This guide is meant to assist water polo players and parents in starting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, while maximizing performance. In this guide we will cover energy sources, nutrition, hydration, and recipes. 

Stay Hydrated

It's important that athletes are properly hydrated to achieve optimal performance and reduce recovery time. Water polo players often fail to recognize the signs and symptoms of dehydration because they are in the pool. Stay hydrated by keeping a water bottle on the side of the pool and taking frequent sips. It's also important to drink plenty of fluids before and after a practice or game. 

Some dehydration signs and symptoms to look for: 
  • Lack of concentration
  • Early fatigue
  • Trouble tolerating heat
  • Delayed recovery
  • Muscle cramps
  • Color of urine.



How much water should an athlete drink? 

Morning: Start your day by drinking an 8 oz. glass of water.

2 Hours Before Practice or Game: Drink at least 16 oz. of water. Drinking water two to three hours before exercise allows enough time for fluid to pass before exercise begins.

30 Minutes Before Practice or Game: Drink 5 - 10 oz. of water. There is no benefit to chugging fluid in an attempt to stay hydrated. Although everyone is different, the body can only absorb fluid so fast, and you do not want to have extra fluid sloshing around in your stomach when it's time to get in the pool.

Every 15 - 20 Minutes During Practice or Game:  Try to drink 4 - 8 oz. of water. The goal is to consistently replace fluid lost during the activity. Remember: One gulp is about one ounce, so aim for four to eight gulps of fluid every 15 - 20 minutes.

After Activity: Drink 20 - 24 oz. of fluid for every pound of body weight lost. 

Beware of sports drinksyou should only drink sports drinks during or immediately after a practice or game. Lots of brands add unhealthy amounts of sweetener, both natural and artificial to their sports drinks. If your body does not use the excess sugar and carbs your blood sugar will spike… and then crash. 


Can you ever drink too much water? 

It is possible to consume more fluid than is lost during exercise. This can cause gastric discomfort. However, most importantly, drinking too much increases the risk for hyponatremia (dilution of plasma sodium levels), also called water-intoxication. The signs and symptoms of hyponatremia are strikingly similar to dehydration. Thus, monitoring body weight before and after exercise is the best way to avoid overhydration. Athletes should not gain weight from drinking too much.

Where do ac32528e7-f2ed-47b6-9992-20b6705d1a2cnews.ap.org_r620x349thletes get their energy?

Athletes get their energy from a special molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). ATP is created by the following three systems:

1. ATP- Creatine phosphate (CP): This system provides enough energy for a 5-8 second sprint, or other rapid muscle contractions, such as lifting weights. 

2. Anaerobic Glycolysis: The ATP needed to continue muscular contraction after 5-8 seconds is supplied by another energy producing system called anaerobic glycolysis (the breakdown of glycogen). The glycogen used for this process comes from simple carbohydrates (sugars) that you eat in your diet.

3. Aerobic System: The body avoids acid fatigue by switching to a third system that requires oxygen, the aerobic system. However, in order to utilize the oxygen system, the pace of the exercise must be reduced i.e. slow swimming.

There are only two ways to restore the glycogen levels in the body, burn less calories by resting; and/or by eating a carbohydrate rich diet. Frequent long and difficult training sessions or games can reduce the amount of glycogen available, likely causing poor performance. Studies have shown that the glycogen stored in the body will start depleting after only one hour of continuous exercise. It can be depleted completely if not restored through diet & rest.  


This graph shows the depletion of glycogen after 4 days of intense practice.

Find the balance


When changing your eating habits, make realistic and sustainable adjustments. The reason most diets do not work is because they aren't sustainable over a long period of time. It's ok to treat yourself with that ever coveted In-N-Out double-double, shake, and fries, but it's all about timing. Right before a practice, game, or at a tournament is not the correct time to grab that burger. 

What is a balanced water polo diet? 

Water polo athletes that perform strenuous physical activity for several hours a day require a diet that is high in carbohydrates: a minimum of 55-65 % of the total food intake, or, about 3-4 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight (if you weigh 150 pounds, you will need 450-600 grams of carbohydrates per day). Player’s diets should also include about 20-30% protein for muscle growth, development, repair, and recovery from exercise or injury. The last 10-20% should include good mono and poly-unsaturated fats. 

(55-65% Carbohydrates, 20-30% Lean Protein, 10-20% Unsaturated Fats)

To learn more about the 3 major nutrients, click here

Game Day Eats

Dietary advice for athletes has changed over the years. In the past it was hit or miss based on purely speculation and experimentation.  Science has given us a better understanding of nutrition during training and nutrition prior to competition. We now know that what you eat, and when you eat it, can make a big difference in how you perform. Here is an example of what your daily nutritional intake should look like while training: 

MorningStart your day by drinking an 8 oz. glass of water; this will kick start your digestive system and replenish your muscles. If you're training in the morning, try to eat something small prior to your morning workout: half of an energy bar or banana with a few ounces of diluted juice is ideal. Right after practice is the time when the body is more acceptable to carbohydrates and has the ability to store more glycogen in your muscles and liver. Eating after training is not always easy to do, especially if we have an early morning training session, and you have to go to class right after. Bring some food with you to morning practices for eating after training; something that you can carry and is easy to digest is the best option. Things like fruit (bananas and apples), energy bars, or a fruit smoothie (smoothies are a great source of carbohydrates: they go down quickly, and they digest quickly) are good morning choices.


Fuel Mid-MorningWater polo players should be adding meals rather than skipping meals. Three meals a day plus two light snacks is a good nutritional guideline for water polo players. If you find yourself getting hungry before lunch, bring a light snack to eat in-between classes. Choices like dried fruit and nuts are ideal. Stay away from pastries, chips, and candy, as these snacks are high in fat and sugar. They take longer to digest and will spike your blood sugar, usually resulting in that "tired feeling" (crashing). 

LunchThis is your make-or-break meal during the regular season! For high school athletes, this is the ideal time for you to put some quality fuel in your system prior to your afternoon practice or league game. Avoid trying new restaurants or different types food: this is the worst time to experiment with your diet. Choose foods that you know will not upset your stomach. This is the time to visit your favorite SLO deli (Gus's or High St?). Choose lean meats and whole wheat bread, add avocado (good fat), instead of bacon (bad fat). Lastly, trade in your chips or fries for some fresh fruit. Water should always be your drink of choice! 

Before Practice / Game : Drink 5 - 10 oz. of water 30 minutes prior to practice. A good rule of thumb when eating prior to practice: the closer to practice the meal is, the smaller the portion should be and the more it should contain foods that digest quickly (i.e. smoothies.)

During Practice / Game : Try to drink 4 - 8 oz. of water. The goal is to consistently replace fluid lost during the activity. Remember: one gulp is about one ounce, so aim for four to eight gulps of fluid every 15 - 20 minutes.

After Practice / GameThe purpose of eating after exercise is to help you recover from your rigorous training session and help prepare you for the next day’s game or practice. What you eat and how soon you eat after practice will have an affect on your recovery. It is important that you eat something within 45 minutes after you have finished practicing. If you are not hungry for a big meal right after practice, have a small carbohydrate snack, then eat a larger meal when you're feeling hungry later on. After practice, you should also drink at least the amount of fluid that you have lost in sweat. The best way to figure out how much water you need is to weigh yourself before and after practice. Drink 20 - 24 oz. of water for every pound of body weight lost. 

Food For Thought : If you plan on dramatically changing your eating and/or exercise habits, consider visiting a nutritionist. They'll be able to give you specialized advice, develop meal plans, and help you make sure that you're getting the right amount of calories and nutrients.


 Click here for some great recipes and meal ideas for athletes! 





Game & Tournament Snack Essentials

Bananas are nature's energy bar! Bananas are a great source of carbohydrates, potassium and magnesium. They'll give you energy and help prevent cramping. 

Energy Bars are a great way of meeting some of your carbohydrate needs, and are easy to carry with you in your backpack. Make sure that you get high carbohydrate/low fat bars. Read the label and apply the 4 and 20 rule. Any bar that provides more than 20 grams of carbohydrate and less than 4 grams of fat is usually a good choice.

Hummus With Veggies & Whole Wheat Pita is a power carbohydrate + protein combo.

Dried & Fresh Fruit: We like apples, dried mango, and oranges. Bring your favorite!

Peanut Butter on Brown Rice Cakes another power carbohydrate + protein combo.

Trail Mix (with out M&Ms): The Omega Mix from Trader Joe's is always a good choice! 

Smoothies are a great source of carbohydrates. They go down quickly and they digest easily.