If the duration of the activity for an individual athlete is fairly continuous for 1 hour or longer, a sports drink is the better replacement fluid. However, if the activity lasts less than 1 hour, water is the best option. In either case, an athlete should have about 6-8 ounces of fluid replacement every 30 minutes during strenuous, continuous activity.
It's true that high fat foods are not the best choice 2-3 hours before a competitive event. However, some athletes have "lucky" foods. These are foods that the athlete believes bring him or her luck before an athletic event. These foods carry with them a lot of psychological power. If you notice that the athlete does indeed perform better after consuming such a "lucky" food, then it's probably best to allow this practice to continue. A little education about what are high performance foods in general to consume together with the "lucky" food couldn't hurt.
Unless a particular athlete has an allergy to milk or is lactose intolerant, there is no reason to avoid 1% or skim milk. These are an excellent source of both carbohydrate and protein with very little or no fat. Having 8 ounces of skim or 1% milk or yogurt up to 2 hours before a competitive event can even help boost blood sugar (forms of carohydrate) for the early minutes of the competition. The protein will kick in with additional fuel a little later.
So far so good, but don't forget the pre-game snack about 2 hours before (around 5:00 p.m.). The snack should be about 250-350 calories, mostly carbohydrates, a little protein, and very little fat. A Power Bar, Boost, a bagel and jam, or cereal and skim milk are each good choices.
Depending on what time breakfast is, the athlete may also want to include a mid-morning snack. Too many athletes rely solely on the one pre-game meal to get them through competition. Optimally, the best fueled athlete is the one who has eaten small meals and snacks every few hours up to 1-1/2 to 2 hours before an event, with decreasing amounts of protein and fat the closer it gets to competition.
DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone precursor, was shown in one study to reduce body fat in rats. DHEA may inhibit growth of cancer cells in certain tissues. Other studies have indicated that supplementing with DHEA probably does not reduce body fat in humans. Side effects include menstrual irregularities and masculinization in females, as well as liver cancer in both males and females. Both the NCAA and the USOC have listed it as a banned substance. In addition, FDA is considering a ban on DHEA's over-the-counter sales.
Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian student-athletes need to pay attention to their diets. Percentage-wise, carbohydrates should make up the bulk of the calorie intake. (See UMASS SPORTS NUTRITION NEWSLETTER, Vol. 1 # 1 if you are still confused by the recent popularity of lower carbohydrate diets for athletes). Low protein intakes are most common in student-athletes (vegetarian or not) who don't consume enough calories because they are overly conscious about their body weight. Others at risk for low protein intakes are those student-athletes who focus all of their attention on eating "carbs", severely restrict their fat intake and, as a result, unknowingly limit their protein intake. An athlete does need slightly more protein (0.5-0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight) than the non-athlete (0.4 grams of protein per pound of body weight). This additional protein is obtained readily when an athlete consumes adequate calories to meet the energy demands of his or her sport, chooses high quality foods to supply those calories, and follows a well-balanced diet. Many of the foods (breads, pasta, cereals, etc.) that contribute to meeting that high percentage of carbohydrates also contribute to the day's protein pool.
Ginseng is an herbal product that may act as a stimulant. In most well-designed and controlled experiments, researchers have not found a significant effect on performance for those taking ginseng versus placebo. Ginseng is very expensive, and the truth may be that most commercial preparations may contain little or no ginseng. The most common side effect of taking ginseng is insomnia, although some people have experienced diarrhea and skin eruptions. Generally speaking, ginseng may be safe but ineffective and expensive.
Getting a jump start on that 6:00 am practice means starting the night before. About two hours before bed, a hydration "load" of between 20 and 30 ounces of water will retard the effects of overnight dehydration. Drinking this load at least 2 hours before bed will still allow time for the kidneys to process the fluid and avoid middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom. In addition, the athlete can eat a performance snack consisting of low glycemic index carbohydrate and protein foods such as a few graham crackers with peanut butter, or 1/2 turkey sandwich, or a package of Carnation Instant Breakfast with skim milk, etc. (see Glycemic Index, Sports Nutrition Newsletter Volume 2, #2 WINTER).
Sipping a non-carbonated sports drink from wake-up to practice will help raise blood sugar when there is little time for adequate digestion. Having sports drinks available during practices that last longer than one hour will also help. After practice, the student-athlete should consume high glycemic index carbohydrates as well as protein foods to help prevent sleepiness in class. Student-athletes who don't have time for breakfast can meet with the Sports Nutritionist for ideas on how to "eat on the run".