Volleyball is a game of skill and accuracy as well as strength and agility. There are 6 players on court during play but up to 12 players per side in an elite team to allow for regular resting and rotation of players on and off the court. It is played internationally across a range of ages from recreational to elite, professional level. Both indoor and beach volleyball are played at Olympic level for both males and females.
Competition volleyball is played indoors on a wooden surface while outdoor volleyball is played on a beach. Depending on the level of competition a match is played over 3 or 5 sets of 25 points per set with the final set 15 points. A match is one by a majority set wins – a set is won with a two-point advantage.
The duration of a set varies but typically lasts around 20-30 minutes. Given this, a match can last anywhere from 1 hour to 2.5 hours. Short breaks between each set as well as time outs over the match provide players with plenty of opportunities to rest, recover and refuel.
Training load varies depending on the level of the athlete. At the elite/professional level, a typical week may consist of at least on-court 3 training sessions focusing on skills in addition to gym sessions for strength, plyometric and agility strength as well match simulation or match play.
Matches can be held weekly, or at major competitions matches are usually in tournament format. This means several games will be played in one day, making recovery and hydration essential for sustained performance over the tournament.
Volleyball players are usually tall as height is an advantage on court. Players typically have lower body-fat levels as a positive power to weight ratio can help optimise speed, jumping ability and agility.
While nutrition on the court on match day is important, a healthy eating pattern off the court will provide an essential base for a fit, fast and lean volleyball player.
A daily intake for a player should be based around nutrient rich carbohydrates, (grainy breads, brown rice, quinoa, wholemeal pasta); lean protein sources, (lean red meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, dairy and lentils) and healthy fat sources, (avocado, olive oil, nuts and fish); as well as fruit and plenty vegetables.
Individual intake will be determined by frequency of training, size of athlete, individual requirements and adjustment for growth in younger athletes and should be discussed with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to ensure an athlete’s goals are met.
Since adequate hydration is essential for performance, particularly skill and decision-making, it is an important consideration for volleyball players. Volleyball is usually played indoors in a controlled environment although, players should be aware that they can still lose significant amounts of body fluids when playing at these venues due to the physical demands and intensity of a match.
The to remain well hydrated, drinking regularly throughout the day, especially with meals or snacks is important. Players should aim for regular amounts of pale yellow urine over the day as a useful indicator of good hydration status. Immediately before training or competition having a small amount of fluid (200-300 ml) not only helps with hydration hydration, but also prepares the gut for accepting fluids throughout the game.
Staying hydrated is vitally important during longer games and in hot weather to maintain performance. Athletes should maintain good hydration through regular fluid intake, and replace fluid deficit accrued during training or a match. Water is a good option, although a sports or electrolyte drink may be beneficial if playing for longer than 1 hour. Environmental conditions and individual sweat losses are the main determinants of fluid needs.
Eating before competition
A meal or snack should be consumed in the 2-4 hours prior to the start of a match. Food and fluid choices should be familiar to the individual to avoid unexpected problems (e.g. stomach upset). A simple way to avoid any problems is to ensure that all food consumed in the hours leading into important matches has been trialled in similar conditions or matches.
Some athletes will struggle to eat solid foods close to the start of a match and could try replacing meals with liquid carbohydrates, (e.g. sports drink, juice or flavoured milk), which may help to avoid stomach upset.
For an individual with a healthy base diet as described above, carbohydrate loading should not be essential due to the low level of aerobic activity coupled with the down time off court available to eat and drink within a match or between matches in a tournament setting.
Some ideas of carbohydrate-rich meals to eat before a match include (depending on the time of day and individual tolerances and likes) include:
- Porridge with milk, maple syrup and a banana
- Tub of yoghurt with fruit salad
- Sandwich with meat/chicken/cheese or nut butter
- Creamed rice and a piece of fruit
- Vegemite and cheese sandwich or wrap
- Toast or English muffin with avocado
- Pasta with tomato based sauce
- Sushi or rice paper rolls (avoiding fried fillings)
Eating and drinking during competition
For a match lasting less than 1 hour water or electrolyte drinks are appropriate. Longer games may require sports drink as a source of carbohydrate plus fluid. Alternatively, carbohydrate rich, easy to digest snacks such as fruit, cereal bars or sports bars can help to top up muscle glycogen (fuel) stores.
Some suggestions for portable, convenient snacks to eat between matches include:
- Fresh fruit
- Muesli or nut bars
- Trail mix with dried fruit/nuts/seeds
- Sandwich or roll with honey/jam/banana
- Milk or juice tetra packs
- Tub of yoghurt/custard
- Crackers or rice crackers with peanut butter or jam
- Sports bars (with carbohydrates, not just protein)
- Homemade baked goods e.g. banana bread, muesli slice, apple scroll, fruit scone
As in any sport, recovery is vital and is accelerated by consuming a meal or snack containing carbohydrate to replace muscle glycogen stores; protein for muscle repair and fluid to replace sweat losses soon after finishing.
When several games are played in close succession a recovery meal or snack should be consumed within 30-60 minutes of finishing matches to maintain optimal performance right through to the end of the tournament.
In many cases, an initial smaller snack followed by a proper meal of carbohydrate, protein and vegetables provides the necessary components for recovery.
Some recovery snack ideas include:
- Sports Bars (combination of protein + carbs)
- Chocolate/flavoured milk
- Grainy sandwich with meat, fish or cheese
- Yoghurt with fruit and added nuts
- Milkshake, Fruit Smoothie or Sustagen Sport
To complete recovery, some suitable meals include:
- Homemade pizzas with ham, cheese + veggies
- Chicken and vegetable risotto
- Grilled salmon with baked potatoes and veggies
Other Nutrition Tips –
- Be organised Players should have snacks ready to go at the stadium as it can be difficult to rely on the venue to provide appropriate choices, especially during longer tournaments.
- Practice As with all sports it is vitally important to trial your nutrition matches and tournaments in the lead up to the event. Be sure to test not only the type of food but also the timing and amounts.