The Duke men's basketball team didn't go all the way this year, but there's no denying it was another remarkable run. They've now advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen or beyond in eight of the past 11 years, and they haven't missed the big dance since 1995.
When the Blue Devils march into the locker room at halftime, they reach for a secret weapon. With an annual budget of nearly $20 million, higher than any other program in the nation, Duke is the blue blood of college basketball. However, this weapon runs about 44 cents. I'm talking, of course, about the humble PB&J.
Beth Miller, Director of Sports Nutrition for Duke Athletics, lays out what makes the snack so popular among the team. "One, it tastes good and they're going to eat it. If they're not even going to eat it, it's not going to do their body any good," Miller says. "But the fact that it's a childhood favorite speaks to them, they're gonna consume it. Beyond that, it's full of those quick carbohydrates, especially if you're using white bread, which for game time, we do, as well as the jelly. Then the peanut butter has a minimum amount of protein then that healthy fat, which is good, because you want the protein to be minimal in that halftime period. You want quick carbohydrates to replenish the muscles and get them back out. It's typically a fan favorite and it does exactly by science what we need it to do."
Simple or "quick" carbs are carbs that can be digested quickly. They're made of just one or two sugar molecules, allowing them to be digested rapidly and provide a shot of energy with little delay. Especially when prepared with white bread, a PB&J is packed with simple carbs.
Running out of simple carbs during a game can make you feel like you're moving underwater. Your first step will be slower, you'll have trouble finishing plays, and your reactions won't be as sharp. "Human bodies don't necessarily stop when they run out of carbs, but they do slow down," says Robert Anding, a Sports Dietitian for the Houston Astros and Rice Athletics.
When a Duke star explodes through the defense for a thunderous jam late in the second half, such a play wouldn't be possible if they weren't adequately fueled with carbs.
A little bit of protein can help provide fuel during high-intensity training, but you do not want to consume too much of it during or just prior to competition. Why not cut into a T-bone steak prior to the second half? Because protein takes a while to digest and can make you feel full and sluggish in more significant amounts—precisely the opposite of what you want during a game. The familiarity of the PB&J ingredients also ensures it will sit well in the player's stomachs.
These are all reasons why the athletic elite have a huge number of PB&J fans among their ranks, as Sidney Crosby, Dustin Johnson, Russell Westbrook and LeBron James are just some of the stars who turn to the PB&J for a convenient and comforting pre-game or halftime snack. You can read our deep dive on the topic here.
Outside of game days, another everyman snack you'll often see Duke players chowing down on is trail mix. When done right, it's a great way to sneak in some extra calories for athletes who torch thousands of them each and every day. The portable nature of the snack also makes it a slam dunk in Miller's eyes, as she's always stressing to the guys the importance of eating between classes. The team even has a custom trail mix station inside their locker room (which can be seen here):
The station contains six movable modules that are filled with a variety of quality mix-ins. Pistachios, almonds, cashews, raisins, berry blends, Cheerios and Goldfish are just some of the items you'll find at the station from day-to-day.
"We always have at least two different types of nuts, some dried fruit, then something crunchy that's usually more carbohydrate-based—whether it be a type of cereal or their favorite is Goldfish or like a pretzel of some sort," Miller says. The players are taught to create mixes with a good blend of carbs, fat and protein. "Carbs are main source of fuel, protein is for muscle recovery and muscle rebuilding and muscle maintaining, as well as keeping you full, then the fats are for antioxidants and longer term energy. I love trail mix because it can be customizable to however they like it with whatever ingredients they like and you can hit all of the three macronutrients right in one snack. They pour it into a bag and go to class."
Photo Credit: Grant Halverson/Getty Images
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