Bout A Lot? Eat A Lot: 5 Roller Derby Nutrition Tips


There’s a tournament that happens in Washington State every year called Spokarnage. The name stems from a few places:

  1. It’s held in Spokane, WA.
  2. A team called the Spokannibals hosts it.

But the largest reason is likely that the tournament is notorious for having the most brutal schedule that was ever scheduled. (At least in Washington, I can’t speak for elsewhere.)

The first year that the tournament was held, I watched a team play two games back-to-back with the potential of playing a 3rd game immediately following. Such is the carnage of Spokarnage.

(NOTE: I’m in no way taking potshots at Spokarnage or the Spokannibals. The tournament is always attended by EMTs and other personnel to ensure skater safety. It’s a very well-run tournament with a tight schedule.)

In a sport where even one game (or one practice) can suck up all your energy, how do you fuel yourself for greatness?

HINT: It's more than just eating Wheaties.

HINT: It’s more than just eating Wheaties.

1) Eat. A Lot.

If you find yourself experiencing fatigue on the daily and you do the following two things well: drink water and rest/recover, then your next consideration should be how much you’re eating.

In calories.

Increasing your caloric intake can be a scary proposition (especially for women — thanks cultural brainwashing!), but chances are that you’re underestimating your current energy requirements.

Take a second to calculate your Estimated Energy Requirement (EER) and then take another second to realize that it’s higher than you thought it was. Maybe even much higher.

Then take a third second to realize that it’s just an estimate and your personal energy needs could be even higher than that.

There are two options for monitoring/increasing the amount of food you eat, if you feel like that’s a struggle for you:

  1. THE “LISTENING TO YOUR BODY” OPTION: Pick a snack or small meal with a specific number of calories that you know well. For example, a medium apple and a tablespoon of peanut butter have about 200 kcal. Consume the same snack, or combos with similar calorie amounts, each day for a week and check back in. Do you feel less fatigued? If so, stay the course. If not, consider adding more.
  2. THE “DATA DRIVEN” METHOD: Keep a food log to nail down exactly how many calories you eat per day. Even this small amount of data can help you make concrete adjustments to your caloric intake. If you want to take your data collection to the next level, you can also calculate your body fat percentage. Use your baseline body fat measurement to monitor body weight changes on a daily or weekly basis. If weight falls, you’re eating too little. If your weight increases — and body fat increases also — then your calories should be decreased.

As much as I love data and think it provides the best…uh…data, you don’t have to use that method if you don’t want to. Some people find that focus on the scale or their body fat makes them lose focus elsewhere. The idea is to pick the method you’ll actually use so that you can find what works.

FOR SKATERS TRYING TO LOSE FAT: Aim to maintain (and eventually create a slow decrease in) your body weight while significantly decreasing your body fat percentage. Lose weight too quickly means that you’re often losing muscle as well. Find a good cross training program that helps you build lean mass while losing fat mass.

2) Eat some carbs.

Blasphemous, I know.

I’m going to quote a nutrition textbook here, so it doesn’t seem like I’m the carb lover. (Except I totally am.)

“Anyone who exercises vigorously, especially for more than 1 hour per day on a regular basis, needs to consume a diet that includes moderate to high amounts of carbohydrates.”


The truth is that depleted carbohydrate stores are a major cause of fatigue, second only to low levels of fluid and electrolyte intake.

Especially in athletes.

Especially in athletes that plan to participate in heavy training on multiple days in a row (tournaments *cough, cough*).

A lot of sports nutritionists recommend that 60% of an athlete’s diet should contain high carbohydrate foods. That sounds like a fucking lot. Don’t rush out and change your food plan altogether, you’re probably getting more carbs than you think anyway.

Carbohydrates somehow became synonymous with bread. That’s not entirely true (although yes, there are carbohydrates in bread products). High quality sources of carbohydrates also show up in your diet  in beans, veggies, fruits, and milk.

If you’re anti-bread, that’s fine. Don’t eat bread. But do eat carbs. If you want to perform your best in a sport that is primarily strength and power based, but has an element of endurance, you need them.

Here are some of my favorite non-bread carbohydrates sources to eat:

  • Bananas (15g in one small)
  • WTRMLN WTR (15g per bottle)
  • Dried Figs (15g in 1.5 cups)
  • Ghirardelli Twilight Delight Chocolate (9.5g in 2 squares)
  • French Fries (’cause lay off me, I’m starving!)

The amount of carbs you eat is actually slightly less important then WHEN you eat them. But that will come later.

3) Protein, protein, protein.

Since you’re already tracking your food intake for calories, might as well pay special attention to protein. If you play a power sport (like roller derby), here’s what you’re shooting for:

WOMEN = 1.1 -1.5g per kg of body weight
MEN = 1.4 – 1.7g per kg of body weight

(For those of us that don’t measure our body weight in kilograms, divide your body weight in pounds by 2.2 and go from there.)

Most non-vegan athletes can meet their protein needs by eating a healthy variety of foods every day, but women can frequently be protein deficient. Athletes require a greater amount of protein than sedentary individuals because we need it — or the constituent parts, at least — to aid in muscle repair.

If you’re concerned about your protein intake, eat a solid source of protein at every meal and snack. Aim for high quality sources of protein and save the supplements and protein shakes for when you really need them.

4) Variety is the Spice…

Have you ever heard the phrase “Eat the Rainbow”? It sounds stupid, I kind of hate it, and it reminds me of Skittles. But, it applies here.

The rules for variety are simple and mostly aimed at ensuring you get all of the vitamins and minerals that your body needs to plow stop for 2 full minutes while being rammed in the side of the hip.

  1. Eat fruits and veggies at every meal.
  2. Eat fruits and veggies of every color throughout the day. (Because color is often an indicator of micronutrient content.)
  3. Include protein at every meal.
  4. Include some healthy fats at ever meal.
  5. Like what you eat. (I’m not trying to turn you into a clean eating guru here. Eat some fucking cake sometimes. Or use ranch dressing. Or put bacon on stuff. Whatever.)

Micronutrient consumption isn’t sexy, but they are responsible for things like energy metabolism, oxygen transport in the blood, bone health, and hormone function. Just to name a few.

Supplements are a good way to get micronutrients that you may not get in your diet (like vegans and B-12), but don’t supplement indiscriminately.  If you think you’re low on a certain micronutrient, go get tested, and create a supplementation plan with your doctor.

5) Timing is Everything.

It’s especially important that your body has the nutrition it needs to do the thing.

    • Be adequately hydrated. Drink water freely throughout the day whether you’re thirsty or not. Slamming a Smart Water just before practice when you haven’t had anything but coffee the rest of the day isn’t going to cut it. Consider hydrating right before you train with an electrolyte fortified drink, especially if you’re a sweaty beast.
    • Get some carbs on board. Eat something carbohydrate heavy 1-2 hours before practice or the bout. Bonus points if you it has electrolytes, too. (I love pretzels for this.) You can find some sports drinks that will meet your hydration, carbohydrate, and electrolyte needs.
    • Protein, if you can. There’s not a ton of scientific evidence to back eating protein before an event, but you can certainly give it a shot. Having protein in your stomach can drag you down to, so know that going in.
    • Stay hydrated and electrolyted. The easiest way to tell if you’ve maintained hydration is to look at the color of your urine. Seriously. Again, if you’re a sweaty beast, consider a sports drink.
    • More carbs. Within 2 hours of your practice or bout, try to get 1 to 1.5g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight.
    • Definitely protein. Within 2 hours of your practice or bout, try to ingest 20g of high quality protein. This is a good place for protein shakes if eating after activity is difficult for you (me!).

PicMonkey Collage

There are much fancier versions of nutrient timing out there — including the infamous carb loading schemes — but the suggestions above will help you make it through most daily practices and bouts.

The 3 Tiered Pyramid

Think of the suggestions above like a nutrition pyramid. You have to build a solid base before you can move up to the next level, then your next level has to be solid before you can focus on the top.

The base of your pyramid is calories. Get enough. Then move to making sure that those calories spread across carbs, proteins, and other various foods. Then get geeky about food timing.

You know what’s next. Eat, drink, and be derby.

Want more?

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About IronOctopusFitness

Online athletic training and nutrition coach, full-time mom, okay skater, and connoisseur of all things tea, chocolate, and roller derby. I'll help you unleash your inner athlete by building a strong, capable body that can withstand whatever life throws at you.


  • Steve says:

    Amazing tip! I have been training myself for an upcoming sprint run here and I have been struggling with the food that I should or should not eat. I would definitely be more conscious in what I eat, since I know now that it is wrong that I have lessened my calorie intake. Thank you for your advice! Will share this with a friend who trains for a marathon now! More power to you Iron Octopus Fitness!

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