan, it must always be tweaked depending on your goals.
So let’s say that you’re a basketball player who wants to lose weight-- you have to trim down your fat and concentrate on consuming more complex carbs and proteins. When it comes to losing weight, the trick is to add a little more protein in your meals while maintaining carb intake. That’ll help you get more lean muscle without the extra fat.
On the other hand, if you want to gain weight, then you need to eat bigger portions. You can follow the basic meal plan we mentioned above, but just eat more for each meal. At the same time, you may want to consume more protein in your diet so that the excess fat can turn into muscle.
By now, you’re most likely a little more familiar with how basketball players consume their food for optimal performance. You’d most likely be asking yourself, “what’s the difference between the meal plan for a basketball player and the meal plan for a regular, healthy individual? Well, here are a few differences to note:
As compared to bodybuilders or usual fit people, basketball players need to load up on more carbs since they’re moving almost every time during the game. That said, they need more energy to keep up.
Since basketball players will be moving a lot, they’ll be straining their muscles a lot too. That’s why they need to crank up on proteins to make sure their muscles are stronger and can repair more easily.
Lastly, they take in less fat than most people. As they need to be more agile for movement, they cannot afford to take in too much fat as it will slow them down. They will only consume good fat (unsaturated fat) in moderate proportions.
Now that we’ve gone over the entire diet plan, how about a few examples from some of our favorite NBA stars. Point guard Jeremy Lin states that his diet consists of carbs that come from pasta and rice, proteins from chicken, lean beef, and fish, fruits, veggies, yogurt, and granola bars.
Same thing goes for Spurs’ MVP Kawhi Leonard who states that his meal plan consists of just grilled chicken and a lot of veggies, as he states in an interview with GQ. A lot of players also opt for the Paleo diet such as Ray Allen and LeBron James.
Ray Allen, in particular, tells CBS Sports that the Paleo diet works very well for him because of his gluten intolerance. The Paleo diet consists of anti-inflammatory foods such as veggies, fruits, lean meat, wild fish, nuts, and seeds.
As you can see, becoming a basketball player isn’t just about crafting and sculpting your body into a lean, hoop shooting machine. It’s also about adopting a healthier lifestyle that will make your body stronger, healthier, and more energized.
If you’re interested in going pro in the future or maybe even just playing for your college basketball team, incorporate this meal plan into your lifestyle. It’s very important if you want to perform at your best during the games.