High School Health: Three nutrition tips for better athletic performance

Better choices the key to fueling your body.

As a coach or parent of student athletes you work hard every single day to help them perform the best in their sport of choice. You encourage them to get enough rest and focus on the task at hand.

But why are talented players still struggling?

The missing piece to the puzzle might very well be their nutrition. It sounds cliche but you really are what you eat. With the nutrition world exploding with new diet methods and nutritional supplements it becomes very easy to lose sight of the most important variable, how the athlete responds to their nutrition program.

That's why the emphasis of this article is on helping the athlete to make better choices. In my years of working with high school athletes there is only one constant. If they want to do something they'll do it and if they don't want to then no amount of science or screaming can change that. What are we to do when we know that a few tweaks to their diet can have a profound impact on their game? Create habits.

The entire goal of a coach or parent should be to help their student athlete adopt small habits that accomplish numerous goals. The problem starts when we begin to push too many habits at the same time. Here's a checklist that I've found to work very well to establish good nutrition habits in the high school student athletes whom I work with. Remember, one habit at a time.

Habit 1: Eat protein with every meal

While the first forty five minutes or so post exercise or game is the most essential time to consume protein,don't overlook the importance of frequent protein feedings during the course of the day. Protein increases the thermic effect of food which means that your body will have to burn more calories per gram of protein then any other food to digest and absorb the nutrients in that meal.

Protein also increases lean muscle tissue that can enhance performance and frequent protein feedings also increases the overall quality of a nutrition program.

Habit 2: Aim for one serving of vegetables per day

Teenagers don't like vegetables, I understand that and it's the main reason why I only recommend one serving per day. Some is better then none. Vegetables contain fiber which is a critical nutrient for optimal health and performance but they also contain valuable antioxidants and phytochemicals that increase recovery and improve health. The problem is that these valuable compounds aren't easily obtained elsewhere.

Habit Three: Eat the majority of your starchy carbohydrates after exercise

Student athletes love junk food and unfortunately that problem isn't ending anytime soon. Let's stop harping on them and telling them to give it up. Instead, encourage them to consume their favorite junk food after practice or a exercise session. Your body handles carbohydrates differently at specific times of the day. After exercise your body stores carbohydrates for later activity in the form of muscle glycogen and burns stored body fat for energy and recovery. If they must eat something bad then they should eat it now.

The above three habits can drastically improve the athletes health and performance but it's vital that the coach or parent is patient when implementing them. Don't move away from habit one until it's a daily ritual that the athlete follows. Only then will they get into the flow of proper nutrition and see for themselves that what they eat has a profound effect on their body. When they see the results they'll focus more.

Jimmy Smith,MS,CSCS is a performance therapist and nutritional consultant based in Stamford,CT. With experience training and consulting with professional athletes from the NHL, AHL and various college and high school sports he incorporates a unique blend of strength training, physical therapy and nutrition in his practice. He offers various online consulting services on his website

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