Softball is a variation of baseball played on a smaller field with a larger ball. Similar to baseball it is a high intensity, fast paced sport requiring a unique mix of strength, speed, power and agility. In addition, focus, quick judgement and spilt second reaction times are crucial – especially when players have less than half a second to react to a ball pitched at them at speeds as high as 120km/hr and 150km/hr for women and men respectively.
A softball team consists of 9 players. Players are required to bat and field and specialist pitchers are required to pitch (underarm pitch only).
The duration of a softball game is varied as games last for a set number of 7 innings. A typically game will last ~1-2 hours depending the duration of each innings. Matches are interspersed with periods of high intensity efforts and periods of low intensity standing or waiting in the stands.
In Australia, the domestic competition season is played over Spring and Summer. Therefore, players are often exposed to extended periods of challenging hot and humid environmental conditions. Recreational teams typically to play one match per week – usually on a weekend. During major competitions, a tournament format may be used whereby players compete in several matches over a number of days.
In Australia, softball is predominately played by women (~75% of players in Australia are female), however, both men and women can play the sport. Players can start from as young as 5 years old, in modified games that introduce softball-specific skills through fun game based activities and continue to play through to elite levels.
Softball players tend to be strong and powerful, often with low body fat levels to optimise speed and agility. As such, a sound nutrition plan is important to maximise training and match day performance.
Softball training can be physically demanding consisting of various combinations of weights, fitness, sprinting and skill training. Training sessions can last up to 2-3 hours. Fuelling for training and recovery is crucial in developing skill, speed, strength and power.
Individual nutrition requirements will be determined by training load, specific athlete needs, training goals, body composition goals, health and adjustment for growth in younger athletes.
Softball players will benefit from a nutritionally balanced diet that is periodised to match training needs. It is important to match players’ energy and carbohydrate intake to their varying training load on a daily basis.
The training diet should be based high-nutrient foods (cereals, fruit, vegetables, low fat dairy products, lean meat and poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes etc.) and only small amounts of low nutrient foods (soft drink, confectionary, cakes, biscuits, fried foods etc.)
Timing of food is key to success. Adjusting portions and spacing meals and snacks throughout the day can improve nutrient absorption and help to manage appetite.
Hydration needs for softball
Dehydration can reduce performance by negatively affecting power, skill and decision making ability. Softball players need to be proactive in maintaining good hydration in both training and competition.
These following situations increase the risk of dehydration in softball players:
- Training and competing in hot conditions
- More than one training session or match per day
- Starting a session or match already dehydrated
Each individual’s fluid requirements vary according to sweat rate, training or match duration and intensity, temperature and humidity but players should aim to start every session well hydrated and top up fluid intake to replace sweat losses over the session.
What to eat before games
Softball players should begin each game well-fuelled and hydrated. It is important to remember that game-day nutrition is impacted by the quality of weeklong fuelling.
Each athlete is different, but players will often eat a pre-game meal around 3 to 4 hours before the start of the match. This meal should contain some carbohydrate for fuel as well as some fluids for hydration. Some suitable pre-game meal ideas can include:
- Wholegrain roll with roast beef, cheese and salad
- Bowl of cereal with yoghurt and berries
- Homemade rice salad
- Chicken stir-fry with noodles
Many players will also have an additional small snack 1-2 hours prior to the game. This is often something light that is rich in carbohydrate but relatively low in fat and fibre so it is easy to digest.
Some suitable pre-game snack ideas include:
- Yoghurt with fruit & nut trail mix
- Rice cakes with banana and honey
- Toast with vegemite
- Fruit bun or homemade muesli slice
If solids don’t sit well before a game, or players are very nervous, a liquid source of protein and carbohydrate such as a fruit smoothie or flavoured milk can be a good option.
What to eat and drink during games
In most cases it will be unnecessary to eat during a game, particularly if starting the match well fuelled. However, in some cases, light, easy to digest snacks may be beneficial for players with high workloads to keep up fuel supplies for their brains and muscles and in managing hunger during long games. Suitable snack options include:
- Cereal bars or sports bars
- Light sandwiches (e.g. peanut butter or cheese)
- Fruit & nut trail mix
Players should take a drink bottle to matches to take advantage of opportunities to sip on fluids throughout the innings when in the dugout area waiting to bat. In most cases water will be sufficient to meet fluid needs, however sports drinks can be useful when players are particularly active or matches are played over a long duration.
Players should work closely with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to trial nutrition strategies during training and matches to find which foods work best for each player.
Recovery helps your muscles to recover and adapt to each training session, therefore recovery between training sessions and matches is important. If you are training more than once a day or competing in a tournament setting with multiple matches over several days, recovery becomes even more important.
Recovery nutrition should focus on 3 main goals:
- Refuel muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stores)
- Repair muscle (for function & development)
- Rehydrate (replace fluids lost through sweat)
For complete recovery, meals and snacks should therefore contain a combination of carbohydrate, protein, fluids and of course fruit and vegetables for good health.
A recovery meal or snack should be consumed soon after exercise period, particularly when the next training session or game is the next day. Some suitable recovery food options include:
- Chicken risotto
- Flavoured milk or milkshake + fresh fruit
- Homemade beef burgers with salad + grain roll
- Wraps with falafel cheese, avocado and salad
Other Nutrition Tips
- Be organised Players should have recovery snacks ready to go in their match day bag rather than rely on the venue to be able to provide appropriate choices.
- Plan ahead Busy lifestyles are a common problem for softball athletes. This can lead to under fuelling and reduced performance. An Accredited Sports Dietitian can create a nutrition plan to avoid this.
*Content in this fact sheet should be considered general advice only and may not suit your circumstances. Before modifying your diet, consult an Accredited Sports Dietitian. All content is regularly peer reviewed before publishing.