Record numbers of people are playing netball in the UK, the super league is thriving and the English team’s win at April’s Commonwealth Games brought unpresidented media coverage. Around 1.4million women and girls currently play regularly and high five, Nets and mixed netball are all gaining popularity, introducing men to the game.
If you have not played before, or are interested in the rules, a short video about how 7-a-side netball is played can be found on the England netball site http://www.englandnetball.co.uk/my-game/traditional-netball. Netball games are played in four 10-15minute quarters with a short break between each quarter. Teams can be of up to 12 players, with 7 playing at any one time. The play is high intensity, stopping, starting and changing direction frequently and using both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Tournaments are generally run over whole days, often with back to back games.
Netball studies have shown that dehydration can negatively impact performance, specifically shooting performance, agility, coordination and concentration.
In order to stay hydrated it is important to concentrate on fluid intake before, during and after training or matches. Starting exercise fully hydrated is a big advantage but you don’t want to drink too much in the hour before a game. Drinking 5-7ml/kg body weight four hours before the start will ensure euhydration and it is recommended that drinks are sipped rather than gulped to promote better absorption.
Everybody has slightly different fluid needs and amounts will vary depending on the position of play, venue, temperature and humidity. The most reliable way of assessing fluid needs is to weigh yourself before and after a real or training match in similar conditions. Ideally this should be done without clothes as lost fluid can be trapped within the fabric. The amount of weight lost can be used to assess fluid losses with each kg = 1 litre of drink. This amount can be replaced during the match divided between the quarters and should definitely be replaced after the match. It is a good idea to mark a bottle showing the amounts so you have an idea how much you have drunk. It is recommended that any remaining fluid deficit after a match is replaced with 150% of volume to guarantee a return to full hydration. It is important to rehydrate and to sip water rather than to drink a lot in one go.
Using a sports drink may be unnecessary if you are playing a single match. Studies have conclusively shown that they do not have notable performance benefits in matches of less than 1hr. BUT there is good evidence that having a small amount of carbohydrate and/or electrolytes can improve drinking as well as absorption of fluids. Children have been found to underdrink during matches and flavouring water improves the amount drunk, which can be a big advantage. You need to be very careful with sugary drinks though and I usually recommend two bottles, one with water and one with diluted juice or electrolytes. A sugary drink drunk before the start or in the first half can cause an energy slump later in the game.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
For a single netball match (less than 90 minutes long), the latest advice is that there there is no need to do anything special or to carbo-load but it maybe better to choose carbohydrate-rich sources that are low in fiber and easily digested if the match is early in the day. Before a tournament, the current recommendation is to increase carbohydrate intake for the two days before the competition up to at least 10g/kg of the athletes body weight a day.
THE MORNING OF a game a low-fat, high carbohydrate breakfast is a good start. Ideally this should be eaten 2-4hrs before the start of the match. Good examples of pre-match meals are breakfast cereal with low fat milk, tinned spaghetti on toast, no-fat pancakes with fruit or porridge/weetabix, low-fat milk and banana.
DURING a match or tournament it is really important to refuel if playing at high intensity for over 60 minutes. Carbohydrate provides the main fuel source for the muscles during intermittent team sports and muscles can only store small amounts. As netball games are played in quarters it is possible to rehydrate and refuel in the gaps, although this may not be necessary. In a single match orange quarters or water melon triangles are excellent choices.
During a tournament, refuelling will be needed and may be the key to continued high intensity performance and skill level as well as good tactical decision making. A range of everyday dietary choices and specialised sports products are possible. In my experience the most important thing is that the players want to eat them. I have also found that very sweet or claggy foods are not appealing when you are tired and hot and many athletes prefer savoury snacks. Each individual should practice to find refuelling foods that they like, that suit their fuel and hydration needs and don’t cause gut discomfort. Taking a small amount of a wide variety of choices can work well. High carbohydrate, high glycemic index foods are good for providing quick release energy and latest advice is to have 30-60g of carbohydrate/hour of exercise. Dried mango, fruit and berries, jam or marmite sandwiches, fig rolls, carrot sticks, rice or cold boiled potatoes are good options. Pistachios are low fat for a nut and contain anthocyanins and pop corn if homemade and low fat can also be a good choice.
AFTER a match there is often a rush to get home but this is the time in which it is most important to get your nutrition right. Match teas when provided are often high fat and this is really not good. Fat slows the movement of food from the stomach into the intestine where it is absorbed by up to 3-4hrs and the best window for muscle repair and refuelling is in the first 2hours.
During recovery there are three important aspects, refuelling muscle glycogen (carbohydrate energy stores), repairing muscle damage and rehydration (replacing lost fluid). To cover all of these needs recovery meals or snacks should contain carbohydrate, some protein (for muscle repair and development) and plenty of fluids. The easiest way to cover all of these areas is to have a milk based drink or smoothie. Low fat chocolate milk has been shown to be an excellent choice in a number of studies, containing the perfect mix of carbohydrate and protein. Seed/nut cereal bars are also good snack choices. Having a of vegetables as part of post match meals is good and will also help lessen muscle soreness. Aim for at least ⅓ of the plate, along with a good protein source and carbohydrate.
Teenage female athletes are at the high risk of having low iron stores and all teenaged girls in the U.K. have lower than optimal iron intakes. Iron is an important part of blood haemoglobin (the oxygen carrying molecules) and even a small shortfall in iron status, without clinical symptoms has been shown to reduce maximum oxygen uptake, aerobic efficiency, endurance capacity and cognitive function leading to compromised training adaptation and athletic performance. In netball impact against other players or the impact of the feet on the floor may increase iron losses through increased red blood cell destruction. Good Iron sources are meat, beans, nuts, dried fruit and fortified breakfast cereals. Absorption can be improved by eating with a rich source of vitamin C; fruit, fruit juices or vegetables.
All the recent research on netball players have shown that most players are in slight negative energy balance during the playing season. This should be avoided if at all possible as it will cause energy slumps, prevent training adaptation and increase injury risk. It is important to have an idea of the amount of energy you are expending in matches and training so that this can be matched.
All nutrition advice should be personalised. If you are interested in further information please contact me using the contact form and I would be delighted to help. If you are interested in nutrient timing for a specific netball match or tournament I have information cards available.