Why Your Athletes' Nutrition Sucks!
FACT: One out of three people in the United States is fat. Lack of proper nutrition, education and exercise are the main culprits.
Actor/screenwriter Kevin Smith got kicked off a plane for being too fat. Logic says he should have said to himself:
'Man, I'm too fat to fly on a plane. Maybe I should eat a salad and go for a walk every once in a while so I don't get kicked off any more planes because I'm too fat to sit in a seat."
Instead he goes on a rampage against the airline, trying to blame them for his addiction to processed meats! Brother, take responsibility for your choices! You *chose* to get fat. Nobody snuck up on you while you were sleeping and injected cheeseburgers into your veins.
So it had me thinking about my athletes. I know I ate like crap when I was in high school. And I still got a Division I scholarship. So just because your athletes appear to be 'in shape' doesn't mean they're fueling their bodies with quality nutrients.
I held an open forum with my team where I answered all their questions about nutrition. It consisted of throwers, jumpers, sprinters and distance runners. So it represented a good cross section of athletes whose training demands cover pretty much every sport I can think of.
Here are the top 3 things I discovered about my (and your) athletes' nutrition…
#3: Most of Your Athletes Don't Eat Breakfast
The saying 'Breakfast is the most important meal of the day' is not a marketing ploy. It's a fact of reality.
And your athletes will give you every sorry excuse in the book…
'I didn't know it was that important!'
'I'm too tired to make breakfast.'
'I'm not hungry in the morning.'
'I got up late.'
Your athletes last ate at maybe 7pm the previous evening and now they're skipping breakfast. So the space between caloric intake is 15-18 hours. Their bodies are in starvation mode by the time they get something in their systems and their blood sugar levels are in the toilet.
You spend endless hours writing workouts, designing plays, coaching, traveling, etc.
And it all goes out the window when your athletes don't consume enough calories to finish workouts or focus on executing plays or technical movements.
Nutrition is easily 70% of your athletes' results and if they don't even eat breakfast, how far off their best are they falling?
Want better results? Convince your athletes of the importance of breakfast and give them some healthy options on what they should be eating!
#2: The Dollar Menu is a Food Group
Your kids don't eat breakfast, so they're starving.
What's the easiest solution for HS kids with no real jobs or money?
$1 double cheeseburgers my friends. And lots of 'em.
Half of your athletes eat fast food a solid 3 days per week. What's most amazing is that your female athletes are often the biggest culprits.
(Enjoy it now ladies because The Freshman 15 is as real as it gets.)
The saying 'You are what you eat' isn't a marketing ploy, it's a fact of reality.
The cells of your body are constantly being replaced…
…by whatever it is that you're eating.
Eat garbage and your body rebuilds itself with garbage.
The athletes on my team who get injured most often and stay injured the longest are, without question, the ones with the worst nutrition.
Parents spend countless hundreds and thousands of dollars on camps, clinics, special coaching, clothing, equipment, travel, physical therapy for their injured athletes, etc.
Coaches spend just as much in time and preparation, travel, coaching education (OK, that's probably not true for most coaches), etc.
Athletes spend countless hours running tough workouts, lifting weights (!), competing, traveling, etc.
And you're all wasting your limited time and money when you ignore the fact that nutrition lays the foundation for everything they do in *and* out of practice.
If you want top performing, injury free athletes, you've got to break their addiction to the dollar menu.
You can't tell athletes:
'I want you to eat breakfast, eat every 2-3 hours, and stop eating fast food.'
…unless you give them healthy alternatives to eat instead.
Otherwise, eating right becomes a job and they just won't do it.
Remember: contingent rewards (if/then propositions such as: if you start eating healthy, then you'll run faster) don't work!!
#1 Your Athletes Want to Eat Healthy, They Just Don't Know What to Eat!
The first part of my Team Nutrition Q&A session was debunking myths:
– No, coffee is not OK to drink every morning before school
– Yes, you must eat 5-6 times per day
– No, sports drinks are not a substitute for water
– No, fruit juice is not good for you in large quantities
– Yes, if you feel thirsty you're already dehydrated
– Yes, you're more likely to get hurt if you don't eat breakfast
You get the idea…
I realized these kids aren't eating junk because they're trying to make me cry, they really have NO IDEA what they should be eating.
As the discussion went on and kids realized what a hot mess their eating habits were *and* how it kept them from performing at a higher level, their questions fundamentally changed.
Instead, the questions were all based around the idea of:
'Well, what should I…
…eat for breakfast?
…eat for a snack during the day?
…drink instead of juice and Gatorade?
…eat/drink before a competition?
…eat/drink during a competition?
…eat for dinner?
Once you start giving common sense answers to these questions, you'll start noticing more water bottles at practice.
More healthy snacks before practice or on the way to the weight room.
More kids telling you (proudly) what they ate for breakfast or dinner.
More kids ratting out their teammates who can't break their Dollar Menu addiction.
And most importantly – more kids finishing workouts, performing at a higher level and NOT getting injured.
Here's the bottom line:
Your athletes' nutrition sucks. Even the good ones.
You've got to coach them in this arena like you coach them on the track or playing fields. Because they want to play better. They want to eat better.
They just don't know what to do.
And you spend too much time and energy being a coach to let half of it go to waste because you think nutrition is someone else's problem.
If you want to get results, then it's your job to make this a part of your program. Starting yesterday.
Bravo! This article is spot-on. Thank you for all the great info you share on this site.
Great article Coach! As a parent, a trainer and a health nut, it is really frustrating trying to convince them why they need to fuel their bodies with real food. Doesn’t help that they see McDonald’s and Coca-Cola as sponsors for the Olympics. Besides the money factor, that one has never made any sense to me!
Great Article and so true! I would like to know if you can provide alisting of great and flavorful breafst ideas, snack ideas, lunch and dinner as well. I have a team of 11, 12 and 13 year olds and at this age they can be most picky. Especially my daughter who could eat cheese 24/7! And prefers ramen noodles over everything else! I am a big believer in cooking at home but it gets difficult to have variety and be healthy and make sure it will be something she eats.
>>> I’m working on it! Stay tuned!
Hey Latif, first let me qualify my upcoming statement, I agree with the body of your article and support 100% what you are saying regarding the top 3 questions that you address. However, let’s be really careful when addressing disordered eating bahavior. Yes, initially poor eating may indeed be a choice, much like taking the first drink of alcohol, but when it gets to a point that one has become morbidly obese, there are obviously emotional and mental health issues involved. Trust me on this one, I am not just shooting from the hip here, having previously worked at the Master’s level running treatment facilities for teens with eating disorders, I know of what I speak. I am NOT making excuses for one’s poor behavior (in this case eating the wrong types and amounts of food), I’m just throwing out the complexity of some of this stuff. That being said, everyone should take a look over at the IYCA website for a great entry level certification in Youth Nutrition. Great organization that I know you support.
>>> I don’t disagree with what you’re saying. My problem is that it absolves people of taking responsibility for those choices and makes it a ‘disease’ or a ‘disorder’ which implies it’s not their fault. It is their fault and they will not cease to be obese until they take responsibility for that fact. I would argue that lack of personal responsibility is one of the main factors for the decline of dominance, at every level, of this country. Is it complex? Yes. But that doesn’t change that fact that the cause was *choice*, regardless of the effect.
I like the article, but i have some questions that i hope you can answer:
In between cross country and track season i do wrestling and am a pretty good eater. Usually i eat a lot when we have practices to make sure i have enough energy but at the same time i have to watch my weight class which is 130. The problem is that the day before and of a match i cant eat or drink to make sure i make weight. I usually have spinich and eggs with water the night before and then get weighed in around 5 the next night. After weigh ins i eat a peanut butter sandwhich with a power bar before my match. When i get home i cant stop myself from constantly eating everything in sight and i would like to know what i should eat right when i get home to get my body recharged and ready for the next day?
>>> Well your body is in starvation mode so of course it wants to consume everything in sight. And I don’t have enough info to give you an ideal answer. In short, your body is craving, primarily, carbs and, more specifically, simple sugars. Right after working out/competing is really the only time I recommend ‘bad’ carbs. Chocolate milk is a great, cheap recovery drink. But the main thing is that you should consume a meal that is roughly 55% carbs, 30% protein and 15% fat. Just don’t try and consume 2,000 calories in one meal. After your meet, I’d try to get two meals in – one right away and another before bed, both following the aforementioned breakup of carbs/protein, fat.
Awesome website you have here. A friend told me to come check this out. Really enjoyed the content.
Great point buddy. I have a girl who has talent coming out of her ears but is not really reaching potential. On the other hand I have a girl who takes everything I say as gospel and she cooks for herself everyday but she is average on the talent scale. She recently out ran our top girl when we timed our 55 meter dash. Country cooking does wonders ha! Can not wait till your DVD’s reach my mail! Thanks, Coach W.
>> Coach W – I’ve seen the same thing many times. People still don’t realize that, in today’s day and age, talent is often times overrated. I’ll take a decent kid who takes everything I say as gospel over a lazy, but talented kid who thinks they know everything ten times out of nine! Keep up the good work!
I saw your post above and I found it interesting. It is a great question. I am not a professional or a nutrition expert or any other kind of expert (and I saw Coach Thomas’ response and I just want you to know that I am one of his biggest fans and tell people about his web-site all the time) but with that said I think I personally would respond differently.
After you read what I have to say and anybuddy else, you should give due consideration to all opinions but keep doing your homework to come up with the best answer for you.
I noted that you said you are a wrestler and I am sensing that you are approaching this question from a wrestling perspective. That is, you’ve cut weight all week, work out furiously, and after the match want to eat everything that isn’t nailed down.
I know the feeling after a do a speed workout and throw my kettblebell around for an hour and 15 minutes. Funny though, I can’t immediately after, no appetite at all, and then eat like I’m going to the electric chair that evening. I understand why. BTW … other than Coach Thomas’ site my other favorite site for strength and other general fitness is wwww.dragondoor.com.
I see the problem (or issue at hand as some lawyers like to say) as being … you obviously need and crave a ton of food … after training and then competing, but because of the sport you are in you can’t afford to eat so much that you gain weight.
My suggestion would be chow heavily on salad. However, since I know you’re already rolling your eyes and will certainly need the taste of meat in that mix I would advise adding either tuna fish — yes, that would be the canned kind — (or any other fresh fish like tuna steak or salmon) or, alternatively, turkey (you can buy ground turkey, turkey breast, turkey london broil, turkey chops, etc. … have your Mom brush some extra virgin olive oil on it and add every spice she has in the spice rack … with special emphasis on things like turmeric, curry, cumin, garlic, basil, oregano, I’m forgetting some, I know, … you’re loading up on antioxidants my boy) to the turkey and then tell her to throw it on the grill (put it on a piece of aluminium foil and don’t cook it at an extremely high heat). I think it would also be safe to add a dressing of extra virgin olive oil and vinegar of some sort to the mix (salad, that is). I’d like to hear what you and other people think about this.
Oh, and since you didn’t ask … oatmeal, flaxseed and wheat germ, cinamon, raisins, cranberries or craisins, and, if you can, some blueberries for breakfast.
One more thing … if weight (and fat content in food) is a problem, cut out the extra virgin olive oil from the above. The stuff will still taste good. I’m not sure but I would guess that the main thing is that you need to/crave the taste of meat or flesh (gosh, that sounds morbid) of some sort after your training and competition. I understand. Bulk up with the rabbit food and get your “fix” with the tuna, salmon, or turkey. The vinegar, or even something like salt and pepper or Texas Pete hot sauce, will give it some flavor (again, in the event you can’t handle the fat that accompanies the extra virgin olive oil). I still like those spices, however, especially the antioxidants (turmeric, curry, cumin, et. al.). Just my opinion.
To Your Success.
Proper nutrition and daily physical exercise is the best way to prevent the occurrence of obesity and accompanying metabolic disorders. Thx for this post!
I coach cross country and track and wondered if you had “menu” or food recommendations for distance runners (during training, morning of races, after races, etc.)