Basketball Nutrition Overview
Nutrition is one of the most important, yet overlooked issues related to success on the basketball court. Many people regularly choose momentary cost and convenience over health and basketball performance. These decisions make an immediate difference and have a long term effect, whether positively or negatively. Making the right decisions today will have a positively profound effect tomorrow.
In order to reach your peak performance on the court, you must meet your nutritional needs with nutrient-dense, real food. Foods that do not fall into this category can be harmful and work against you and your efforts to become your best, especially heavily processed foods.
The purpose of all five parts of this article is to provide you with a higher level of nutritional thinking. It may challenge your taste buds, but in the end, the rewards are substantial; improved performance on the basketball court, clearer thinking, and less inflammation throughout your body.
Basketball Food Criteria To Win
In order to qualify for this list, each food had to fall under all five of the following categories. It is important to note that many of the most nutritious foods on the planet (organ meats, oysters, etc.) were excluded from this list because most people do not find them tasty. They must:
- Provide good nutrition
- Be industrial seed oil-free and grain-free
- Contain no added sugar
- Be kid-friendly (note: preparing food with , , and/or can make all the difference in the taste of foods, i.e. vegetables)
- Provide the energy (individually or collectively) necessary to sustain the rigorous demands of high-level basketball.
The goal is simple: eliminate or greatly reduce processed food from your diet. Even though some foods (simple sugars such as, candy, sodas, etc.) may offer you immediate energy needs, they can destroy your health over time due to their effects on your gut bacteria, blood sugar / insulin levels, and inflammation levels. Over time, eating naturally sweet and savory foods will train your taste buds so that you will no longer desire lab-created, chemically-laden, sugary junk food.
The term “organic” is used for most of the foods on this list. Organic means that crops must be grown without synthetic pesticides, GMO’s, and sewage sludge-based and petroleum-based fertilizers. Livestock is raised outdoors and fed organic feed. They are also not given hormones, antibiotics, or fed any animal by–products.
The foods listed will help provide you with the health-promoting benefits, energy, and muscle repair, and recovery that is essential for optimal performance on the basketball court. Although not listed as one of “The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players,” filtered water is as important as any of the foods discussed. Filtering water removes harmful arsenic and DBPs (carcinogens), fluoride (associated with weakening the immune system), and aluminum (linked to hyperactivity and learning disabilities).
Keep in mind, limiting your selection to just a few of the foods on this list will not have the same healthy effect as diversifying your choices. Also, by eliminating the unhealthy food in your diet while regularly eating a large percentage of the foods on this list, as well as other known healthy foods, you will be more likely to sleep better, be in a better mood, and improve your memory. In other words, your body will be functioning at a much higher level.
Without further ado, add these twenty-five foods to your dietary routine and start eating like a champion today!
Eat To Win In Basketball:
Pasture-Raised Eggs – Fried, pouched, scrambled, or hard-boiled, pasture-raised eggs provide you with twice the omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, 3-6 times more vitamin D, and 7 times more beta carotene than eggs produced by caged hens. Pasture-raised eggs, from hens raised on bugs, grass and sunshine, also contain more vitamin A, vitamin B12, folic acid and is a great source of quality protein. This nutrient powerhouse with help meet your nutritional needs and provide the energy and muscle repair necessary for success on the basketball court.
Organic Apples, Bananas, Oranges, Cherries–Nature’s “candy” helps replenish depleted energy stores (glycogen) on a moment’s notice without the gut disruption of heavily processed sugary foods. These nutritional juggernauts contain the carbohydrates needed to meet the demands for high energy of basketball. Their phytochemical (plant chemicals) content helps regulate hormones, stimulates immune function, and protects against cell damage that can lead to cancer.
Organic Spinach / Organic Broccoli – If you can manage to eat both of these on a regular basis it will pay huge dividends. Spinach is a big-time player in producing good health. Its health benefits are too numerous to list here, but it’s chalk-full of iron, calcium, and magnesium (helps prevent muscle cramps) along with vitamin’s A,
Organic Sweet Potatoes–This root vegetable is loaded with fiber, iron, calcium, B vitamins, vitamin C, and beta-carotene (vitamin A) which assists in fighting oxidation and the damage caused by free radicals. Sweet potatoes also build a healthy digestive system. Its complex carbohydrate-rich content provides the energy needed for high level basketball performance without the gut damaging effects of easily digestible carbohydrates.
and Bone Broth–This “superfood” contains collagen, minerals (calcium, magnesium, and potassium), and amino acids. It supports a healthy immune system, helps reduce joint pain, and boosts energy levels, among other things. Bone broth’s anti-inflammatory affect allows your body to feel its best, especially when aches and pains are accumulating from your play on the court.
The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players, Part II
The second installment of “The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players” will include the next segment of foods that are essential to health and optimal basketball performance. Although you may not particularly enjoy some of the foods on the list, it is important to approach those specific foods with a medicinal mindset. Understanding that your health, athletic performance, and energy will improve from eating each of these foods is the first step to overcoming your distaste for them.
Regularly including the foods that challenge your taste buds in your diet will help you form a “taste” for them. At first, try adding them to other foods or dishes so that the taste, texture, smell, etc., is less offensive to you. Over time, you may find that eating them whole or without other foods acting as “distractions” is palatable.
One thing to keep in mind are food sensitivities. Unfortunately, not all food sensitivities have immediate health consequences. Therefore, health problems may exist for an extended period of time making it more difficult to identify the cause of the health problem.
Not all foods are healthy to all people. “Healthy” foods may be intolerable for some but not others. The following symptoms are obvious warning signs that your body wants nothing to do with certain foods. It stands to reason that performance on the court will be affected by any of these conditions as well.
- Diarrhea, bloating, cramping, nausea, vomiting, and/or excessive flatulence
- Skin rashes or flushed skin
- Dizzy or lightheaded feeling
- Swollen airways
- Coughing, runny nose, sneezing, and constant clearing of the throat
- Feelings of confusion or weakness
- Headaches and migraines
Food intolerance and food allergy symptoms are varied and not limited to those listed above. Whether you experience food intolerances (no immune system response) or food allergies, identifying these foods through an allergy food test (food allergies only) or knowledge of how you respond to certain foods can help prevent these reactions from ever occurring.
Inflammatory foods are known to wreak havoc on your health. For basketball players, sore or injured joints will remain as such as long as inflammatory foods are eaten. Eliminating as many of them as possible from your diet is essential to optimal performance on the court and great health. Here is a short list of commonly eaten, highly-inflammatory foods to avoid:
- Sugar (cakes, cookies, sodas/juices/drinks, ice cream, candy bars, etc.)
- Cured meats
- Vegetable oil and soybean oil
- Foods containing additives aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Foods containing gluten
- White bread
- Foods containing trans fats
One of the primary objectives of this article is to draw awareness to your current dietary intake. Eating nutrient-dense, real food that you know that you can tolerate is critical to optimal performance and great health.
The following five foods are must additions to any basketball player’s diet.
Wild-Caught Salmon / Smoked Salmon (soy-free) – This GMO, antibiotic, growth hormone, pesticide, and chemical-free wild-caught fish offers a ton of healthy benefits. Salmon is nutrient-dense containing anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein that helps build muscle, vitamins B6 and B12 and phosphorus which are important for energy metabolism and transfer. B vitamins also help reduce inflammation that can cause aches, pains, and injuries to linger. Its vitamin D content is essential to bone health which is always important when competing in any athletic endeavor. You can purchase salmon at your local grocery store to bake or grill or order it . Smoked salmon makes a great snack especially when you’re on the go.
– When cows are allowed to eat their natural diet of grass, they produce healthier products (meat, milk, cream, butter). Grass-fed butter contains healthy doses of unsaturated fat (omega-3 fatty acids) which has anti-inflammatory properties, vitamin K2 (escorts calcium to hard tissue like bones and teeth and away from soft tissue which can lead to arterial blockage), vitamin A and beta carotene, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which helps prevent against several chronic diseases (type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, etc.).
Organic Berries (Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries) – These pesticide-free, anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense, antioxidant powerhouses are just what the doctor ordered. Berries are best known for their vitamin C and K, manganese and fiber content, flexibility (can be eaten alone, with nuts, or in a variety of dishes), and convenience. Organic berries are a great idea for a pre or post-game/practice snack, especially if multiple games are being played.
Sourdough Bread – White and whole grain breads contain gluten which is known to be inflammatory and cause conditions like leaky gut and other gut disruptions. Although sourdough bread is not gluten-free, it is easier on the digestive system for those with gluten issues. Its long fermentation process diminishes the effect of gluten-forming proteins and breaks down fructans (carbohydrates in wheat that are mistaken as gluten issues). Sourdough bread’s nutritional value is similar to that of regular bread, but the lactic acid bacteria presence lowers the bread’s pH which reduces its antinutrient content. This allows for greater mineral absorption. Additionally, some have shown that are released during the fermentation process allowing for protection against oxidation.
“The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players, Part III,” mentions the importance of diet on health and athletic performance and how a healthy diet must be intentional. Plus, five more delicious and nutritious foods that you should be eating on a regular basis are included.
The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players, Part III
The third installment of “The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players” will include the next segment of foods that are essential to health and optimal basketball performance. Whether you have been playing the game of basketball for years or stepping out on the court for the very first time, congratulations! You are making a commitment not only for right now, but for your future as well … a commitment to your health!
You cannot play the game of basketball at your optimal level without reaching your peak health. This includes physical and mental toughness, being pain-free, and possessing great energy. Your diet can have a tremendous effect on all three of these areas. Seek out a professional (life coach, basketball or personal trainer, nutritionist – if your coach is unavailable) to direct you in a way that has you functioning at the highest level possible.
The phrase, “work up an appetite,” is particularly important in regard to heathy nutrition. The more basketball you play (energy you expend), the hungrier you will most likely be. Eating foods that will serve you rather than foods that will harm you, will determine whether or not you are benefitting from your diet or it is detrimental to your health and basketball performance.
As you know by now, this article deals primarily with what foods you should be eating on a regular basis. Food matters a lot! Some believe it is as important as the time spent practicing on the court. Therefore, eating must be intentional! Good dietary habits don’t just happen. You must plan it out and be deliberate; after all, changing dietary routines/habits and quitting dietary addictions can be a daunting task.
These next five foods will go a long way towards providing you with the nutrition you will need when peak basketball performance and great health are at the top of your want list. Like the other foods on this list, choose organic, grass-fed, wild-caught, and pasture-raised whenever possible.
Grass-Fed/Finished Beef – Grass-fed beef has become more than “(Beef. It’s) What’s for Dinner.” Grass-fed beef provides a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B3, B6, and B12, high-quality complete protein, creatine, and substantially more antioxidants, and bioavailable vitamins and minerals than grain-fed beef. Also, it is a much “cleaner” meat because of its lack of hormones, antibiotics and the corn and soy that are fed to grain-fed cows. It is important to note that grass-fed cows are often fed corn for the few months leading up to slaughter in order to fatten them up. So, purchase grass-fed and finished beef when shopping for your meat. You may want to try this when you are on the go.
Full-Fat Cheese from Grass-Fed Cows – This great source of calcium, , and protein, is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K2 (helps move calcium away from your arteries to your hard tissues like bones, teeth, etc.) where it belongs. High-fat cheese from grass-fed cows contains the anti-inflammatory . This helps reduce inflammation associated with injuries and illnesses. If you know that you have an allergy to casein, one of the proteins found in dairy, or that you are lactose , you may need to eliminate dairy or find a healthier alternative.
Organic Cauliflower – Imagine that there is a food that can masquerade as noodles, mashed potatoes, pizza crust, fried or just plain rice, is a nutritional powerhouse and is delicious to boot: it sounds almost too good to be true. Eating cauliflower in these alternate forms can completely change the perception of what you are eating. Nutritionally, cauliflower is stacked with nutrients such that it helps prevent certain diseases, such as cancer (prevents oxidative stress), stomach disorders, hypertension, and macular degeneration as well as others. Its large B-complex vitamin (energy metabolism) content (along with numerous other vitamins and minerals) contributes to its high energy production.
Organic Raw Almonds / Covered Almonds – This healthy snack is perfect when you are on the go or needing something between tournament games. Almonds are loaded with fiber, healthy fats, and antioxidants (cell protection from damage). Additionally, its nutrient content packs a powerful punch with magnesium (important in the prevention of muscle cramps, helps you sleep better, and assists in making you regular) and vitamin E (important in the prevention of inflammation). It is important to note that these two nutrients have many other health benefits that they contribute to as well and this can all be accomplished with just one handful.
Adding a dark chocolate covering to your almonds makes a healthy, delicious, and portable treat. A cacao of 70%+ provides healthy doses of (additional) antioxidants (polyphenols, flavanols, etc.), copper, fiber, iron, (additional) magnesium, and manganese.
Organic Beans – “Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit” is a saying that refers to beans tendency to create flatulence. However, beans are “magical” in other ways as well. First, beans are loaded with fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Second, they help prevent fatty liver disease (fat accumulation in the liver). Third, beans can positively affect the microbiome (the bacteria universe inside your gut which heavily effects your immune system). Fourth, their polyphenol (antioxidant) content helps fight inflammation and cancer.
Note: Beans contain the anti-nutrients, lectins and phytates. These substances are plants natural defense mechanisms to help ward off would-be predators. They can wreak havoc on your gut and cause vitamins and minerals to not be absorbed ultimately leading to malnutrition. Soaking your beans in water prior to cooking them can help reduce these negative effects.
“The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players, Part IV,” reiterates the importance of eliminating processed foods from your diet and replacing them with nutrient-dense, real food. Four delicious foods and an important oil are added to the list so go check them out.
The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players, Part IV
The fourth installment of “The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players” includes three foods that are common to most households (chicken, milk, and yogurt) and a food and supplement (beets and MCT Oil) that are not. Hopefully, learning about the nutritional importance of all five will lead to regular consumption, better health, and a higher level of performance on the basketball court.
Nutrient-dense, real food promotes good health in ways that are known and unknown. One way is that nutrients act synergistically with other nutrients to provide a more powerful healthful punch. This is why it is better to consume nutrients in food more often than in pills, capsules, and powders.
The heart of the message of this series is: when you’re feeling your best, you’ll perform your best! In other words, if you only eat foods that meet your nutritional needs making sure that they do not cause you harm, you will look, feel, perform, and be at your best!
As stated in an earlier installment, this requires that you eliminate or greatly reduce processed food from your diet. Even though some foods (simple sugars such as, candy, sodas, bread, etc.) may offer you immediate energy, they can destroy your health, performance on the court, and overall sense of wellbeing. Let’s face it, YOUR BODY CRAVES TO HAVE ITS NUTRITIONAL NEEDS MET!
Additionally, when you eat “junk” food, there becomes less space for the good stuff. If you are a parent and your kid is eating added sugar they need to stop as soon as possible. For better or worse, the dietary habits, routines, and addictions that they are forming now can last a lifetime.
Organic Chicken – These birds are fed only certified organic feed and are not given hormones, antibiotics, nonapproved synthetic chemicals, or GMOs. Sewage sludge as fertilizer is also prohibited in their living environment. Additionally, they are to have access to movement and exercise. On the flip side, organic chickens contain almost 40% more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and is a great source of protein. In combination with other foods on this list, organic chickens will assist in the recovery process between practices and games. There is also a significantly smaller chance of contracting salmonella from an organic bird.
Organic Beets – This highly nutritious vegetable is loaded with antioxidants, B vitamins, potassium, sodium, iron, folate, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C, and has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Because of its nutrient density, beets help boost immune function and reduce the risk of colds and flu from developing. The potassium in beets help promote bone health by reducing the amount of calcium lost during urination. This can be beneficial when dealing with bone-related basketball injuries. One of the benefits of basketball players eating beets is their ability to . Beet juice is also known to have positive effects on endurance activity performance. Its high carbohydrate content helps provide the energy necessary for prolonged basketball activity.
Full-Fat, Organic Grass-Fed Milk – Raising healthy cows begins with an organic, grass-fed only approach. These cows graze in pastures throughout the year in lieu of eating a diet full of processed food for most of their lives. The organic, grass-fed production of milk ensures that no growth hormones or antibiotics are used in the process. As a result, antibiotic resistance and “superbugs” are non-existent. Organic, grass-fed milk also produces twice the amount of omega-3 fatty acids than its organic-only and conventional counterparts. This creates a greater anti-inflammatory effect leading to the prevention of several . Conversely, conventionally produced milk contains about seventeen times the omega-6 fatty acid content that we need as humans. This, of course, is pro-inflammatory.
Full-Fat, Organic, Grass-Fed Yogurt – Cows raised in the same manner listed above provide healthier yogurt as well. The bacteria used to ferment the milk into yogurt from these cows has shown to convert some of its fatty acids into conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which is associated with a decrease in several health problems such as high levels of inflammation, poor immune function, the loss of bone mass, blood sugar imbalances, etc. The diversity of bacteria in your gut created by the consumption of yogurt increases the bioavailability of calcium, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
If you struggle with the bland taste of full-fat, organic, grass-fed yogurt, try adding it to the listed in part V of this series or add organic berries to help sweeten it up a bit. If you have an intolerance or allergy to dairy, try goat’s milk. Many people who have problems digesting cow’s dairy find goat dairy easier to digest. It’s a delicious alternative!
– Lactic acid is a bi-product of intense exercise that causes muscles to fatigue. This will often negatively affect performance. indicates that consuming small amounts of MCT oil can help reduce lactic acid accumulation and improve performance. The same study also indicates that supplementing with MCT oil increases fat burning while reducing the use of carbohydrates for fuel. In other words, you begin to use fat as your primary fuel source and save carbohydrate burning for later in the game. Another benefit of MCT oil is it has been called “rocket fuel for your brain” because it fuels energy for your brain.
“The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players, Part V,”mentions several other top foods that did not make this list because of their low-grade on most people’s taste “charts,” discusses the benefits of establishing a dietary plan and strategies that will help you stay on track with your health and basketball performance goals, and concludes with the final five foods/supplements that round out my version of “The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players.”
The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players, Part V
With this final installment, you have now seen all twenty-five foods of “The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players.” Intentionally left off of this list due to their unpopular taste reputations are nutrient-dense heavyweights such as, sauerkraut, fish eggs, oysters, kefir (fermented milk) and grass-fed organ meats. These foods are some of the most nutritional foods on the planet and therefore, great additions to your diet.
No one food on this list, or any other list for that matter, is healthy enough to propel you to great health and performance. It takes consuming most of these foods, and other known healthy foods, regularly to be at your best. The synergistic effects of the nutrients in foods that interact with one another create health benefits that can not be duplicated when the nutrients are separated, i.e. isolated nutrients put in pill or powder form that claim to have extraordinary health and athletic performance benefits.
Always remember that food is fuel. A clean, healthy diet that matches the physical demands of playing basketball at your highest level will provide you with the needed calories and nutrients for optimal performance. Consuming high-quality carbohydrates helps prevent muscle fatigue, speeds recovery, and stabilizes glycogen (stored sugar) in your muscles. As stated earlier, the protein in your diet will help to repair and build new muscle tissue. Healthy fats will also contribute to your energy needs and sustainability.
Focusing on eating a variety of foods on this list (and other healthy foods) is your best plan of action. Having a friend, teammate, parent, or coach hold you accountable to your dietary and planning out your meals in advance are great ways to help you stick with your new eating routine until it becomes your new lifestyle.
Benefits of Basketball Nutrition Meal Planning
- Helps to reduce the stress of last minute decisions about what to eat;
- Acts as a time-saver when time is limited; and
- More nutritious meals because more thought was put into it.
- Identify what you are going to eat in advance;
- Choose a specific day(s) to hit the grocery store and prepare your meals in advance
Collect recipes that include this article’s list of foods and other healthy foods that you can use over time.
By clicking on the Harvard link above you can get a more comprehensive idea of what would work best for you as you begin planning your new diet. The following five foods/supplements conclude this list of the 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players.
Wild-Caught Tuna – Tuna is known to be loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A, iron, and vitamin B6 and B12 making it an important food not to ignore. These nutrients help boost the immune system, strengthen bones, provide energy, reduce inflammation, and aid in growth and development with its high protein content. It is also reported that wild-caught tuna helps reduce depression, lessen ADD and ADHD symptoms, treat asthma, promote sleep, and even relieve pain. Evidently, there is little that wild-caught tuna cannot do. You can purchase it at your local grocery store or .
Protein Powder (With Collagen) – Once you step outside of the real food category and look to supplement your diet, buyer beware! Many supplements on the market today are left unchecked and therefore, contain questionable, if not dangerous, ingredients. When shopping for a protein powder, make sure it is hormone-free, antibiotic-free, non-GMO, gluten-free and contains complete and collagen proteins. In general, plant proteins are less bioavailable than animal proteins. Therefore, look to purchase a protein powder with animal (complete) proteins. There may be others on the market, but one such protein powder is .
Cod Liver Oil (Supplement) – This big-time fish oil supplement comes in and form. One of its primary benefits is its ability to ease joint pain which is a bonus for athletes experiencing sore joints. Other benefits include lowering inflammation and improving eyesight, heart function, and glucose tolerance. Its high content of vitamin A and vitamin D helps provide healthy brain function and bones, respectively. Research has shown that high levels of vitamin A can be dangerous, but this threat is offset when balanced with vitamin D. Both vitamins also give a boost to the immune system. Cod liver oil is also rich in vitamin K2. This vitamin directs calcium to the bones and teeth, where it belongs, and away from the heart and arteries where it can potentially become a threat to your cardiovascular health.
/ Fresh Plantains– Plantains are a close relative to the banana and therefore, share much of the same nutritional qualities. One of the differences, however, is that plantains are starchier and contain less sugar. Similar to bananas, plantains are packed with potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants to protect against free radicals. Their ability to boost the immune system, improve brain function, lower inflammatory markers such as homocysteine levels, and “regulate” you with their fiber content is a strong testament to their healthfulness. Since fresh plantains are typically cooked before eating, frying them in coconut oil makes them a tasty treat.
/ – Although not considered a nutritional powerhouse per se, these grain-free products are a healthy way to satisfy any tortilla or chip “craving” and make it easier to enjoy fajitas, nachos and other foods that may not be so healthy. Another great idea is to use them as wraps with , , , or with and . Their Paleo, non-GMO, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, and vegan ingredients make it possible for almost everyone to enjoy.
This concludes the “The 25 Best Foods for Basketball Players.” It is important to note that you can’t out-train an unhealthy, pro-inflammatory, highly processed diet; basketball training and diet must work in tandem. The only sure way to become your best on the court is training hard, getting the rest your body needs, and eating right. The twenty-five foods on this list are a crucial part of that quest.
Note: The links throughout this article are to recommended products only and in some cases we are paid an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you or motivation for us to choose that product. . Feel free to use whatever foods fit your situation best.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this article is to assist basketball players in choosing foods that will help provide the energy, recovery, and muscle repair needed for optimal performance on the basketball court. It is not intended to prescribe a diet or treat a disease. Consult with your nutritionist, licensed physician or healthcare professional before beginning any diet program for his or her professional advice and your involvement in it.
Rusty Gregory, MS, CSCS is the coauthor of (Wiley Publishing). He received his B.S. (Commercial and Industrial Fitness, Minor in Health Education) in 1989 from Texas Tech University and his M.S. (Kinesiology) in 1991 from the University of Michigan. In 1991, he began his personal training business in Austin, Texas, and became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). In 1995, he opened Forte Personal Fitness, a private personal fitness studio where he trains athletes from a multitude of sports and people of all ages, health backgrounds, and physical limitations.