Nutrition 101: Get Back on Track for a Better Game

By Brandi Givens, Pickleball’s Officially Self-Declared RD

We all have those friends who seem to eat well 100 percent of the time. Although I admire those nutrition superstars, this post is not intended for them. 

Instead, it’s for the rest of us. I am not ashamed to admit that I am one of you. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans tells us that a general rule for good health is to eat well 85% of the time. That leaves 15% for fun! 

But sometimes we can go outside the baseline with our splurges. For example, a fun pickleball getaway, brimming with cocktails and pastries, may make it hard to return to eating mostly nutrient-dense foods. 

If this has happened to you, it’s time to get back on track! You know that eating well provides nutrition for your brain and body that will eventually benefit those dinks and drives. Here are some tips to get you back on track to healthier eating. 

8 Tips to Healthy Eating 


So what is your goal? To lose weight? To maintain or improve health? The SMART method is one way people have been reaching their goals for decades. SMART stands for: 

Specific- What exactly do you want to do? Enjoy more vegetables? Eat less processed foods or sugars? Dig deep and decide what you’re willing to change.

Measurable- If you’re too vague on your goals, it’ll be hard to know when you’ve met them. Instead of “increase my fiber” you might say, eat three servings of whole grain every day. 

Attainable- We all would love to say we beat Ana Leigh in a Nationals tournament, but it’s probably not realistic for most of us! Likewise, losing 10 pounds in a week is also improbable and potentially unsafe. Making a goal challenging is great, but don’t make it unattainable. 

Relevant- Consider what your big picture goal is while setting your SMART goal. If you want to be lighter on your court feet, for example, you may want to choose a certain amount of weight loss as a goal. 

Time-Bound- Set a time limit for when you want to achieve the goal. 

A couple of SMART goal examples might be: 

  • I will eat one apple and one serving of oatmeal on five days every week, and replace three servings of red meat with fish each week. I will do this for four months to work toward improving my cholesterol numbers at my next doctor’s appointment.
  • I will stop drinking soda for one month except one on Sundays to help control my weight gain. 

2. Get Your Buddies on Board

Letting those close to you know that you’re trying to get back on track can be key. Saying your goal out loud to someone you respect may even increase your chances of being successful. You may even find that friends want to be included in the healthy changes, driving accountability for both of you. 

And if there are people who tend to sabotage your intentions, it’s okay to call them out on it. Explain how important their support is to you. We’re talking about your health here; if they continue to be disrespectful, you may even need to avoid being around them.

3. Consider Your Hydration

This one is so important. Next to air, water is the most fundamental human need. Dehydration is very common among athletes. Some stats show that over 30% of athletes are not adequately hydrated even before they begin playing their game. Dehydration can cause problems that are terrible for your game including: 

  • Reduced exercise ability
  • Moodinessd
  • Heart rate changes
  • Headache 
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle cramps

So what is adequate hydration? The reality is that everyone is different and each person’s needs change every day. The estimates by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are 91 ounces for women and about 125 ounces for men daily. One good rule is if your urine is darker than pale yellow, you need to increase your water intake. 

You’re going to need more if you’re sweating a lot on the court. On heavy play days, you’ll want to drink 16-24 ounces within a couple of hours of your event, then 6-12 ounces every 10-20 minutes of exercise. 

Choose water most of the time, but if you’re sweating for more than an hour, you may benefit from replacing electrolytes with sports drinks or powders. Milk, juice, tea, soup, and juicy fruits and vegetables like melon can count toward daily goals. 

4. Make a List of Your Favorite Healthy Foods

Positive vibes tend to work better when it comes to eating well, so focus on whole, healthy foods that you actually like, rather than the ones you’ll want to limit. Consider foods that are minimally processed from all the basic groups including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. 

Creating this list may be easier when we’re experiencing mild hunger. Consider how you’ll use these foods by looking up recipes before you make a shopping trip. 

5. Check Out That Farmers Market

When it comes to tasty produce, nothing beats the quality of locally grown food. If you’re lucky enough to have a local farmers market, put it on your calendar to visit every week. 

Aside from the benefit of buying seasonal fruits and vegetables, the market’s atmosphere can refresh your motivation to eat well. And farmers truly appreciate your business. They may be able to  provide you with recipe ideas if you’re unfamiliar with their goods. 

6. Keep Healthy Snacks Handy

So you just played five hours of pickleball with your buddies and now you’re all starving. The crew is headed to the local pub to rehash everyone’s greatness. That loaded bacon burger with extra fries and 2 beers are calling your name, and you earned them after so much exercise, right? 

Hunger can cause even the most disciplined person to forget their goals and give in to temptations. Keep hunger at bay by snacking healthfully. You’ll be in a stronger state of mind when you get to the restaurant. Keep it easy by bringing nuts, fruit, or simple sandwiches to the court, and take a bite or two between games. 

7. Eat at Home Most of the Time

Sharing meals with friends is great for social bonding and mental health, but restaurant dining is associated with unwanted weight gain, and higher salt and sugar intake. Try to eat home-cooked meals most of the time, and save dining out for just a couple of times each week at quality restaurants. 

8. Give Yourself Grace

Most of us are not perfect and it’s usually okay to indulge once in a while! Unless you have an underlying health condition, if certain foods give special joy to your life, then there is generally room for treats. 

Try to plan your splurges so that you are ready to stop at one or two cookies instead of eating the whole sleeve. Be sure to savor every single bite. 

And should you go over that limit you gave yourself, shrug it off. Tomorrow is a new day, and what a great excuse to play a few extra games on the court!

If you’d like a deeper drive into healthy eating, read my article on Wellness Verge here. 


  1. Home. (n.d.). Retrieved July 4, 2023, from
  2. Patterson, N. (n.d.). What are SMART goals: Examples for students and work. Retrieved June 29, 2023.
  3. What you should know about processed foods. (2022, March 21). Mayo Clinic Health System. 
  4. Klein, H. J., Lount, R. B., Park, H. M., & Linford, B. J. (2020). When goals are known: The effects of audience relative status on goal commitment and performance. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(4), 372–389.
  5. Karpinkski, Christine. Sports Nutrition: A Handbook for Professionals. 2017. Print.
  6. Murray, Bob. 2007. “Hydration and Physical Performance.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 26 (5 Suppl): 542S – 548S.
  7. “How Much Water Do You Need to Stay Healthy?” 2020. Mayo Clinic. October 14, 2020.
  8. Magee, P. J., Gallagher, A. M., & McCormack, J. M. (2017). High Prevalence of Dehydration and Inadequate Nutritional Knowledge Among University and Club Level Athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 27(2), 158–168.
  9. Dunbar, R. I. M. (2017). Breaking Bread: the Functions of Social Eating. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 3(3), 198–211.
Nutrition 101: Get Back on Track for a Better Game

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top