Pickleball is an increasingly popular sport with unprecedented growth in the past few years. However, like any other sport, there are its dangers and pitfalls, especially for those who are new to the sport as they may encounter numerous issues such as injuries and muscle cramps.
At Picklego, we advocate keeping fit to play the sport rather than playing the sport to keep fit as it prevents injuries and allows players to truly enjoy the game. This article will focus on the nutritional advice for pickleball players in cramp prevention.
Pickleball players, like all athletes, sometimes face the dreaded experience of muscle cramps. If you’ve ever felt that sudden, sharp pain mid-game, you know how crucial prevention is. Here’s a guide to keep those cramps at bay:
1. Stay Hydrated
Dehydration is the main cause of muscle cramps as 70% of our bodies are made up of water. Drink 450 – 600ml of water two hours before playing and maintain hydration during and after.
If you are playing a tournament that usually lasts a few days, this hydration routine should begin 3-5 days prior to the event. Post event, hydration is as important as it aids recovery.
Consume natural electrolyte sources like bananas and coconut water or consider sports drinks but be careful of their sugar content.
2. Proper Nutrition
Getting proper nutrition in the form of carbohydrates, protein and minerals is crucial in preventing cramps during a pickleball game.
Fuel your body with carbohydrates 1-2 hours before playing and focus on simple carbohydrates such as white rice. Avoid fiber rich food as it may cause digestive issues during play.
If you are playing a multi-day tournament, the nutritional regime begins 3-5 days prior to the event to build up much needed carbohydrates in the body. Reduce oily and fried food, avoid unnecessary sugar and salt and consume whole grains before the tournament.
This is the time to load up on fiber to allow your system to cleanse. 1-2 days prior to the tournament, switch to simple carbohydrates and begin to reduce your fiber intake to prevent digestive issues during the tournament.
The feeling you want to achieve is one of slight emptiness before the tournament begins so that you feel light and ready to move on court.
On tournament days, consume simple carbohydrates as your fatigued body won’t be able to process anything that’s too complex. Consider bananas in between matches if you feel peckish and white rice with proteins after matches when preparing for the next day. For vegetarians, a lot of food choices are high in fiber and these can cause a false sense of feeling full. Be sure to eat enough to prepare for the next day.
Protein builds muscles and allows for recovery. Consuming protein regularly ensures that your muscles are well fueled for your pickleball matches. An active individual should consume roughly 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. This means that if you are a 75kg athlete, you should be consuming minimally 60g of protein per day.
Consumption of protein is essential for recovery during tournament days and these come in the form of meats, certain vegetarian choices (such as soy) or in protein shakes. If you find yourself unable to consume natural sources of protein, consider having a protein shake on the night itself to stimulate muscle recovery
Minerals play a crucial role in maintaining our overall health and well-being, and they are an essential component of our nutritional needs.
Calcium, for instance, is vital for strong bones and teeth, and it can be sourced from dairy products like milk and cheese, as well as leafy greens such as spinach and kale. Potassium is another essential mineral, contributing to proper muscle and nerve function, and it can be obtained from foods like bananas, oranges, and sweet potatoes.
Magnesium, found in nuts, seeds, and whole grains, is important for various bodily functions, including muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and bone health.
However, it’s important to remember that moderation is key when it comes to certain substances. Excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption can lead to dehydration and increase the risk of muscle cramps, so it’s advisable to limit their intake for the sake of your overall health.
3. Warm-up and Stretching
This is one of the most overlooked parts that players either avoid or forget to include in their preparation.
Dynamic stretching is extremely important before every match and these include jump rope for 3-5 minutes, arm swings, body weight squats and lunges. You should be starting a game with a slight layer of perspiration.
4. Proper Footwear
Always purchase a half size bigger if possible as our feet expand during exercise. This prevents overheating, blisters and foot cramps. Look for tennis or specially designed Pickleball shoes as they will provide the right amount of support around the ankles and heels.
Remember, the shoes you wear are taking the full impact when you run and jump around the court. Lastly, make sure your shoes are non-marking.
5. Pace Yourself
Learn to take necessary breaks if conditions are extremely hot and learn to recognise the signs of fatigue and cramps. This is especially important if you are playing a tournament as it is always better to prevent the onset of cramps rather than to treat them and to continue playing as it may lead to muscle damage.
6. Post-game Recovery
Start with a cool-down phase, engaging in 5-10 minutes of light walking and static stretching to help your muscles gradually return to their resting state.
Rehydration and refueling are paramount in this process, as they aid in the restoration of lost fluids and nutrients, with a particular emphasis on electrolytes to maintain proper muscle and nerve function.
Additionally, consider showing your muscles some love by exploring gentle massage techniques or foam rolling to promote relaxation and alleviate any post-game tension.
7. Other Tips
Avoid tight, restrictive gear as it can contribute to cramping and discomfort during physical activity.
When competing in new weather conditions, it’s crucial to acclimatize gradually to allow your body to adjust to the changes. If you’re traveling to a location with a significant time difference, arrive a few days early to give your body time to adapt to the new time zone, which can help mitigate the effects of jet lag.
Finally, be aware that some medications can have side effects that may cause cramps, so it’s advisable to consult with a medical professional if you’re uncertain about any medications you’re taking and their potential impact on your physical performance.
8. When Cramps Strike
When cramps strike, do not panic. Instead, take deep breaths to allow your body to relax itself. Gently stretch the affected area and do not use any spray medication as it may add to the already increasing pain to the area.
Immediately load up on electrolytes such as magnesium and potassium (bananas are recommended) or drink an electrolyte solution.
Enjoy Cramp-Free Pickleball Games
To fully enjoy the thrill of pickleball, it’s essential to prioritize your body’s needs. By staying hydrated, fueling right, warming up, wearing the correct gear, pacing yourself, and focusing on post-game recovery, you’re setting yourself up for a cramp-free game.
Remember, always listen to your body and respond to its signals promptly.