By Brandi Givens, RD
This week I celebrated summer solstice with a day of play at the Winney Family Ranch in Ravensdale, WA. It was a pickleball player’s dream, complete with the most beautiful venue, sunshine, friendship, food, and great play well into the evening.
While I was enjoying the atmosphere, I considered this blog post and took the opportunity to ask several friends about their favorite go-to pickleball snacks for long days of play. The answers I got were eclectic, ranging from fruit to electrolyte powders, and a surprising amount of candy.
With all the snack choices on the market, it’s hard to know what the best choices are. Keep in mind that it’s important to test any new snack or drink well before an important tournament day, to make sure it doesn’t cause digestive problems for you. Here are some ideas from a dietitian’s perspective.
Water is the most critical thing humans need to survive, second only to air. When we get even a little dehydrated, it can affect thinking and physical performance, which are both important for winning a pickleball match. Dehydration can cause muscle cramps, dizziness, headaches, and fatigue.
When planning your snacks for a long day of play, you might consider packing a cooler with juicy fruits and vegetables that will contribute to hydration. Some ideas include:
- Fruit like grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, berries, oranges, mandarins, apples, pears, kiwi, peaches.
- Vegetables like cucumbers, sweet peppers, and leafy greens like spinach and romaine lettuce.
Of course, you can’t come close to meeting your fluid needs with food alone, so be sure to drink plenty of water. Staying ahead of dehydration can help you feel and play your best.
Electrolytes are always a popular topic at any sporting event since these important minerals can be lost when we sweat. Unbalanced electrolytes can contribute to cramping, a sign that your body is in danger. Sodium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and calcium are needed for important basic body functions like:
- blood pressure maintenance
- muscle contractions (including the heartbeat)
- water balance in the cells
- brain function
- feeding the cells
- removing waste from cells
When we think of electrolytes, the first thing that comes to mind is often sports drinks. These drinks are a convenient way to hydrate, replenish minerals, and sometimes carbohydrates.
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When we snack smart, we can also stay on top of electrolyte losses with good food choices like:
- Sodium and chloride: Salty foods like salted nuts and seeds
- Potassium: bananas, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, potatoes with skin, chia seeds
- Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews, spinach, quinoa, chia seeds, peanuts
- Calcium: Dairy foods, tofu, pumpkin seeds, spinach, almonds, chia seeds
A Little Pro, A Little Carb
Most athletes find that it’s best to stay away from full, heavy meals during tournament play. But when you’ve been out there for hours, it’s important to keep energy on board. Light snacks that offer both carbohydrates and protein can provide the energy your body and brain need for peak performance, and can help maintain muscle mass.
Consider combination foods like:
- Nut and granola bars
- Fruit slices with nut butter packets and peanut butter
- Trail mixes with fruit and nuts
- Small turkey, chicken, nut butter, or egg sandwiches
- Cottage cheese and pineapple
- Cheese and crackers
- Hummus and carrots
- Plain Greek yogurt and fruit
- Roasted chickpeas
High Carb for Quick Energy
Sometimes athletes are so intensely focused on their game strategy that they forget to eat. This should be avoided, because the lack of energy will eventually impair performance, causing a feeling of weakness or even shakiness.
It’s a good idea to keep some fast energy sources handy in case this happens to you. Then, as soon as possible, eat a hardier snack with both protein and carbohydrates like the ones suggested in the section above.
Quick carbohydrate ideas:
- Fruit juice like orange or apple juice
- A piece of hard candy or other candy
- Dried fruit like raisins or cherries
It’s important to discuss low blood sugar symptoms with your doctor in case you may be developing an underlying health problem.
Do you have some great snack ideas? Please let me and other readers know about them in the comments below!
Oria, Maria, Meghan Harrison, and Virginia A. Stallings. 2019. Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Elements, Food and Nutrition Board, National Academies. National Academies Press (US).
Belval, Luke N., Yuri Hosokawa, Douglas J. Casa, William M. Adams, Lawrence E. Armstrong, Lindsay B. Baker, Louise Burke, et al. 2019. “Practical Hydration Solutions for Sports.” Nutrients 11 (7). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11071550.
Clark, and Nancy. 2020. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.
Karpinski, Christine, Rosenbloom, Christine, and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017. Sports Nutrition : A Handbook for Professionals.