Volleyball Nutrition Tips to Fuel Performance

Volleyball Nutrition: 7 Tips to Fuel Performance

Volleyball Nutrition: 7 Tips to Fuel Performance

It is important for volleyball players to have a nutrition plan in place to support their training and competition needs.

Here are 7 volleyball nutrition tips to ensure athletes are fueled to perform at their best.

#1 Fuel Your Volleyball Performance with Carbohydrates

Similar to gas for a car, carbohydrates provide volleyball players with the energy needed for activity. Thus, carbohydrates should be at the foundation of a volleyball player’s meal plan.

In addition, volleyball players should consume carbohydrates before, during, and after activity to provide them with energy for optimal performance on the court.

Adding Carbohydrates to a Volleyball Player’s Diet

There are a variety of ways that volleyball players can add carbohydrates to their meal plans, including:

  • Grains: Bread, pasta, rice, quinoa, oatmeal, breakfast cereal
  • Fruit: Fresh, frozen, dried
  • Starchy vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, winter squash, peas, beans, and legumes
  • Milk and yogurt
Carbohydrate Energy for Volleyball Players

Building a Volleyball Performance Plate with Carbohydrates

The carbohydrate needs of volleyball players vary based upon the intensity and duration of the activity they will be participating in (1).

When building a performance plate, athletes can adjust the amount of carbohydrates they fill their plates with to meet their energy needs (2).

For example, when volleyball players will be engaged in high-intensity or longer-duration practices or competitions, they need to fuel their bodies with additional carbohydrates for energy.

On these days, volleyball players should fill half of their plates with carbohydrates to support their high levels of activity.

On lighter training days or off-days, volleyball players will have reduced energy needs. Thus, they can reduce the amount of carbohydrates on their plates.

#2 Volleyball Nutrition Tip: Spread Protein Throughout the Day

Protein is also important in a meal plan for volleyball players. It has many important roles in the body, including supporting athletes with building and maintaining lean muscle mass.  

To get the most benefit from protein intake, athletes are encouraged to consume protein throughout the day with meals and snacks (3). 

In regard to the amount of protein, volleyball players should aim to eat ~0.25-0.3 grams of protein per kg of body weight with meals and snacks spaced evenly throughout the day (1, 3).

For most volleyball players this calculates to be approximately 25-30 grams of protein at each eating occasion.

Adding Protein to a Volleyball Player’s Diet

Lean sources of protein that volleyball players can add to their meal plans include:

  • Low-fat milk, high-protein milk, Greek yogurt
  • Sliced cheese, cheese sticks, cottage cheese
  • Chicken, turkey, seafood, pork, lean cuts of red meat, eggs
  • Lean deli meat: turkey, chicken, ham, roast beef
  • Beef or turkey jerky
  • Beans, legumes
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Quinoa
  • Soy milk, tofu, edamame

Volleyball players following a vegetarian or vegan diet should aim to meet their protein needs through a variety of plant-based sources. My blog on high-protein vegan snacks provides ideas for adding plant-based sources of protein to an athlete’s meal plan.

#3 Start the Day with a Healthy Breakfast

It is important for volleyball players to start the day with a healthy breakfast. Eating a high-carb breakfast can help athletes with refilling the carbohydrate (glycogen) stores in their muscles (4).

In addition, a well-balanced breakfast can help provide volleyball players with the energy needed for the day’s activities.

Unfortunately, too often I find that athletes skip breakfast in the rush to get out the door in the morning. Thus, equipping volleyball players with quick breakfast ideas can be of help.

Here are a variety of healthy breakfast on-the-go ideas that volleyball players can enjoy.

  • Protein overnight oats
  • Whole grain bagel with nut butter, banana, low-fat milk
  • Greek yogurt parfait made with mixed berries and granola
  • Cottage cheese with pineapple, breakfast bars
  • Instant oatmeal with walnuts and raisins, high-protein milk
  • Hard-boiled eggs, grapes, fig bars
  • Fruit smoothie
  • Kodiak Cakes® toaster waffles topped with almond butter, apple slices, low fat milk

Breakfast Before Morning Volleyball Practice

When volleyball players have morning practice, I encourage them to hydrate and to eat a quick high-carb snack as they head to the gym.

Ideas include:

  • Banana or small piece of fruit
  • Fig bar, low-fat granola bar, breakfast bar
  • Mini bagel, dry breakfast cereal
  • Instant oatmeal, toaster waffle, low-fat muffin
  • Graham crackers, animal crackers
  • Applesauce squeeze, dried fruit

Following morning practice, volleyball players should make it a priority to eat breakfast or a well-balanced snack before heading to class.

What to Eat Before Morning Volleyball Practice

#4 Volleyball Pre-Game Nutrition Strategies

Going into games optimally fueled is a key sports nutrition strategy that I focus on with volleyball players.

When possible, I encourage volleyball players to eat a well-planned pre-game meal  3-4 hours prior to the start of the competition. This allows time for digestion and for the athlete to go to the bathroom, if needed, before the start of the game

For example, if the team has a morning volleyball game starting at 11:00 am, volleyball players should aim to eat their pre-game meal between 7:00 – 8:00 am. Rather, if it is a 7:00 pm evening match, the athletes should schedule their pre-game meal between 3:00 – 4:00 pm.

The pre-game meal should include foods that provide a good source of carbohydrates as well as a moderate amount of lean protein.

Example pre-game meals volleyball players may enjoy include:

  • Pancakes, scrambled eggs, fresh sliced fruit
  • Bagel breakfast sandwich with egg and ham, banana
  • Fruit smoothie, English muffin with nut butter and honey
  • Turkey sub sandwich, pretzels, grapes
  • Grilled chicken sandwich, pita chips, apple slices
  • Pasta with marinara, sliced chicken, vegetables, breadsticks
  • Grilled salmon, steamed rice, green beans, dinner rolls

Pre-Game Snacks for Volleyball Players

As the start time of the game gets closer, volleyball players should focus on eating carbohydrate-rich snacks which will provide a source of quick energy on the court.

Ideas for high-carb, pre-game snacks include:

  • Fresh fruit, dried fruit
  • Applesauce squeeze
  • Pretzels, pita chips
  • Animal crackers, graham crackers
  • Fig bar, low-fat granola bar, mini bagel
  • Sports drinks, chews, gels

#5 Plan Ahead for Volleyball Tournaments

It is important for volleyball players to plan ahead for how they will meet their nutrition needs at tournaments.

I frequently remind volleyball players that they should not count on the concession stands to have items available that will support their sports nutrition needs.

Athletes should make sure to pack snacks for the volleyball tournament that will keep them fueled throughout the day.

Plan ahead to have food available for volleyball tournaments.

Volleyball Tournament Food Ideas

When volleyball players have limited time between games, they should prioritize rehydrating with fluids and electrolytes. In addition, they should use the break to refuel with a carbohydrate-rich snack.

Easy, high-carb snack ideas include:

  • Fresh fruit: Bananas, oranges, apple slices, grapes
  • Applesauce squeeze pouches
  • Dried fruit, fruit cups (in natural juices)
  • Pretzels, pita chips, snack crackers
  • Granola bars, breakfast bars, fig bars
  • Mini bagels, graham crackers, animal crackers, dry cereal
  • Sports drinks, gels, or chews

Eating a carbohydrate-rich snack between games can help provide volleyball players with the energy needed to perform at their best during the next game.

Volleyball Tournament Food: Mini-Meals

When volleyball players have several hours between games, they can enjoy a larger snack or “mini-meal.”

Volleyball players can turn snacks into “mini-meals” by combining a carbohydrate-rich food item with a source of lean protein.

Easy “mini-meal” snack ideas for volleyball tournaments include:

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • Turkey and cheese wrap
  • Jerky, granola bars, orange wedges
  • String cheese, pretzels, apple slices
  • Breakfast bars with nut butter, banana
  • Hummus with pita chips, grapes
  • Trail mix made with pretzels, whole grain cereal, dried fruits, and nuts

Along with the snack, athletes want to ensure they are hydrating as well.

#6 Recovery Nutrition for Volleyball Players

Following a practice or game, volleyball players should focus on meeting their recovery nutrition needs.

Recovery nutrition is particularly important for volleyball players when they have limited time (< 24 hours) between practices or games.

Since volleyball players frequently compete in multi-day tournaments, having a plan for recovery nutrition is important.

The three areas of recovery nutrition that volleyball players should focus on include:

  • Rehydrate: Consume fluid and electrolytes to replace sweat losses
  • Refuel: Consume carbohydrates to refill energy stores
  • Repair: Consume protein to build and repair muscles
Recovery Nutrition for Volleyball Players

Recovery Nutrition Snacks for Volleyball Players

It can be helpful for volleyball players to have ideas for snacks they can enjoy after activity that will support their recovery nutrition needs.

Easy post-game snack ideas for volleyball players include:

  • Low-fat chocolate milk and granola bars
  • Turkey and cheese wrap with tart cherry juice
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with low-fat milk
  • Beef jerky, pretzels, banana, sports drink
  • String cheese, sliced deli meat, crackers, grapes, 100% fruit juice
  • Sports bar with sports drink
  • Post-workout smoothie

Post-Game Meals for Volleyball Players

Volleyball players should follow-up their recovery snack with a well-balanced post-game meal within the next couple of hours.

Example post-game meals for volleyball players include:

  • Sub sandwich with turkey, ham, or roast beef, pretzels, apple slices, sports drink
  • Burrito bowl with grilled chicken or beef fajita, brown rice, black beans, guacamole, fajita veggies, and salsa, water
  • Grilled chicken breast, brown rice, steamed broccoli, fresh sliced fruit, 100% fruit juice
  • Pasta with marinara sauce and grilled chicken or shrimp, salad, breadsticks, water
  • Grilled salmon, sweet potato, green beans, dinner rolls, tart cherry juice

If you are in charge of planning the meals for a volleyball team, make sure to check out my blog on easy team dinner ideas for sports teams.

#7 Avoid Underfueling

It is important for volleyball players to consume adequate calories to support both their health and training needs.

Volleyball players often expend a high number of calories each day through practices and competitions, strength training and conditioning, as well as normal daily activities.

In addition, teen volleyball players commonly participate in both high school and club sports. This results in athletes participating in multiple practices and competitions throughout the week.

When daily caloric expenditure from these activities exceeds intake of calories from foods and beverages an imbalance occurs. We refer to this imbalance of calories as Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport or REDs (5).

REDs is associated with a syndrome of health concerns that can have negative impacts throughout the body. In addition, the caloric imbalance can also negatively impact sports performance (5).

For these reasons, it is a top priority for volleyball players to avoid underfueling and to ensure adequate daily caloric intake through meals and snacks.

Avoid Underfueling for Volleyball

Signs and Symptoms of Underfueling in Volleyball Players

It is essential for volleyball players to be educated on the importance of consuming adequate calories to promote health as well as optimal sports performance.

In addition, they should be aware of signs and symptoms that they may be underfueling, including (5, 6):

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Overuse injuries and stress fractures
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Constipation, cramps, bloating
  • Disruption of the menstrual cycle
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Decreased body temperature
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability, mood swings, depression
  • Decreased strength and endurance
  • Decreased response to training

I encourage volleyball players struggling to consume adequate calories to support their daily needs to meet with a sports dietitian nutritionist.

The sports dietitian can help the volleyball player identify ways to meet their calorie and nutrient needs to support health and performance.

Disordered Eating

It is important to note that in some situations, disordered eating behaviors may be contributing to the calorie imbalance. 

Disordered eating behaviors exist on a continuum ranging from occasional unhealthy eating and exercise behaviors to clinically diagnosed eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia (7).

If you suspect a volleyball player is displaying disordered eating behaviors, it is important to seek help for the athlete.

Early identification and treatment of disordered eating behaviors is key for promoting better health outcomes for the athlete (7).

Volleyball Nutrition: 7 Tips to Fuel Performance

You are now set with 7 nutrition tips for volleyball players to support health and sports performance.

For additional sports nutrition tips for volleyball players, check out my blog on easy grab-and-go lunch ideas for athletes.

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About the Author

Mandy Tyler is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine.  Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. 

Sports Nutrition Game Day Guide EBook for Athletes

If you are looking to take your performance to the next level, make sure to check out my new Sports Nutrition Game Day Guide. This downloadable guide is written to help athletes develop an individualized plan to achieve peak performance on game day.

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