Recovery Nutrition For Basketball

I love basketball, and this time of year, basketball season is in full effect. It goes without saying, the intensity and duration of playing basketball place a lot of stress on a body. For this reason, proper recovery is important to rebuild and refuel your body. If you’re a basketball player or the parent of a basketball player, you may find this athlete’s scenario familiar.  

Athlete Scenario:

“The day after a hard basketball practice, my legs feel heavy and I feel sluggish.  Sometimes I’m sore even if I didn’t do any resistance training the day before. My performance at practice suffers because I’m unable to put forth 100%. I usually drink water and sometimes a sports drink during practice and games, but afterward I don’t usually feel like eating much. What can I do to have more energy at practice and feel better about my performance?”

What’s Happening to this Athlete?

Recovery not only includes rest, but also choosing the right foods. This athlete seems to be neglecting this important piece. Two main nutrition goals for recovery include replenishing glycogen stores (aka: carbohydrates) and promoting muscle repair via protein.  Another neglected component is not eating soon enough after finishing practice or a game and therefore missing the “recovery window.”

Recovery nutrition is especially critical when you have two training sessions per day, your next training session is within 8 hours, or you’re playing in a tournament all day or have a weekend tournament.

What to Eat?

Refuel: Carbohydrate is the preferred fuel for the muscles both during and after practice or a game.

Repair: Don’t forget the protein! It aids in repairing damaged muscle tissue and stimulates development of new tissue. Protein also might enhance glycogen replacement in the initial hours after hard exercise. Aim for approximately 10-20 grams.

Rehydrate: Replace fluid and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) lost in sweat. I’ve never seen a basketball player who isn’t sweating—A LOT! Failure to replace even a small amount of sweat loss will weaken both your mental and physical capacity. Weigh yourself before and after exercise and replenish what was lost. Drink 16 oz. per 1 pound weight loss during exercise.

When to Eat?

Honor your “Recovery Window.” Eat a snack or meal within the first 15 minutes to two hours after finishing a workout, practice, or game. During this time the enzymes responsible for making glycogen are most active and will most rapidly replace the depleted glycogen stores in your muscles. Drinks such as chocolate milk and recovery smoothies are a good way to refuel.

How Much to Eat?

A basketball player’s target intake is about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight.

For example: 150 lb x 0.5 g carbs = 75 g carb = 300 calories carb

Your body will naturally want this amount, if not more.

Never Skip Breakfast

I can’t stress enough the importance of eating breakfast every day to get a jumpstart on the day. I also understand it can be heard for players to pull themselves out of bed following a tough practice or big game the night before. There are many quick, healthy options available for those days you’re running late, so figure out your go-to breakfast and keep it handy.

Snacks are Important

In an effort to maintain energy levels and achieve body composition goals, basketball players should aim to eat every few hours, spreading meals and snacks consistently over the course of the day. It’s very important for athletes to eat at appropriate times, so always carry snacks with you. Have them handy in your locker, backpack, or car. Some healthy, portable, and calorie-dense options include nuts, trail mix, apples with peanut butter, peanut butter and jelly sandwich, nutrition bars.

Players that need to gain weight need the consistency of meals and snacks—3 meals and 2-3 snacks/day.

Game Day Strategy

Settle on a game day strategy early in the season and stick with it. Sticking to a schedule also helps players develop a routine, making it easier to incorporate healthy habits into a player’s daily life. To stick to a schedule like this, athlete’s have to be disciplined and willing to plan ahead. It can seem a daunting prospect, so it takes practice.

Remember, no “NEW”-trition on game day. Any failed experiments could adversely affect a player’s performance.

Bottom Line: Even with a busy schedule, it’s still possible for players to reap the rewards of a balanced fueling strategy. Proper recovery nutrition can help athletes stay healthy and strong throughout the season.

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RD

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods



1. Nutrition Fact Sheet: Eating for Recovery. Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition. Issue 1. April 2009.

2. McKinley Health Center University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nutrition for Optimal Exercise Recovery. 2008.

3. Nancy Clark, MS, RD. Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 3rd edition. Human Kinetics 2003. 

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