ACC Sports Sciences Main Page
Rob Skinner, MS, RD/LD, CSCS
Leah Moore Thomas, MS, RD/LD
Georgia Tech Athletic Association
Among NCAA volleyball players, there are several characteristics common to those that achieve success on the court. It takes discipline and hard work, along with skill, technique, expert coaching, and sports specific training to be competitive among ACC schools. In addition, there are other factors in an athlete's career that can aid in achieving success in college and beyond. Factors such as adequate sleep and proper nutrition are often left ignored, but can be an essential part of optimal athletic performance.
Athletes place high demands on their bodies during training sessions. This is common among athletes of all sports. The daily demands of attending class, practices, strength and conditioning sessions and position specific workouts create a need for nutrition strategies to maintain adequate energy intake. While an increased energy requirement is common among all sports, it is important to examine specific sports a little closer to determine which energy systems are being used, and therefore the appropriate energy substrate distribution most suitable.
The Game of Volleyball
At the NCAA level, the winner of the volleyball match is the team victorious in 3 games out of a possible 5. This set up means that there can be large variations in the playing time from one match to another. Matches can easily last up to 2 ½ hours when the 2 teams playing are comparable in skill level. In light of this, the athlete needs to ensure that they are properly fueled and ready to play for as long as the match may last.
Within the match, there can be up to 5 games with 3 minutes separating each game. If the match continues after the 3rd game, there is a 7-minute break before the start of game 4. The average point lasts approximately 5-8 seconds. A long point, however, might last up to 25 seconds. Over the course of the entire match, the anaerobic (without oxygen) energy system is most heavily relied on for fuel supplying approximately 90% of the energy required, fueling actions like jumps and quick dashes for the ball. Individual sets within games, however, rely more heavily on the adenosine triphosphate creatine phosphate (ATP-PC) energy system. This system provides fuel for strength, power, and speed, which includes serves, spikes, blocks, or digs. The aerobic energy system may not be relied upon during matches, but it is certainly important during training sessions, rest, and recovery periods.
Identifying these details of a volleyball player's energy demands helps make more specific nutritional recommendations to ensure proper fuel intake.
Daily Nutritional Needs
The daily nutrition goal for volleyball players is to maintain an adequate energy intake to fuel both practice and conditioning sessions. This means adequate energy in the form of calories from carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
The dietary reference intake for carbohydrates is 130 grams per day to maintain proper brain function. Volleyball players need more carbohydrate due to their activity levels. A range of 6-8 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight should be adequate to supply volleyball players with the energy needed to compete at a high level. To get adequate amounts of carbohydrates, volleyball players should focus on whole grain products, fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
Daily protein recommendations for volleyball players should be between 1.0-1.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. This range will ensure that there is adequate protein available for muscle growth and tissue repair from strenuous training session. Foods like red meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, beans and nuts are all sources of protein for volleyball players.
Recommendations for dietary fat intake are 20-30 % of total calories for the day. Fat is necessary for the transport of fat soluble vitamins and is a vital component of every cell in the body. There are also essential fatty acids that the body can not create and we must get from out diet. The best advice is to avoid visible fat like greasy burgers and choose healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and seeds.
The purpose of the pre-game meal is to top off energy stores, preparing the volleyball player to enter the match fully fueled. This meal should be consumed approximately 3 hours prior to warm-up so that it does not interfere with playing time. This meal is not the time to experiment with new foods. The pre-game meal should be rich in carbohydrates, since they are the primary fuel source for working muscles. A high quality protein source is also essential for this meal. Protein will help the "staying power" of the meal, slowing the digestion process and preventing the player from entering the match feeling empty. A good pre-game meal might include a grilled chicken sandwich with a baked potato topped with broccoli and salsa; a grilled chicken breast covered in marinara sauce atop a dish of pasta; or a turkey sub sandwich with a serving of pretzels. All of these meals provide a good amount of both carbohydrates and protein and are appropriate pre-game meals. Add approximately 32 fluid ounces of water or a sports drink and your body should be ready to go.
During Games and Breaks
There are 2 main nutrition goals during the match: 1) to maintain hydration and 2) to replenish the energy you use so that you don't run out before the victory! Both hydration and energy can usually be maintained with the consumption of a sports drink periodically throughout the match. Fluid guidelines accepted by both the American Dietetic Association and the American College of Sports Medicine indicate that 4 - 8 ounces (~1 mouthful = 1 ounce) of fluid should be consumed every 15 minutes during activity. Making it a goal to drink between ½ - 1 cup of a sports drink during each time-out or each time the player comes out of the game should accomplish both of these goals. Water is also a good hydrating option; however, it cannot replace the energy lost during the match.
A post game meal or snack is often forgotten. This meal, however, has a very important function. The human body has a very limited capacity to store carbohydrates. They are stored in the form of glycogen in the liver and the muscles. Therefore, it is important to maximize the amount that can be stored. After a volleyball match, the enzymes that are responsible for taking in fuel and storing it are at their highest level within the first 30-45 minutes. Taking advantage of this window is critical in the recovery process, getting the body ready for the next match. The following equation should help the individual athlete determine the amount of carbohydrates that they should consume post-match:
Body weight (in pounds) / 2 = Grams of carbohydrates
It has been found that the addition of protein to this post game meal/snack aids in the storage of carbohydrates as well as in the recovery of muscle fibers. The most commonly recognized ratio of carbohydrates to protein is 3:1. For example, a 150 pound player would recover most optimally by consuming a post game meal/snack that consisted of 75 grams of carbohydrates and 25 grams of protein.
Tournaments require unique nutrition strategies. Along with what's been described above, taking advantage of a short window of time to replete and rehydrate between games can mean the difference between hitting the ball and hitting the wall. Depending on the amount of time between matches, refueling can be another pre-game meal or it may be just a high-energy snack. If there is less than a couple of hours between matches, follow these simple suggestions to make the most out of your time:
1. Pack your snacks. Don't rely on tournament coordinators or concession stands to provide you with the appropriate foods to optimize your energy stores.
2. Include high-energy snacks that are carbohydrate rich, but that also include protein. Some suggestions include: sports drinks, energy bars, bagels with peanut butter, plain yogurt and granola, or chocolate milk and animal crackers.
3. Consume this snack as soon as you can after the game. This will ensure that you get the fuel in within that 30-45 minute window as well as make sure that your stomach is ready to go for the next match.
4. Rehydrate with at least some sports drink. These beverages are designed for optimal rehydration. The addition of sodium and potassium replace the electrolytes lost in sweat and increase the absorption of fluid into your system. The presence of sodium keeps your body thirsting for more. Water might shut off your thirst mechanism before you are actually fully rehydrated. Sports drinks don't quench your thirst as quickly, causing you to drink more.
In summary, good nutrition is something that should be practiced daily to better able the body to perform the demanding task of being an athlete. There are some simple practices to make habit that will aid in preparation, hydration, and recovery. Making yourself knowledgeable about nutrition is just one more step you can take to better yourself as an athlete.