Shooting is a sport that requires discipline, strength, flexibility, and concentration and, like any other elite athlete, competitive shooters must fuel their bodies with proper nutrition to maximize the quality of their performance.
Proper nutrition is not something a shooter can initiate in the days leading up to competition. Rather, athletes must adjust their diet well in advance, while they are training, to ensure they are at peak performance capability during competition. The food shooters consume will affect how well they are able to concentrate during training sessions and their ability to recover properly afterwards.
However, it can be difficult to find information about nutrition that is specific to the shooting niche, so we’ve gathered some basic tips and strategies that can help shooters overhaul what they eat and how they fuel their bodies throughout training to ensure they are performing at their very best come competition day.
Eat Nutrient-Rich Foods
It should come as no surprise to learn that foods high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals provide better fuel for your body than cheeseburgers and french fries. It’s important to start viewing food as fuel for your physical machine—the quality of what your put in directly affects your machine and your performance.
Most of us eat for taste over nutritional value, but if you can start thinking of quality foods with natural ingredients as premium fuel, it can make the transition to healthy eating easier. With each meal, fresh fruits and vegetables should take up the majority of your plate as they are going to provide the necessary fiber, vitamins, and minerals needed to achieve consistency in shooting. Moderate amounts of high-quality proteins like chicken, fish, pork, seafood, and lean beef are important for boosting glycogen storage and helping with muscle repair and recovery.
Complex carbohydrates are another important part of a shooter’s diet and include whole wheat breads, oatmeal, sweet potatoes, quinoa, and beans. Carbohydrates are integral in providing fuel for the brain and helping shooters maintain concentration.
Perhaps one of the most beneficial changes shooters can make to their diet is how often they eat. Transition away from the standard three-large-meals plan and instead try to eat three smaller meals with 1 – 2 snacks incorporated into your day.
Ideally, you should be fueling your body every 3 – 4 hours. Shifting your eating this way promotes a decrease in body fat and an increase in lean muscle. Eating more frequently keeps your internal fuel levels more regulated and prevents you from experiencing those afternoon slumps in blood sugar that often send you out seeking an afternoon coffee for a little pick me up.
Limit Unhealthy Foods
While it is unrealistic and overly restrictive to completely ban fast food from an athlete’s diet, shooters should limit foods high in saturated and/or trans fats to occasional treats. Other unhealthy foods such as highly processed snack items, sugary baked goods, and fatty meats should also be avoided because they initiate an inflammatory response in the body and have been linked to high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. For athletes, highly inflammatory foods can prevent blood vessels from fully opening which can, in turn, limit blood flow to muscles and directly affect performance.
Foods high in fat can disrupt an athlete’s cognitive function, so opt for naturally low-fat foods when possible. That’s not to say all fats are bad. Small amounts of healthy fats like omega-3 and monounsaturated fats are important for proper body function and help the body absorb essential nutrients like vitamins A, D, and E. Fatty fish like salmon and albacore tuna are highest in omega-3, and monounsaturated fats can be found in nuts, avocados, olives, and olive oil.
Make Proper Hydration a Priority
Maintaining proper hydration is critical for proper performance during training and competition. Drinking water does more than just quench your thirst. It transports nutrients to muscles and helps the body get rid of waste. It also helps regulate body temperature during competition.
Losing even a small amount of water can affect performance, especially if you enter training or competition already dehydrated. Becoming dehydrated can lead to an inability to concentrate, fatigue, and poor recovery time.
It is important to start drinking water before training or competition begins. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already behind in replacing the fluids your body is using. If you are outside in extreme temperatures, consume 8 ounces of water every 15 – 20 minutes. If you are sweating profusely, you may want to drink a sports beverage with electrolytes or a mixture of fruit juice and water to replace the minerals you are losing through perspiration.
An easy way to check for dehydration is to examine the color of your urine. Pale yellow indicates proper hydration while dark yellow or orange indicates serious dehydration.
Don’t Change Your Diet on Competition Day
It may be tempting to sample the food offered at your event, but odds are high it will not meet the nutritional standards you’ve set for your body.
If you have maintained a healthy diet throughout training, competition day is not the time to add a change in diet. Think of your diet as you do your training—would you try out a new firing stance on the day of competition? Dealing with an upset stomach during competition is a guaranteed way to ruin your ability to concentrate, so bring enough food and snacks with you to keep you sustained during the competition and consider bringing extra in the event equipment malfunctions or weather delays force competition to go long. Eat a mixture of protein and complex carbohydrates one hour prior to competition to ensure your body is properly fueled. If, after the competition is over, you want to indulge in some of the food offered by the event, have at it, but keep your diet clean until then.
The foods you use to fuel your body on competition day should be an extension of the fuel you consume daily during training. Shooting requires an abundance of mental concentration, and concentration is directly affected by the foods we eat. Consuming the right proportion of protein, carbohydrates, and fat will ensure our body and brain have the nutrients necessary to perform at an elite level.