What Should a Volleyball Player Eat?

The sport of volleyball involves running, jumping, sliding and more, all of which require energy. The ability to meet these energy demands depends a lot on the nutrition athletes take in. This association may cause athletes wanting to perform well to question, what should a volleyball player eat?

A volleyball player should eat a meal pattern full of nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. They should also drink unsweetened beverages throughout the day such as water and milk. The calorie, fluid and nutrient needs vary widely with each teen and within each day. Due to this variability, athletes should eat in a way that leaves them feeling energized and satisfied throughout the day rather than adhere to certain calorie targets or other food rules.

The following article describes a healthy eating pattern for volleyball players in greater detail. Continue reading to find out more about what these athletes should eat.

What are some important nutrients for a volleyball player to eat? 

A nutrient is a food component that is vitally important to life. This definition means a volleyball player should strive to eat a diet containing all the essential nutrients. Thankfully this eating style comes a lot easier than it may sound.

Eating a balanced and varied diet that includes all the food groups will allow most teens to meet nutrients needs. The Choose My Plate Eating Pattern suggests making half the plate fruits and vegetables with a quarter of the plate protein and another quarter of the plate grains.

On the other hand, any diet that severely restricts calories or food groups will lead to nutrient deficiencies. Those with concerns regarding whether they consume enough of a certain nutrient should reach out to a healthcare professional such as a doctor or registered dietitian.

The three major nutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat. The current acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) recommendations for teenage athletes are 45-65% carbohydrate, 10-30% protein and 20-35% fat of total daily calories.

A teenager will also want to include all essential vitamins and minerals. Most of these are adequately consumed when teenagers eat balanced meals. However, some are less likely to be consumed in sufficient quantities than others among teenagers.

Vitamins and minerals of concern include iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin D and folate. While a vitamin and mineral supplement may help meet nutrient needs for those with food intolerances, allergies or other dietary restrictions, no supplement can replace eating real, whole foods. 

Nutrient Food Sources
Carbohydrates Fruits, starchy vegetables, milk, yogurt, legumes, grains
Protein Lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy products
FatPlant oils, fatty fish, olives, avocado, nuts, seeds
Iron Meat, poultry, eggs, beans, dark leafy greens, cereal, enriched grains 
Calcium Dairy products, beans, almonds, tofu, fortified orange juice, broccoli 
Potassium Fruits, vegetables, dairy, seafood, beans
Vitamin DMilk, UV treated mushrooms, egg yolks, fortified foods
FolateDark leafy greens, broccoli, asparagus, legumes, enriched grains

What are good foods for a volleyball player to eat for breakfast/lunch/dinner?

No meal benefits from a single type of food. Instead, a volleyball player should try to follow the Choose My Plate pattern at mealtimes. Most foods belong in a healthy diet when consumed within the principles of balance, variety and moderation. Athletes will also want to include fluids like water and milk throughout the day.

Breakfast ideas

  • Whole grain cereal with avocado toast
  • Spinach bean and egg burrito
  • Oatmeal with nut butter and fruit
  • Fish on toasted bagel
  • Green smoothie with cottage cheese
  • Yogurt parfait
  • Vegetable and egg quesadilla 

Lunch ideas 

  • Peanut butter and mashed fruit sandwich 
  • Tuna fish wrap
  • Taco salad
  • Bean burrito
  • Chicken noodle soup with whole wheat roll
  • Turkey avocado sandwich 

Dinner ideas

  • Lasagna with lentils
  • Baked potato with meat and veggies
  • Salmon with roasted veggies and rice
  • Grilled chicken with Quinoa 
  • Homemade vegetable and meat pizza
  • Chili with sweet potato fries

Adding sides of vegetables and fruit make these dishes the perfect balanced meals to fuel the performance of a volleyball player. Of course, there remains countless other dishes a teenager can enjoy for a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

A volleyball player should feel free to practice creativity and try new foods throughout training. Although a player may want to practice caution in the hours prior to a hard workout or game as unfamiliar foods may not work well with the digestive system.

What foods should a volleyball player avoid?

Certain foods can decrease performance when eaten too close to game time. These foods include those high in fiber, fat, sugar and/or sugar alcohols. A volleyball player can certainly enjoy these foods at other times but should limit them 1-2 hours before the game.

Foods high in fiber can cause bloating, gas and other unpleasant gut symptoms during exercise. However, high fiber foods provide many important health benefits and athletes should look to include more of these foods during other eating occasions.

Similarly, high fat foods can cause gut distress due to delayed gastric emptying. An athlete will want to consume lower fat foods closer to game time.

Foods high in sugar may cause an energy crash during an event. The body will rapidly digest and absorb sugar, which causes blood sugar to spike and then drop. 

In an effort to avoid foods high in sugar, teens may turn to sugar free foods. However, manufacturers often replace sugar with sugar alcohols in these foods. Not only do sugar alcohols provide little nutritive benefit, but the body’s poor ability to digest them can cause diarrhea and other unpleasant symptoms.

Furthermore, volleyball players who experience lactose intolerance will also want to avoid lactose containing foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Athletes should look to avoid any other food triggers related to personal medical conditions such as food allergies, intolerance or acid reflux.

Volleyball players should find what foods and snacks work best for them. Trying new foods can be fun. However, before an athletic event, players will want to stick with familiar foods. Trying new foods may lead to unpleasant symptoms.

In their overall diet, athletes should consume more nutrient dense foods. Foods high in sugar, saturated fat and sodium can decrease health and should be enjoyed in smaller quantities.

What are some good game day nutrition tips for volleyball players?

In the days leading up to game day, volleyball players should consume 3 balanced meals with 1-3 snacks throughout the day. Inadequate intake will cause a teenage to fatigue easily and increase the risk for injury.

A good meal or snack will provide long lasting energy and fullness to a volleyball player. In the 1-2 hours before a game, volleyball players should avoid heavy meals in favor of a lighter snack. A high carbohydrate, moderate protein snack works well at this time.

A meal eaten 3-4 hours before a game will have time to digest. This meal can contain carbohydrates, protein and fat. However, athletes may want to avoid foods higher in fiber, fat, sugar and sugar alcohols as these may cause later gut distress when active.

Proper hydration also starts early. Trying to make up for poor fluid intake right before an event will lead to water sloshing, an upset stomach and electrolyte imbalances. Instead, an athlete should drink unsweetened beverages consistently throughout the day. 

Fluid needs will differ per individual and per day. The best indicator of hydration is the color of urine. Athletes should aim for a pale yellow color and drink more fluids with darker urine. Studies show even 2% dehydration will decrease performance ability. Therefore, drinking enough fluids for adequate hydration should remain a priority.

What are some good foods to eat before a game? 

Before a game, volleyball players will want to eat appropriately to fuel their play. Restricting calories or a food group will negatively impact ability to perform.

Snacks 1-2 hours before game/workout 

  • Greek yogurt with fruit
  • Egg on toast
  • Banana with almond butter
  • Tortilla with lower-fat cheese
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Trail mix and dried fruit
  • Toast with nut butter and berries
  • String cheese and crackers
  • Egg on bagel
  • Pretzels and nut butter
  • Cottage cheese and fruit slices
  • Fruit leather 
  • Dates

Meals 3-4 hours before game/workout 

  • Pasta with chicken and veggies
  • Peanut butter and mashed berry sandwich
  • Greek yogurt parfait 
  • Waffle with nut butter and fruit
  • Fish with rice 
  • Bagel sandwich
  • Tuna with pita bread
  • Rice with curry and veggies
  • Spaghetti with lean ground beef

Keep the time before the event in mind when choosing portions. A Thanksgiving size meal may need to wait until another day. Eat until satisfied, but not uncomfortably full.

Katherine Harmer, RDN

I'm a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a love for coaching others to success in their health goals, especially teenage athletes. Tennis was my sport of choice in high school. Now I'm a little bit older, a little bit smarter, and a little bit worse at tennis.

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