Volleyball players wishing to improve their performance during games often turn their attention to increasing the size and strength of their muscles. Not only do resistance exercises and weight training help to build arm, shoulder and leg muscles allowing the execution of the variety of moves required during a game, but increased core muscle strength can help when hitting and blocking and will aid stability during play.

 

Stronger muscles also allow greater endurance and injury is less likely; something which can otherwise prove frustrating to players who are forced to sit out and watch as their team mates enjoy a game. However, training workouts alone will not aid optimal gains in muscle size and strength; appropriate dietary intake is vital to promote muscle growth. The balance of protein and carbohydrate is the key to maximise an increase in muscle mass.

Protein requirements
It is widely recognised that adequate protein intake is essential for volleyball players, as not only does this allow them to carry out repair of muscle tissue damage sustained during training and games, but ensures that they have sufficient to aid further muscle growth to enhance performance. However, the body can only incorporate so much protein into the muscles and there is no advantage in consuming extra beyond this; excess protein is merely excreted, which requires the kidneys to work harder and may lead to kidney damage over time. It is therefore recommended that the optimal protein intake for players is between 1g and 1.5g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. A player who weighs 70Kg will therefore require between 70 and 105g of protein daily.

A wide range of foods provide protein and although animal produce such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy foods first spring to mind, plant-based proteins are equally valuable. All protein derived from animal sources contain the full complement of amino acids – the individual components which together form proteins – including the eight essential amino acids, which the body can’t generate itself. However, with the exception of soya, all plant-derived proteins only contain some of the essential amino acids. This means that if you frequently eat meals where no animal protein is to be included, a range of plant proteins should be eaten throughout the day; this might include dairy-free alternatives to milk and yogurt, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

Vegetarian athletes also need to be more aware of their intake of iron from protein sources, as this is not absorbed as well as from animal sources; this may lead to anaemia, which itself can hinder performance. Avoiding tea and coffee with meals and snacks, whilst including plenty of vitamin C rich fruit and vegetables, will aid iron uptake from plant-based foods. Whether consuming proteins from animals or plants, try to avoid those rich in saturated fats – examples include fatty cuts of meats and those that have been processed, full fat dairy produce, readymade meals, coconut milk and anything cooked in its oils – as these raise cholesterol levels unfavourably, increasing the risk of heart disease.

Most people are able to achieve this recommended intake through the inclusion of protein with each meal and some snacks. Although commercially available protein shakes and bars are available, the inclusion of milky drinks – either made from dairy milks or those derived from soya – and muesli bars containing oats, nuts and seeds can provide a more cost-effective way to boost protein intake. Another idea to increase dietary protein is to add skimmed milk powder to hot drinks, soups, sauces, cereals and dairy-based desserts, as this does not require a larger volume of food to be eaten; this is ideal for players who do not have a big appetite.

Increasing carbohydrate intake
However, ensuring sufficient protein in the diet is only part of the story; it is essential that enough carbohydrate is included to provide the energy needed to allow adequate training to promote muscle growth and to physically generate new tissue. To gain 0.5Kg of muscle within a week would require around 600 extra calories to be consumed each day; for slower muscle growth aim for an intermediary increase in calories. These extra calories should largely come from increasing carbohydrate intake and although some players might be able to manage larger portions of these at meals, aiming to include them as part of between meal snacks can be a helpful approach. Carbohydrate-rich snacks include cereal, toast, both fresh and dried fruit, cereal bars and milk or fruit-based drinks. Although higher fibre versions of bread, pasta, rice and cereals are usually recommended for a slower release of energy and are richer in nutrients, if these are too filling inclusion of refined versions of carbohydrates with meals is acceptable. Hemp seed oil is often a useful supplement as it is a very balanced source of certain essential fatty acids. Extra calories can also be added to by way of using a little extra sugar, honey, jam and syrup, but as these sugary foods provide virtually no additional nourishment, they should only make a small contribution to your additional calorie intake.

 

The extra calories needed for muscle growth isn’t however an excuse to start eating whatever you fancy. Depending on the amount of training that you participate in your body will still only be able to generate a certain amount of new muscle tissue, so calories beyond those required for this will simply be stored as fat, which may hinder your play.

With the knowledge that protein and carbohydrate intake can be manipulated to aid muscle gain, volleyball players can use this to their advantage; in combination with workout sessions they can achieve their aim of enhancing their performance. This can help to prevent the temptation to overwork themselves during training or to dabble with steroids, which can respectively lead to injury and have long-term consequences for health.