During a recent visit to Pennsylvania, my home state, I told a friend that I was living in Santa Monica. Her response was, “Wow! That’s like the Mecca of beach volleyball.” She lives for volleyball.

I don’t know if Santa Monica actually is the Mecca of beach volleyball, but there certainly are a lot of volleyball nets set up on the beaches. I often glance at the heated games as I jog by on the path. Being only 5-foot, 4-inches tall, I’ve never felt that volleyball was my game.

Recently, a friend who coaches college volleyball asked me to write a nutrition article pertaining to eating for performance while on the road. I figured since I live in the Mecca of volleyball, I might as well share this information with those of you who are tall, or athletically adept enough to play.

No matter what sport you choose, optimal nutrition each and every day can make all the difference in your performance. Volleyball is an especially demanding sport that requires both explosive energy and endurance. For quick bursts of energy like jumping and spiking, anaerobic metabolism kicks in and is fueled by stored carbohydrates, aka muscle glycogen. When playing multiple sets, endurance is needed, optimal blood sugar and a combination of circulating fats and amino acids from protein will help to ensure you’re in for the long haul. Proper hydration is also an essential part of the equation.

To ensure all of your energy needs will be met while you’re out playing for the day, eat a good meal two to three hours before you plan to play. Your meal should be high in carbohydrates from sources such as whole grains or starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, along with lean protein such as an egg white vegetable omelet or a protein shake combined with a little healthy olive or flax oil.

When you head out, be sure to pack as many portable energy and hydration sources as you can fit in your cooler or bag. Packable fuel might include energy bars with 10 to 15 grams of protein and limited added sugars. Sandwiches made with whole grain breads, lean organic meats, fresh vegetables and mustard make great pre-workout meals. Skip the mayo and other high fat options to ensure your meal is digested in two to three hours, prior to play time. When you have an hour or less and need some fast fuel, opt for fresh or dried fruit and a small handful of nuts or trail mix. Energy bars and lots of water work well too.

Hydration is key any time of the day but especially for active days in the sun. Drink at least 16 ounces of fluid before and after an event and 4 to 6 ounces for every 15 minutes of activity. Sports drinks work well to rehydrate and refuel when you don’t have time to sit and eat yet still need to replenish blood sugar for continuous play. But commercial sports drinks can be filled with artificial colors and flavorings that no one needs.

Make your own sports drink by combining 4 ounces of water with 4 ounces of juice such as grape, cranberry, pomegranate or similar flavor juices plus 1/8 teaspoon sea salt. Mix enough to last for the time you will be playing. If you plan to play for two hours, you might want to mix up to 48 ounces, multiply the recipe by six.

For more math, make the Beach Volleyball Bar recipe and divide into eight equal portions. Then pack up a few servings and enjoy your tasty fuel-on-the-go. It’s so worth the math and the effort for less than half the cost of any comparable store bought bar. And that’s using only the best organic ingredients purchased at the Santa Monica Co-op. Now get out there and play, and don’t forget your home-made sports drink and bars!

Beach volleyball bar

1 cup raisins or dates (10 each)

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup natural peanut butter, smooth or crunchy

1/4 cup roasted peanuts

2 Tbsp ground flax seeds

1cup vanilla whey protein powder (100g protein)

1/8 tsp sea salt

1/2 cup Kashi 7 Whole Grain Nuggets Cereal

1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries

Place raisins or dates and water in food processor and process. Add peanut butter and process until smooth. Add protein powder and salt and process to combine thoroughly. Add more water as needed. Add the dried cherries or cranberries and the cereal and pulse just enough to combine. Place a 2-foot long piece of wax paper in an 8×8-inch dish with half of the wax paper hanging over the edge. Pour mixture into dish. Use the wax paper to press the mixture evenly in the pan. For best results, place in freezer for one hour to help firm. Cut into eight equal pieces. Wrap individually and refrigerate or freeze. Per serving: 230 calories, 6g fat, 29g carbs, 4g fiber, 15g protein.

Elizabeth Brown is a registered dietitian and certified holistic chef specializing in weight management, sports nutrition, disease prevention and optimal health through whole foods. She can be reached at eat2liv@earthlink.net.

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