What you pack in your lunch cooler for a volleyball tournament is just as important as what you pack in your gym bag. Playing in a volleyball tournament all day means that you’ll be burning lots of calories, so you’ll want to refuel properly. Tournament day is a day of endurance, and you don’t want to conk out halfway through the day!
Related article: What should I bring to an indoor volleyball tournament?
Most volleyball tournaments do not have lunch breaks built into the schedule – players just eat whenever they can between games. That means that having healthy, nutritious food with you is important, because even if you find some time to purchase takeout, you can’t guarantee that the options will be healthy and nutritious. In fact, chances are pretty high that the options WON’T be healthy.
Finding the time to pack yourself a lunch may be difficult. However, with just a little bit of planning and preparation before tournament day, it’s easy to bring some healthy snacks with you. You’ll feel better, and you’ll be glad you took the time to pack nutritious options. You might even want to pack a little extra, because when your teammates see the delicious and nutritious snacks you’ve brought, they might ask you to share!
Food as Fuel
Why is it so important to eat healthy during a volleyball tournament? You may not be an Olympic athlete, but you’re still going to be spending all day running around and burning lots of calories. If you’re refuelling with nutritious and healthy food, you’ll not only feel better, but you’ll have the right kind of energy to play longer as well. And, as a bonus, you probably won’t feel as tired at the end of the day, either.
Importance of snacking
Tournament days are HECTIC. Getting yourself out the door in the morning so that you arrive at the gym in time can be a challenge. But even once you get there, you’re now on the tournament schedule, which means that you need to be at the right court at the right time. Getting a long enough break to eat a nice full lunch is probably not going to happen!
Having a variety of foods in your lunch bag is important, because you’ll want to snack in between games when you have a few spare minutes. This is important for a few reasons:
1. Time: As mentioned, you probably won’t get a lunch break, so you’ll want to eat when you can. Smaller snacks are much easier to fit into a busy playing schedule.
2. Not feeling too full: The last thing you want to do is wolf down a huge lunch, then jump on the court for a game. You’ll feel sluggish, and you may even cramp up. Eating smaller amounts of healthy food throughout the day will help you maintain a more even blood sugar level, so that you’re not spiking and then crashing. Those are the type of spikes you want to avoid in volleyball!
What to eat before a volleyball tournament
It’s super important to start the day off right with a good breakfast. You are going to be burning a lot of calories on a tournament day, and you definitely don’t want to start the day off hungry. And we’re not talking about grabbing a pop-tart as you walk out the door. Think of getting some complex carbs and protein, to get a good foundation of nutrition.
A good choice would be a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter and banana, or a power smoothie (scroll down for the recipe below). If you know you’re going to be short on time in the morning, you could even make your smoothie the night before to save yourself some time.
If you usually drink coffee, you might be tempted to skip it on a tournament day. However, if you’re a regular coffee drinker (like so many of us are!), skipping your usual dose of caffeine may result in headaches or other withdrawal symptoms. So tournament day is not the day to quit your coffee addiction! If you can skip your morning coffee with no issues, go for it. Otherwise, just have a small coffee to maintain your usual caffeine kick start.
But nutrition doesn’t start on game day!
Eating well for tournament day doesn’t start when you wake up in the morning – it actually starts the day before. You’ll want to make sure you eat a well-balanced dinner that includes complex carbohydrates, otherwise known as starches (such as brown rice or pasta), simple carbs (such as vegetables), lean protein (such as chicken or beans), and some good fats (such as olive or coconut oil).
A good dinner the night before gives your body a good foundation of nutrition that will provide you with energy on tournament day. You’ll want to keep this level of nutrition going during game day as well, by eating a variety of well-balanced foods on tournament day.
What does well-balanced meal mean?
Calories come in different forms, either carbohydrates, proteins, or fats, and they are all important for your body to function well. Having a good mix of the three types of calories will provide your body with the nutrients and types of calories it needs to perform well, especially for a whole day of playing.
Here’s why each of the three types of calories are important for athletes.
Why are carbohydrates important for athletes?
Carbohydrates are important because they are the primary way that your body gets energy. When you’re eating healthy carbs, your body will convert those carbs into glucose, which then gets used as fuel when you’re exercising.
For a tournament day, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating complex carbs, or starches, because those take longer for your body to burn, which will provide you with better energy reserves during a long day of playing.
Eating some simple carbs throughout the day is a good idea as well, but make sure they’re the right kind of simple carbs, such as fruits. While it’s tempting to eat some licorice or chocolate for a quick sugar high, remember that you’ll come crashing down from that refined sugar high as well!
Also, keep in mind that some granola and protein bars actually have a lot of refined sugar in them. While these can be a great source of nutritious calories, always read the label to make sure. Sometimes, there’s almost as much sugar in a granola bar as there is in a candy bar!
Examples of healthy carbohydrates to pack in your lunch bag:
- Brown rice crackers
- Whole wheat bread/bagel
- Whole grain pasta
Why are proteins important for athletes?
If carbohydrates are the fuel for your muscles to operate, proteins are the building blocks that repair and maintain muscle growth. This is especially important for tournament days, because you’ll be expending calories all day, so you’ll want to make sure you’re providing your body with fuel to rebuild its protein stores.
During endurance sports, such as after 90 minutes of exercise, once your body has used up its glucose stores (that it got from those healthy carbs), it’ll start to turn to protein and fat stores in your muscles for energy. If your body starts burning protein stores, your muscles will end up feeling sore and tired, and your energy will really start to fade.
If you’re not getting enough protein, your recovery time after the tournament may be affected as well. Your muscles might feel sore and stiff for longer. And while feeling a bit of muscle stiffness reminds you that you had a great workout, you definitely don’t want to overdo it!
So, it’s important to include some snacks with high sources of protein throughout your day as well, to maintain protein stores. Having a good mix of protein-rich calories will also help you feel more full for longer, so you won’t feel hungry while you’re playing.
You won’t want to overdo it on the proteins, because they may make you feel heavy or too full while you’re playing. But think about including a good variety of high protein options in with your snacks during the day, and then be sure to replenish stores with a meal that includes proteins when you’re done playing.
Examples of healthy proteins to pack in your lunch bag:
- Chicken or turkey
- Hardboiled eggs
- Peanut butter
Why are fats important for athletes?
Fats provide your body with energy, which is especially important for long days of activity, such as on tournament days. Eating a moderate amount of healthy fats is important, because the fats help your body use the energy from the carbohydrates properly.
Also, once your body has burned up its glucose stores, it’ll turn to its fat reserves. That being said, it takes many hours of endurance activity to start burning fat – so don’t think that gives you an excuse to eat a lot of fatty foods to stock up on your fat stores!
Also, fats actually have more calories per gram than proteins and carbs do (9 grams per calorie for fats, vs 4 for both carbs and proteins). So you definitely don’t need to eat a lot of fats to get the nutrients and calories that you need.
When adding fats to your diet, make sure they’re the right kinds. A cheeseburger or bacon aren’t going to give you the right kind of healthy calories that you need. Adding some healthy fats to some of your other lunch items, such as an olive oil dressing to a pasta salad, is a good way to include fats in your daily diet.
Examples of healthy fats to pack in your lunch bag:
- Olive oil dressing
- Coconut chips
- Flaxseed (added to smoothie or salad)
Staying hydrated during a tournament is just as important as eating properly. Drinking enough water during a regular day is important, because it helps your body function the way it needs to, by helping digestion, regulating temperature, and ensuring nutrients get where they need to go. Water also helps your muscles function well, and if they’re not getting enough water, they will tire much more easily.
On tournament day, you will be sweating much more than usual. That’s why it’s especially important to drink water or sports drinks, so that you’re replenishing what you’re sweating out, in addition to drinking the regular amount of water recommended daily.
Similar to the way that your good nutrition starts the day before the tournament, it’s a good idea to drink the recommended 6-8 glasses of water per day for at least a couple days before your tournament day as well. This helps prepare your body by making sure its hydration stores are well maintained, and that you’re not starting below the basic recommended levels.
Are sports drinks really necessary for tournaments?
There is some debate about sports drinks, but in general, if a person is working out for more than an hour, and sweating a decent amount, they should consider drinking a sports drink to replenish the electrolytes they’re losing through sweating. It’s a personal preference, but for myself, the only time I drink sports drinks is on tournament days. I find drinking only water all day just doesn’t seem to cut it.
You can even get the powder form and keep a few extra powder sticks in your lunch bag in case you need an electrolyte boost. They take up way less room, and are much lighter than lugging around extra bottles!
Why is replenishing electrolytes important?
Electrolytes provide some essential functions for your body, such as regulating body fluids, maintaining blood pressure, supporting muscle, nerve, and cellular functioning, and regulating energy and pH balance. Replenishing electrolytes during exercise is important because if electrolyte levels get too low, a person might experience muscle cramping, fatigue, or nausea.
It’s obviously difficult to play well and have fun if you’re feeling tired and nauseous and your muscles are cramping!
However, not all sports drinks are created equally, so be sure to check the labels and make sure that there isn’t a lot of refined sugar added. I also find that some brands are easier to digest than others, so you might want to try a couple different brands.
Are energy drinks a good source of energy during a tournament?
Even though it’s tempting to get that super jolt of sugar and caffeine, you WILL come crashing down from that jolt! It’s much better to try to maintain your energy level at a more steady rate through good nutrition, instead of artificially pumping it up with sugar and caffeine. Therefore, it’s recommended to avoid energy drinks on tournament days.
Refuelling at the end of the day
After a long day of playing volleyball, you will have burned a ton of calories, and your muscles will likely be fatigued – even if you don’t feel it right away! You’ll want to make sure that you replenish all the calories you’ve burned. And, even though it’s really tempting to join in on the after-game wings, this is the time you’ll really want to make some healthy food choices. Instead of wings, try a grilled chicken sandwich, or a salad topped with grilled chicken.
Your body’s energy reserves will be low, so think about replenishing them with some good calories, instead of empty calories. You’ll definitely feel much better the next day – even if you are a bit sore.
Volleyball Tournament Food List
Here are some good snack options to pack in your lunch bag for tournament day. For fruits and veggies, make sure you wash (and slice them, if required) beforehand, so it’s more convenient to just grab them for a snack during the day.
- Carrot and celery sticks with hummus dip
- Apples with peanut butter
- Orange slices
- Quinoa salad (see recipe below)
- Nuts: Almonds, cashews, or walnuts
- Trail mix
- Coconut chips
- Chicken, turkey, or tuna sandwich on whole wheat bun
- Rice crackers
- Protein bar
- Pasta salad
- Hard boiled eggs
- Bagel with peanut butter
- Power smoothie (see recipe below)
- Sports drink
- Reusable water bottle
Packing your cooler bag
Even if you don’t have any perishables, you might want to add an ice pack to your cooler bag to keep your snacks fresh and drinks cool. Don’t forget to bring any utensils that you’ll need, and napkins as well. Having a pack of moist towelettes is good idea too, so you can wipe your hands quickly and conveniently.
If you do have perishables, be sure to pack them on the bottom of your cooler bag, so they stay colder longer. Put soft fruits and vegetables (like bananas and avocados) in a separate plastic container, so that they don’t get smashed around and bruised.
Look into getting a lightweight cooler bag. You’ll be carrying it around the gym with you all day, along with your volleyball gear, so you’ll want something that’s light and easy to carry. I like a soft-shell cooler bag with separate pockets for the extras, like napkins, hand wipes, and utensils.
Below are a couple of recipes to try out, that include a good variety of foods. Ultimately, what you pack in your lunch bag is all about personal choice and convenience. But, if you plan your food ahead just a little bit, you’ll stress less, and enjoy the day even more!
Game Day Quinoa Salad
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa
- Handful of diced cucumber
- Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ red pepper, diced
- 1 ripe avocado, diced
- Cubed cooked chicken or black beans, rinsed
- 2 tbsp Feta cheese
Combine all ingredients together in a travel safe dish with a lid.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- Salt and pepper
Whisk together dressing ingredients. Pour on the quinoa salad and mix.
- Handful of spinach
- 1 banana
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp nut butter (peanut or almond)
- 2 tbsp flax seed oil
- Almond milk
- Ice cubes
Add ingredients to blender in order listed, and blend until smooth.