Preparing for Volleyball Nationals

2012 USA Boys Select A1 Volleyball Team

It’s summertime, and for my family, that means preparing for volleyball tournaments! Later this month, nearly 1200 boys’ and girls’ teams will descend on Minneapolis and Atlanta for the USA Volleyball Junior National Championships. As my son’s volleyball team prepares for their journey from Hawaii to Minnesota at the end of the month, I began researching proper hydration and nutrition for volleyball athletes, and more specifically, with regard to the 4-day format of the typical national tournament.

I’ve read numerous articles from the sports nutrition community, along with amateur and professional athletes from various sports, and I discovered some great advice, from Olympian Beverly Oden.

Beverly (Bev) Oden has over 20 years of volleyball experience. She is the youngest of the three Oden sisters (Kim, Elaina, Bev), each of whom played in the Olympics on the USA Volleyball Team. Beverly was the #1 recruit to Stanford University in her senior year of high school, she earned NCAA Player of the Year in 1990, won the NCAA Championship in 1992, and played for Team USA as a starting middle blocker in the Atlanta Olympic Games.  She offers some great advice on volleyball nutrition. The following is a summary of several key points she makes in her numerous blog articles.

Preparing: Nutrition for Great Performance:

Volleyball, unlike endurance sports, is stop and go game. This is a good thing in terms of nutrition because there are ample opportunities to eat and drink during a match to keep yourself going. Regardless of how great you are at the skills of volleyball, your energy level and your ability to stay strong all match long will be the keys to a great performance.

Since a volleyball match can vary widely in length depending on the number of sets required to win, you must be prepared to go the distance at all times. A three set match could end in an hour, but a five set match can last up to three hours. Make sure you are prepared for any eventuality.

The idea of sports nutrition is to anticipate your needs for the foreseeable future and to provide your body with the correct nutrients to respond to the demands you’ll require of it. If you get behind in your energy stores, it will take your body a while to recover and get back on track. The game waits for no one though, so your misjudgment can cost your team the game.

Keep in mind that everyone is different and therefore has different nutritional needs. Pay attention to your body and its response to the food you eat. Did you feel good at the start of the game and then have an energy crash? Did you eat too early and find yourself hungry when the first whistle blew? Does eating during a match give you a stomach cramp? Adjust your intake accordingly and find what combination works best for you.


You should start to hydrate in the days (not just hours) before a match. Technically, if you’re in season for volleyball, you should be hydrating all the time for practice, games and tournaments. This helps your body run smoothly, keeps your energy up and helps keep your muscles from cramping. You will know you are well hydrated when your urine is light in color.

During a match, hydration can help to maintain your energy. Drinking a whole bottle of water at once is not the best way to deliver hydration to the body. It is recommended that you drink 4-8 ounces of fluid every 15 minutes during activity. This means that during each time out, you should take a few swallows of water. Spreading out your intake in this way will allow you to avoid the feeling of being waterlogged and will allow your body to metabolize the fluid throughout the match.

For most volleyball matches, if you drink water most of the time and add a sports drink a few times per match, you should have a good balance. Again, do what works for your body because everyone is different. Most of the time, water will do the trick. If you’re prone to muscle cramping or spasms, chances are that you are dehydrated. During a volleyball match, your muscles need fluids to operate powerfully over time. If you don’t give it to them, they will revolt!

A Solid Pre-Game Meal:

On the day of a match, be armed and ready by eating breakfast, lunch and a couple of snacks during the day. Stick with lean meats, vegetables and carbohydrates like bread, pasta and fruit. Stay away from foods with high processed sugar and any new foods you have not tried before on game days. Since volleyball requires a lot of quick movement and bursts of strength over a long period of time, it is necessary to provide your body with a good amount of carbohydrates such as fruits, veggies, whole grain cereals, breads, and pastas, and low-fat dairy. Supplement your carbs with protein (lean meats, chicken, turkey, fish) and veggies and you have the ideal pre-game meal.

Food During an Event:

There are plenty of chances to refuel during a volleyball match. In most tournaments, you will have a game or two followed by a break. Make sure to study your schedule so you can plan the best times to eat. The best course is to eat a good, hearty breakfast and follow it up over the course of the day with high carb snacks like pretzels or a bagel. Fruits like apples, bananas and oranges make good tournament snacks as well.

Take in food when you know you have enough time for your body to process it. Ideally, you will want to take in some food every 2-3 hours. You can eat protein or nutrition bars for quick energy, but make sure you have a sandwich or something hearty on your longer breaks when you have a free hour or two. If you don’t have much time, make sure to keep your snacks light. Playing on a full stomach when your body needs to digest will make you sluggish and will hurt your game.

Post-Game Meal:

The post-game meal is often disregarded, but what you eat at this meal is important because it helps you to store carbs which will help you recover more quickly. The timing of this meal matters as well. You should eat within one hour of the end of the game because that is when your body is most efficient at storing carbohydrates. In addition to taking in carbs soon after finishing play, it helps to take in some protein as well. Protein will aid in the storage of carbs and in your recovery process.

Hopefully these tips will help prepare you, whether you are a budding volleyball player or a pro, so you can perform at the highest level! Good luck to all the athletes competing this summer! May you and your team represent your club, state, region, or even your country, with pride!

Excerpts from Beverly Oden’s articles found on her volleyball blog at:  See: What to Eat and When to Eat it to Be Your Best at Game Time; How to Tell if You’re Dehydrated; Water or Sports Drinks

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