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Nutrition 101: High School Athletics

Jay Hyber

"Without a deliberate nutritional strategy, people are more likely to gain weight, not lose it, in response to starting a new exercise regimen. It makes sense. More fuel required, more hunger etc. People need to know this so that they know it’s not their body or their workout." - Andrew Barr
My Mom used to joke that I was "eating her out of house and home." At the time, I was playing on multiple hockey teams and had practice all week. But, I know there were other athletes in my situation. My parents would guide me as best they could with eating nutrition focused on helping my athletic performance, but outside of that, there wasn't much conversation about it. I wasn't getting guidance from my hockey coaches and I definitely wasn't getting guidance from my high school weight lifting coach. Outside of the football teams diet of "eat as many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that you can" diet, there wasn't conversation about how, what or when to eat.
Has the mindset of sports nutrition changed over the years? Absolutely. But, many high schools still aren't in the position to employ nutritionists. So, who inherits the responsibility of nutritional guidance? 
Luckily for high school athletes in today's day and age, there is more of an appreciation and focus on the importance of nutrition. Since schools don't have the funds to work with professional sports nutritionists, the strength and conditioning coach and/or sports heads are the taking on the responsibility of educating their athletes. 
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at Byron Nelson High SchoolMissy Mitchell-McBeth provides the nutritional education to each sports program. "With our football kids, I have a 20 minute power point presentation to go over nutrition basics that I present during 2-a-days. I also give a 5 minute presentation to parents at the beginning of season meeting in an attempt to get everyone on board. All presentations are available on our football website. Beyond that, I do weekly 3-5 minute presentations at the start of their character lessons to reiterate the high points. Sample topics are meal frequency, carb/protein pairings, pre/post exercise nutrition ("Power Hour"), hydration, etc." 
Protein
Most of your athletes protein should come from animal-based sources.  Remember, protein is the building block of muscle tissue.  
Most athletes need at least .5-1g of protein per pound of lean body weight. Protein is responsible for the growth and maintenance of cells, creating antibodies for immunity, and supplying small amounts of energy. Plus, it helps preserve muscle mass for athletes trying to lose body fat.
It’s not just the amount of protein, but also the type of protein in your athletes diet that you need to take note of. Scientific research shows that simply consuming enough protein will not optimize muscle repair and synthesis because not all types of protein are equally beneficial. In order to utilize the protein we eat, the body breaks it down into basic building blocks, called amino acids. The source of the protein influences our ability to digest it properly and, therefore, the availability of these crucial building blocks. 

  • Wild fish (Salmon, Tuna, Trout)
  • Organic Chicken
  • Grass-fed beef
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Carbohydrates (The right ones)
Carbohydrates provide the energy needed for athletes to perform at a high level because their body treats them as the "first choice" in fuel consumption. They are a key source of energy during games/training and can come from rice, oats, bananas and bars. While fats can be (and are) used as a source of energy, the main function of the carbohydrates you eat is to supply energy to cells. This is particularly true for high-intensity exercise, the level at which most athletes train and compete.
With the aggressive schedule of training, practice and games of today's athlete's, they need to consume more carbs than the average person to properly fuel and recover. If you neglect to give your athletes the appropriate amount of healthy carbs you risk hampering their performance. One positive thing for the parents fueling the diet for their high school athletes, carbs are also the cheapest of all the macro-nutrients (carbs, proteins, fats). 
Stay away from processed foods like chips, cookies and highly-processed carbs like fake cheeses and fruit juices, ice cream, soda and candy. They serve no purpose in an athlete's diet! 

  • Sweet Potatoes 
  • Oats
  • Wild Rice

Healthy Fats
In focusing on the levels of protein and carbohydrates in an athletic diet, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of healthy fats. 
There are four major types: saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat. You typically want to avoid saturated fat and trans fat, the types most commonly found in fast food and meat byproducts.
Fats serve many important functions in your athletes well being and some fat are necessary for humans to survive. Healthy fats serve as the basis of many hormones and cell to cell communication. If you don’t get enough fat over a long enough of a period it can have a devastating affect on their hormones and lead to a life time of issues. Fat is an essential nutrient that provides energy, energy storage and insulation. It supports multiple body functions. Fat deposits in the body protect organs, such as the kidneys, heart and liver.

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Tips:

  • Eat fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, two times per week or more.
  • Include avocados, leafy green vegetables, walnuts and ground flaxseed.
  • Choose the leanest cuts of red meat possible, and include other lean meat choices like chicken and pork.

Game Day (Pre-exercise fueling)
Eating right on game day is your athlete's secret weapon for top-notch performance.
A well-balanced meal before a competition helps give your athletes the essential vitamins and minerals needed in the diet, but also gives them energy in order to perform. All meals should have enough calories to cover the energy used during competition. However, most of those calories should come from complex carbohydrates such as pasta and potatoes. Eating these pre-event meals will not only provide energy, but prevent fatigue, decrease hunger pains, and provide hydration to the body. In combination with pre-event meals, your athletes should properly hydrate their bodies with water several hours before the competition begins and continue through out competition. 
Following Competition 
This meal helps replenish glycogen (energy) stores and electrolyte imbalances. The basic goal for the post-event meal is to refuel the muscles and prepare for the next competition or practice. Doing this will decrease the chances of muscle fatigue and performance.
A dab of protein helps repair muscles, too, so ideal recovery foods include both protein and carbohydrate. It’s also important to refuel within about 30 minutes after exercise to maximize the effects of protein and carbohydrate on muscle recovery. 
The bottom line is that your athletes should not have to count calories, but they should understand what food is. It will not only help them during their youth athletic careers, but also as healthy adults. So remember, it's not all up to the athletes themselves. To stick to a healthy diet, high school-age competitors need help, especially at home and from their coaches. 


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