Sideline Conversations with a Sports Dietician

Thu 7 Sep 2017 | Jackie Berning | Fuel


Complex carbohydrates (whole grain breads, cereal, fruits and vegetables) should constitute half of what lacrosse players eat, writes Dr. Jackie Berning.

From the commonly misconstrued to the outright false, US Lacrosse Magazine goes “Myth Busters”​ mode in its September/October edition. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to start your subscription.As a sport dietitian, I find it very interesting to be on the sideline listening to what parents and players have to say about fueling lacrosse players. Where do they get this information? Do they really believe that a supplement before a game will improve the performance of a player? Here are a couple of common sports nutrition myths heard on the sidelines.


Players do not need to eat carbohydrates because lacrosse is a sprinting sport, not an endurance event.


Lacrosse involves a lot of sprinting, some jogging and very little walking. Games can last 60 minutes or more, and players may sprint/run between 3-5 miles per game depending on their position. Researchers have found that the predominant fuel source for high-intensity sports is carbohydrates. Studies have found that if a player does not eat enough carbohydrates, he or she simply runs out of fuel and cannot keep up with the intensity of the game, especially in the second half of a game.

Players need to eat carbohydrates. However, they should focus on whole grain breads and cereals, as well as fruits and vegetables — not the high sugary snacks that come to mind. At least half of what a lacrosse player eats should come from complex carbohydrates. For an early-morning game, try whole grain cereal, like oatmeal, along with whole grain breads or toast, plus a small amount of protein like a carton of yogurt or a scrambled egg. For an afternoon game, a sub sandwich (no chips or soda) with whole grain bread, a piece of fruit or some carrots are perfect. Avoid high-fat, high-calorie fast food meals. Carbohydrates should be eaten throughout the day, not just before the game.

Lacrosse players should consume complex carbohydrates the night before the game in addition to their pregame to load their muscles with fuel for optimal performance.


Taking a vitamin or mineral supplement will fuel a lacrosse player.


Vitamins and minerals do not have calories, and therefore cannot directly provide energy. The role of vitamins and minerals is to break down the foods we eat for energy, but simply consuming a vitamin and/or mineral supplement will not provide energy to players.

Remember, the fuel for lacrosse is primarily carbohydrates. One of the benefits of eating carbohydrates, like whole grains and fruits and vegetables, is that they provide energy as well as contain vitamins and minerals. Food, in general, contains energy, vitamins and minerals. Therefore, athletes should be encouraged to get their vitamins and minerals from food first.

Is there a time when supplements would be appropriate? Probably. Most health professionals, including registered dietitians, find that supplements may be beneficial for athletes that have a disease or disorder that affects their ability to absorb or metabolize certain nutrients. Too often I hear the rationale that a player may be a picky eater or that it is just good insurance to take a supplement. Data shows that picky eaters who take a multi-vitamin and mineral supplements just get higher levels of the same nutrients. The better insurance is food. Children and adolescents who grow up eating a variety of foods during family meals get the nutrients they need and are much better eaters when they grow up to be adults.

Before encouraging players to follow the next myth, remember that sports nutrition is grounded in science.  For something to work, it must have a physiological base and some metabolic pathway in the body. Try some of these resources for credible sports nutrition information, and visit the US Lacrosse website for more lacrosse-specific guidelines on nutrition, heat and hydration.

Dr. Jackie Berning is a professor and chair of the health science department at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and a member of the US Lacrosse Sports Science and Safety Committee.