A Guide To Healthy Eating Out For Student-Athletes and Adults

I advocate for planning both meals and snacks when you will be traveling for work or games, but also vacation. Please see previous travel nutrition resources that I have outlined on both Instagram and Twitter. You can absolutely be healthy and meet both your health and fueling needs by scoping out the menu, restaurants, and hotel options ahead of time. Many often struggle to make good choices at the moment so it’s wise to plan ahead. I always express we have time to map out our travel because like sporting events and work meetings we know the calendar in advance. In previous blogs and presentations, I have made the effort to always say, “opportunity favors the prepared.” Despite the limited choices, you can make healthy choices at fast food places, gas stations, restaurants, and even concession stands.

So here are some guidelines to equip you with tools to make successful choices on the road, at the table, in the drive-through, and at the sporting event.

-Travel (Pack a cooler).

-You always want to pair a protein with produce.

-Failure to plan will result in limited options and will put you in a situation to be less inclined to make a healthy choice that supports your fueling and health goals.

Produce

-Fruits like (apples, pineapple, kiwi, strawberries, oranges, banana)
-Veggies like (cucumber slices, carrot and celery sticks, sliced bell peppers, cherry tomatoes)
Protein sources
-Hummus, string cheese, Greek yogurt, RTD protein shakes (Muscle Milk, Fairlife, Corepower, Orgain)
-Grilled deli meats like ham, turkey
-Canned tuna or tuna in a bag
-Beef or turkey jerky
-Protein bars (Quest, RXbar, One bar)
-Hard-boiled eggs
-Cottage cheese
Carbohydrates/whole-grains

-Oatmeal packets
-Whole-grain pitas, muffins, wraps, tortillas, bread, rice cakes, and crackers
-Baked goods ahead of time (whole-grain pancakes, waffles, oat bites)
Healthy fats
Snack pack nut butter (sunflower, peanut, cashew, almond)
-Unsalted nuts and seeds (almonds, pistachios, cashews, sunflower seeds)
-Peanut butter oat bites
-Guacamole/avocado snack packs
Click here to use my discount code (143NWW) for 15% off any Nut’s N More nut butter or powdered nut butter.

Combinations include:
-Grapes and string cheese
-Turkey whole-grain sandwich
-Fruit and nut butter snack pack
-Applesauce and hard-boiled egg
-Spinach, veggie, grilled chicken salad, sliced avocado
-Bell peppers (green, red, orange, yellow) 4-6 peppers in baggies
-Hummus and cottage cheese in contai

ners to add to sandwiches and fruit
-Greek yogurt parfaits and mason jar overnight protein oats

Fast food/eating out guide
Remember to visualize building a healthy plate that meets all your food groups (lean protein, healthy fat, fruit, veggie, dairy, and whole-grain). See the performance plate here for student-athletes and a weight-loss/healthy plate for adults.
-Always choose grilled, baked, roasted, or steamed in regards to veggies and protein
-Make sure your bread or bun is whole-grain
-Water in place of soda and fruit juices
-Reduce portion size (don’t supersize to save a buck) your waistline will thank you. Ask for a to-go box immediately upon ordering to have a plan to portion control.
-Replace fries with Greek yogurt, salad, or fruit cup option
-Ask for dressing on the side
-Replace mayo with avocado as a healthier option to increase creamy taste, texture, and flavor
-Use olive oil or avocado in place of dressing if able
Examples:
Subway has protein bowls now!
You can replace the high-fat, high-kcal dressings, mayo, or spicy blue cheese dressing with avocado or olive oil.
You can also ask for the dressing on the side. Choose grilled chicken instead of fried. Ask for additional proteins (egg, grilled meats, cheese) to meet your needs!

Chick-fil-A (one of the most popular fast food places amongst teens and my athletes personally)
Young athletes and adults will still go to fast food places and will yes, eat chicken nuggets. So, practical tips are something I am a huge proponent of. Would I rather you eat a grilled turkey cheese sandwich on whole-grain bread, spinach, and avocado slices with fruit? Yes, absolutely!  But the reality is …that won’t always be an option. So, read on for healthy options at Chick-Fil-A!
  • Choose grilled chicken nuggets instead of fried and pair with a salad (dressing on the side) and a fruit cup
  • Choose their Greek yogurt parfait or Egg white grill for breakfast
    • Nutrition information:
      • 90 calories, 9 g of fat, and 26 grams of protein
  • Another healthy option is the Chick-Fil-A Cool Wrap!
    • Nutrition information:
      • 470 calories, 24 g fat, 22 g carbs, and 43 g protein
  • A grilled chicken sandwich is also a wonderful option
    •  Roughly 380 kcal, 44g of carbs, and 28 g of protein!
    • You can ask for extra tomato and lettuce
    • If you’re concerned about consuming more protein and fewer carbs you can use half the bread. Bear in mind the bun is multigrain so it is still healthier than white as it contains B-vitamins and has not been stripped of its nutrients like most white bread.
    • Fruit cup instead of side salad or ask for dressing on the side and enjoy the salad.

When eating at a sit-down restaurant:

-Scope out the menu before going

Never go to the restaurant OVERLY HUNGRY! You will overheat and be unhappy with yourself.

Have a small snack before you go containing some protein. A few great choices would be:

  • 1/2 apple with some peanut butter
  • 1 string cheese with cucumber slices
  • Hummus and carrot sticks
  • 1/2 protein bar (travel remember)

-Meet your needs (protein, produce, portion)

-Ask for a box before the food arrives to have a plan to consume the proper portion. (Many restaurants often serve 3x the appropriate portion). Consume half of each of the food on your plate and put the remainder in the box to take home or put in your hotel fridge!


Concession stand/gas station eats

**Keep in mind convenience stores should not be your reliance as you will spend more money out of sheer convenience. Versus if you purchase these items ahead of time before travel you will save money and also not put yourself in a situation to be limited in making a healthy choice.

But should you need to stop without packing a cooler here are some healthy options!

-Nuts and seed bags (pistachios, walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds)

-Pick fruit (apple, pear, fruit cup, grapes, banana) and pair it with a protein bar (see above options)

-Hard-boiled eggs paired with fruit

-Cheese sticks

-Sparkling water, zero sugar Gatorade, flavored waters, propel ect. (avoid fountain sodas)

Beef or turkey jerky (watch sodium)

-Almond butter or peanut butter packs (Justin’s Almond Butter  or Jif)

-Hummus and carrots mixture

-Greek yogurt (Chobani is found at every gas station)

-Quest protein bars or RXbars (almost every gas station carriers these)

-Muscle milk, Fairlife Corepower protein shake, Shamrock Farms Rockin’ Refuel, and Organic Farms

 

In closing, failure to consume enough quality protein, carbs, and overall kcal will increase the risk of injury, decrease performance, hinder cognition, blunt focus, and limit the overall health athletic performance of the individual. Nutrition can make a good athlete great or a great athlete good. It is also important to lead by example if you are a parent or coach leading a group of student-athletes.

This blog offers several tools to fill your toolbox as a coach, athlete, parent, and beyond. I am passionate about helping both young student-athletes and adults live a healthy lifestyle. I kindly ask you to share it on social media pages as well as with your student-athletes.

Say a prayer for our government officials in office while you’re at it. Our world needs some extra prayers and kindness. As you know, I am a Christian-focused dietitian and am employed by Jesus Christ. This entire platform is used to help my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ nourish their temple. But for the goal of glorifying God. It’s all for Him.

In good health, safety, and athletic performance,

 

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, LD, CISSN

Wendi Irlbeck is a registered dietitian nutritionist and performance coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She partners with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi provides virtual services including telehealth but is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wendi works with clients of all levels and ages across the US as well as Canada and the UK. You can find more about Wendi and scheduling an appointment with her on her website.

What can hiring a sports nutritionist offer your program? Learn more hereTestimonials of Wendi’s expertise from colleges, coaches, parents, young athletes, and high school administrators can be found at the testimonial link on her website. You can also follow Wendi on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram for more nutrition information

No Cooking Required Meal and Snack Ideas for Student-Athletes

A few weeks ago I went into Target and took several images of foods I would personally recommend to my student-athletes and active adult clients. If you recall I posted a thread of a few photos from the grocery shopping trip on Twitter. These are great options for anyone looking to improve their health with limited time and little to no cooking skills.

Remember my, “put down the phone and pick up breakfast post?” Be sure to check that out as well! If you have time to scroll social media you have time to eat breakfast!

Many of these items and ideas are great for the pantry at home or for the college dorm!

Breakfast ideas:

English muffin cut in half with sliced avocado paired with 3/4 cup Greek yogurt and mixed blueberries and raspberries.

 

 

 

A glass of Fairlife chocolate milk or plant-based alternative + Kashi cereal 

 

 

 

See grab-and-go options that can be prepared ahead of time.

(no cooking required of course)

Greek Yogurt Berry Bark Bites! Recipe here

 

 

     Mason jar protein Oats

Frozen breakfast bagel sandwich or breakfast burrito

 

Greek yogurt parfait 

Make the night beforehand (Greek yogurt, berries, chia, nut butter)

English muffin/Whole-grain pita wrap with mashed banana and peanut butter

 

Toast + 2 oz. deli turkey + 1 oz. cheese + tomato wedges paired with chocolate Corepower

 

 

Wendi’s tasty Greek yogurt breakfast toast recipe

 

 

Hard-boiled eggs + apple + string cheese

 

 

Protein smoothie bag (Prepare the night beforehand frozen berries, spinach, chia seeds, whey protein powder and place in zip lock baggie) Pour into blender with milk and add Greek Yogurt the morning of and blend!

Microwave egg-omelet in a glass bowl with spinach, kale, bell peppers + banana, and low-fat milk.

Kodiak instant oatmeal +strawberries + Greek yogurt

Grab and go peanut butter packs paired with fruit

Kodiak Cakes Power Cup Muffins (12 g of protein but you can add milk and Greek yogurt to increase protein) + fruit for more energy!

 

Kodiak cake frozen waffles or pancakes paired with grab n-go nut butter packets + 1 apple

 

 

RX nut butter packets or Nuts ‘N More

Click here to use my discount code (143NWW) for 15% off any Nut’s N More nut butter or powdered nut butter.

NWW POWER SMOOTHIE!!! Greek yogurt protein smoothie blended with 1 cup spinach, 4 oz. low-fat milk and ½ cup whole-grain oats. See recipe

See other breakfast options or read my full blog Motor Revving Breakfast Ideas here!


Lunch ideas:

  • Spinach bowl topped with two hard-boiled eggs + 1-2 tbsp chickpeas, raspberries, almonds + avocado slices + Kind bar
  • Greek yogurt parfait, pepper/cucumber slices, apple, RX bar, cheese stick

 

Microwavable lentil pasta + add pre-cooked meat + cheese + marinara sauce

 

 

Whole-grain pita with 3 oz. deli ham + carrot sticks + kiwi slices + almonds

 

 

Whole-grain turkey cheese, spinach, tomato sandwich with mashed avocado + mixed fruit cup + serving of whole-grain pretzels

 

If you’re really pressed for time this lunch idea is for you!

Tuna packet (17 g of protein)

Pre-packaged carrot sticks & guacamole

Whole-grain English muffin

Apple, banana, or pear (backpack stable)

See other travel options here


Dinner ideas:

                            Microwavable sweet potato

Fully loaded with sour cream, cheese blend, chives, topped 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, or cottage cheese. Pair with a slice of Ezekiel toast topped with avocado, and microwavable egg. Here is an example Recipe

Grilled chicken salad

2 oz of pre-grilled chicken added to a bed of spinach + romaine + ½ cup black beans/chickpea mix + mixed cheese blend, 1 sliced hardboiled egg, 1 tbsp. sunflower seeds with a dressing of choice. Highly recommend Bolthouse Farms Greek yogurt as a healthy dressing.

Riced veggie tacos

Frozen bag of riced veggies cooked in the microwave that can be topped with edamame, salsa, in a whole-grain tortilla, shredded pre-made pulled pork, cheddar cheese blend with avocado slices.


Snack pairings (snacks should contain protein and carb) for athletes and for less active days a protein + a plant/healthy fat).

Snack pack nut butter + fruit

Greek yogurt cup + almonds

 

 

 

Tuna packet + veggies

 

 

 

 

Guacamole to go

String cheese sticks + applesauce

Chocolate milk + cherries

RX Oats + fruit

Grapes + cottage cheese

 

Applesauce + Kashi bar

Hard-boiled eggs Nuts + dried fruit + cereal (healthy trail mix)

Greek yogurt + pumpkin pure + chia

Cottage cheese + kiwi + cinnamon spice

1/2 Turkey cheese bagel

Toast with sunflower seed nut butter (PEANUT FREE OPTION) + banana or kiwi slices

 

 

 

Hummus + cucumber/carrot/celery stick mix

CorePower protein drink + fruit

Overnight protein oats (chia, milk, flax, cinnamon, fruit, honey, or nut butter) See my recipes here!

Protein oat bites

 

 

 

 

Hard-boiled eggs + apple

 

 

 

 

Cottage cheese + fruit

RX layers protein bar + pineapple

 

 

 

 

 

 

Squeezable apple sauce packets + RX bar

Teriyaki beef jerky + pre-cut bell pepper slices

Hummus + apple + celery and carrot sticks

Greek yogurt + PB2 + unsalted almonds

 

Serving of trail mix + 2 hard-boiled eggs

Quest protein bar + watermelon slice

 

Skinny pop popcorn + string cheese

 

 

Whole meals first supplement second. Supplements are meant to satisfy small gaps in nutrition and to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Good nutritional habits must be established first. For additional guidance to ensure your athletes are meeting their protein and carbohydrate needs check out this article. No supplement can replace whole foods. See pantry staple ideas for athletes here!

 

 

All items are available at Target or Trader Joe’s!

In good health and wellness,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and performance coach. She utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She partners with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi provides virtual services including telehealth but is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wendi works with clients of all levels and ages across the US as well as Canada and the UK. You can find more about Wendi and scheduling an appointment here.

What can hiring a sports nutritionist offer your program? Learn more here.

 

Testimonials of Wendi’s expertise from colleges, coaches, parents, young athletes, and high school administrators can be found at the testimonial link on her website. You can also follow Wendi on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram for more nutrition information. 

Refueling Youth Athletes in Under 500 Words

Refueling needs depend largely on the type and duration of training completed, body composition goals, and overall personal preferences. This blog will focus solely on refueling post-training.

  • Rehydrate: Ingest fluids and electrolytes during and immediately after training within 30-minutes to jumpstart the recovery process.
  • Refuel: Post-training, carbohydrates are needed to restore glycogen paired with protein to repair muscle damage that occurred during training. The goal of refueling is to promote both muscle repair and muscle protein synthesis.
    • The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2 to 2.0 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day for athletes, depending on the type of training.
    • Refilling your glycogen stores as an athlete should be a priority, especially when completing back-to-back training sessions.

Why prioritize refueling?

By immediately consuming a high-quality protein paired with a carbohydrate post-training you can enhance muscle gain, muscle growth, reduce time to recovery between back-to-back training sessions, increase overall performance, and decrease the risk of injuries, as well as fighting off on-set fatigue. Are you refueling a two-a-day? Build a plate that supports both training and recovery demands!

A post-training meal is key to support recovery and training.  Consume 25-40 grams of protein paired with 50-100 grams of carbohydrates within 30 minutes of activity for reducing muscle breakdown and supporting training adaptations. More information on recovery nutrition here.

Soft reminder with regard to protein intake: WE USE WHAT WE NEED according to the ISSN Position Stand on Protein and Exercise . We use what we need.  This means for many athletes can benefit from consuming closer to the 40g post-training due to limited protein intake at other meals or the quality of the protein. But at the least follow my “25-50-30 rule”

Smart supplements

  • Creatine is one of the most widely investigated supplements with proven ergogenic benefits along with recovery from intense training. Creatine paired with a carbohydrate immediately post-resistance training is superior to pre-workout in terms of body composition and strength. Creatine is insulin-mediated so it requires a carbohydrate. Use creatine in your chocolate milk, Greek yogurt parfait, or pair with a protein banana shake. For guidance on supplementing with creatine monohydrate see my previous blog here.
  • 8 oz. of tart cherry juice following exercise can help reduce inflammation, muscle soreness and can even aid in reducing upper respiratory tract symptoms all of which contribute to minimizing the risk of injury, according to a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
  • Low-fat chocolate milk has also been proven an effective refueling choice offering electrolytes, carbohydrates, 8 grams of high-quality protein, and the scientifically proven 3:1 ratio for recovery.

Wishing you blessings of health, wellness, and optimal performance,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, and performance coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She partners with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi provides virtual services including telehealth but based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wendi works with clients of all levels and ages across the US as well as Canada and the UK. You can find more about Wendi and scheduling an appointment with her on her website.

What can hiring a sports nutritionist offer your program? Learn more here. Testimonials of Wendi’s expertise from colleges, coaches, parents, young athletes, and high school administrators can be found at the testimonial link on her website. You can also follow Wendi on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram for more nutrition information. Service

A Humble Note of Thanks to the ISSN!

In 2014 I left my comfortable corporate fitness and wellness job to become a performance dietitian to work with athletes (chase my dreams).  This journey would require me to complete another BS, a Master of Science, along with my dietetic internship and national board examination for dietitians. During my MS I was always doing my research around sports nutrition, vitamin D for athletes, and supplements. Using any chance I could to transform a clinical project into a sports-focused one.
During my graduate nutrition program, I felt like the black sheep. I was told “clinical” is the only way to go and that it’s darn near impossible to work in sports nutrition. I knew clinical dietetics was not for me and did not agree with much of what was taught.
I felt frustrated until I found out about the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), I quickly ordered, “Sports Nutrition & Performance Enhancing Supplements”,  by @supphd and @asmithryan that I would read any free chance I had between working with sports teams and completing my studies.
I remember saying to myself, this book is amazing! I wish I could meet both of these brilliant scientists someday and thank them for fueling my passion and knowledge.
I began reading the ISSN Position stand papers which led to my love of sports science. I  then took to Twitter posting relentlessly illustrating the ISSN’s position stand papers findings, takeaways, and practical applications for both coaches and athletes. I used all the emojis.
I learned quickly how much misinformation existed on Twitter which significantly ️fueled my passion to promote as much evidence-based information as possible. I committed myself to become a credible sports nutrition resource and dietitian that was open-minded to science.
I attended my first ISSN conference in 2016 in Clearwater Beach Florida and the rest is history. Everyone at the ISSN welcomed me and made me feel comfortable to ask questions, learn and even foster relationships! The ISSN has become like family to me.
Joey, Erik, Trisha, Abby, and many others treated me like family. They were kind, welcoming, and supported me as I grew over the years in my work, studies, and more. To know these people as friends, role models, and mentors is something totally unexpected. I highly recommend you join and learn for yourself how great this organization is. I have learned so much as a practitioner that I have implemented into practice with my clients, athletes, and fellow dietitians.
It is a real honor to be recognized by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), for my contributions in translating the science into practical applications for coaches, athletes, and more.  I remember tweeting studies using emojis in the early days of 2015 and people like Dr. Rob Wildman, Chief Science Officer Dymatize told me, “Hey, that’s good stuff keep posting.” Dr. Rob’s comment meant a lot to me as a young student given his robust knowledge and work in the field.
So, I kept sharing the science with the goal to always reduce the misinformation and help guide people away from fear, fads, and lies. The ISSN has so many great position stand papers illustrating the science behind using creatine monohydrate, beta-alanine, caffeine, higher-protein diets, and more. Go check them out as they have served as a significant basis of many of my tweets over the years. A huge thank you for this recognition and honor! I also can’t wait to be a presenter next year as well!  This organization has helped me become the credible performance nutrition expert I am today. All glory to God and thank you to the ISSN.
The ISSN– Why Go Anywhere Else? Be sure to follow along on Instagram , Facebook and Twitter for all things health, wellness and performance nutrition!
In good health and all glory to God,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN

Should Youth Athletes Use Creatine?

17-year-old, Jenkins comes strutting out of the weight room after he just crushed a workout living his strongest, healthiest, and injury-free life. While walking out of the weight room Jenkins is using Nutrition with Wendi’s recommended “25-50-30 rule” and is downing a shaker bottle with chocolate milk and creatine paired with a banana. Jenkins is a smart kid and has focused on proper sleep, hydration, eating well, and managing his stress while training hard. But of course many make comments like, “You know that powder he is mixing in there is steroids right? One of my parent’s friends said his coach has been encouraging the use of anabolic steroids for years!” YIKES RIGHT??

Ever heard this crazy misinformation before? Yeah, me too. It has spread like wildfire.  It is even more gut-wrenching when it’s spread by doctors, trainers, health care professionals, influencers, or random people on the internet that know very little about science, sports performance, or even what creatine is. Insert facepalm. Good news! I am here to dispel those myths and provide the science to help combat the misinformation that is so toxic.

Creatine is one of the most effective ergogenic aids for adult athletes and is safe. Creatine effectively increases lean mass, strength, power, speed, and exercise capacity (1).  But what about youth athletes? I have had several high school coaches and concerned parents of youth athletes ask me questions like, “Is creatine safe for my kids? Should my female athletes be using creatine?” In almost every conversation, my first response is, “It depends.” Just like any other question I get, nutrition-, health-, fitness- or performance-related, it should be individualized. Creatine, however, is beneficial to all populations according to the science outlined in this article. As a registered dietitian, I strongly promote a “food first” and back-to-basics philosophy. For more information on healthy eating and performance nutrition, see a previous blog here. I empower anyone working with youth athletes to use the guidance in this article when considering “to supplement with creatine or not.”

Creatine Monohydrate 101:

  • 95% of creatine is found in skeletal muscle
  • The human body needs 1-3 g per day
  • Most creatine in the diet comes from animal products like meat, fish, & poultry
  • Enhances post-exercise recovery, injury prevention, and/or spinal cord neuroprotection and muscle growth

What is it?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound formed by three amino acids, making it a tripeptide (tri- meaning three) of the amino acids L-glycine, L-arginine, and L-methionine. Creatine is assembled in a two-step process that occurs in the kidneys and liver. 

Creatine can be consumed via dietary sources, which include foods like eggs, milk, tuna, salmon, herring, cod, shrimp, beef, and pork. Consuming enough creatine from the diet is challenging given the total creatine pool available according to an article published in Frontiers in Nutrition Sport and Exercise Nutrition by Candow et al., 2019. This literature, along with the International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand on Creatine Supplementation and Exercise, suggests the body needs to replenish about 1–3 g of creatine per day to maintain normal (un-supplemented) creatine stores depending on muscle mass.  Creatine monohydrate is the most well-studied form of creatine in the literature. For a more detailed breakdown of other forms please check out Will Brink’s fantastic breakdown on Creatine HCL vs Monohydrate for a deep dive.

Creatine improves numerous factors including strength, power, sprint ability, muscular endurance, resistance to fatigue, muscle mass, recovery, cognition, and rate of muscle growth. Creatine is one of the most widely studied, proven performance enhancers available that also offers clinical benefits (4).

How does creatine work?

Creatine deposits high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. This is given to adenosine diphosphate (ADP), regenerating it to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the sole energy carrier in the human body, which can be called “energy currency” for cells to carry out their functions. For example, during conditions of short-term, high-energy demand activities (<30 seconds) with limited recovery time, ATP runs out quickly, which illustrates the importance of creatine stored in muscles in the form of creatine phosphate. This is explained here

Since creatine phosphate restores ATP, it gives muscle cells the ability to produce greater energy. The greater creatine stores you have, the greater energy your muscle cells can yield during high-intensity exercise, thus leading to increased exercise performance. Even though the most well-documented and primary benefit is higher energy production, this mechanism also supports muscle gain and strength increases, as explained here.

Despite creatine being widely tested since the early 1900s with significant data supporting its effectiveness, it is widely misunderstood by many trainers, coaches, athletes, and concerned parents of high school athletes. Yes, it is 2021 and people still think creatine monohydrate is a steroid due to misinformation generated across social media and the general population (4).

Disregard the false, outlandish, disproven claims. I am referencing the silly fallacies like, “creatine will make you fat,” “creatine will cause liver, kidney, or bone injury,” “creatine will dehydrate you,” or my personal favorite, “creatine is a steroid that will also lead to baldness.” I know. What a bunch of nonsense. I addressed these fallacies in a previous blog, Creatine Not Just for Men or Muscle. Please go check it out if you are a female because creatine can help you improve your lean mass and lose that fat.

Antonio et al. published a phenomenal paper outlining the common questions and misconceptions regarding creatine use available for open access here (1). I highly recommend you read it and share it with anyone who may have creatine confusion disorder. I made that up, but you get my point. Creatine monohydrate is beneficial for many things beyond performance, which is not my opinion but the science!

Potential ergogenic benefits of creatine supplementation in adults (4):

  • Greater training tolerance
  • Increased sprint performance
  • Increased work performed during sets of maximal effort
  • Increased lean mass & strength adaptations during physical training
  • Enhanced glycogen synthesis
  • Increased work capacity
  • Enhanced recovery
  • Increased anaerobic threshold

If you’re interested in my opinion as a dietitian and performance practitioner working with several athletes I highly recommend creatine. Creatine is like the Swiss Army knife of supplements! It can do so many things!

In November 2020 I had the fortunate opportunity to be a guest on Dr. Bradford Cooper’s podcast, Catalyst Coaching, where I discussed the role creatine plays according to science. Please check out the video or podcast here.

What about side effects?

There is robust evidence to support the effectiveness of creatine in the adult population. Among children and adolescents, there is mounting evidence to support the therapeutic benefits of creatine supplementation as well as clinical and exercise performance. Available studies in the adolescent population involving high-intensity exercise training indicate performance benefits as well as no reported side effects (1,2).

In relation to performance, the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has concluded that creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic supplement available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise and supporting lean body mass during training. The ISSN has also concluded CM is safe.(4).

Does creatine work in young athletes?

Regardless of the limited data in this population, creatine is likely safe, beneficial, and well-tolerated among youth athletes as evidenced by the available data (2). 

  • Creatine supplementation improved time performance and strength in highly competitive swimmers (2,3).
  • Youth soccer players experienced improved sprinting, vertical jump, dribbling, and shooting (6).
  • Creatine can support brain health, offering neuroprotective effects following a concussive injury in athletes < 16 years old (4).

Check out a Creatine Supplementation in Children and Adolescents review carried out by Jagim and Kerksick, 2021, outlining the available studies involving youth athletes for more information.

Another podcast to check out is Gerry DeFilippo. Gerry kindly invited me on his podcast to discuss the different forms of creatine. To learn more download and listen to Episode #143 Everything You Need to Know About Creatine with Wendi Irlbeck.

Should my teen athletes be supplementing with creatine?

As always, food first, but creatine can be a safe and effective regimen for young athletes who meet the following criteria (1,5):

  • Consuming a well-balanced diet
  • Consuming a diet with a greater emphasis on plant proteins like soy and pea which do not provide creatine like animal proteins
  • Involved in high-intensity training, competitive sports which include:
    • Track
    • Swimming
    • Lacrosse
    • Ice Hockey
    • American Football
    • Volleyball
    • Field Hockey
    • Basketball
    • Soccer
    • Tennis
    • Olympic Weightlifting
    • Rugby
    • Combat Sports (MMA, wrestling, boxing, etc.)

It is always best practice that athletes of any age fully educate themselves by consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified sports nutritionist, exercise physiologist, or sports-focused physician before use of any supplement. Similarly, any products used should be NSF International Certified for Sport to reduce the risk of consuming any harmful or contaminated products. Supplements are regulated but not as heavily regulated as pharmaceuticals. Please see reasons to use NSF Certified for Sport products in a previous blog.

“The USADA recommends that athletes use only dietary supplements that have been certified by a third-party program that tests for substances prohibited in sport. The USADA is responsible for anti-doping education and testing for athletes in the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Movements as well as the UFC.”

Therefore, all supplements used should be third-party tested for safety, purity, and compliance. For the sake of convenience and safety, you and your athlete can download the NSF Certified Sport app.

I preach food first, nutrient periodization, quality rest, good sleep hygiene, hydration, and appropriate training, all of which can be better enhanced using creatine monohydrate (CM). Based on the strongest science and studies, CM is the recommended form. CM is used in the studies. Therefore, it should be used in practice as well. I discussed the other forms in my guest appearance on Muscles and Management.

When to use creatine?

The science suggests creatine is most effective immediately post-workout when paired with protein and carbohydrate (7). Creatine consumed immediately post-resistance training is superior to pre-workout in terms of body composition and strength (7). The recommended dose is 3-5 g of creatine per day. Creatine can be used at any time of day. Creatine is safe and effective on rest days from exercise as well as training days.

While CM is best paired with a carbohydrate-rich source (like oatmeal, whole-grain bread, rice, fruit, smoothies, or yogurt) to draw it into muscle cells, it can also be added to water or other beverages. A saturated cell is a happy cell! This supports recovery and muscle repair following resistance training. 

Most creatine supplements are in powder form and must be used in warm water to support the dissolving process. CM will dissolve slowly in cold water and often ends up in the bottom of a shaker bottle, which won’t do any good if it doesn’t make it into your mouth! Creapure is a great brand to use and offers more explanation on dosing. Check it out here! No, I do not have a partnership or any affiliation with Creapure. I just want to share that they make a great product.

My female youth soccer players have integrated CM post-training with their tart cherry juice and chocolate milk. I have taken time to discuss the safety, use, and benefits with my youth athlete’s parents, coaches, and even their PE teachers. I have 50% of my youth athletes supplementing with CM. CM is always a conversation we have after we wrap up their 6-week Nutrition with Wendi Coaching Program.

Do I need to load?

No, you do not need to “creatine load”. In fact, many studies use a typical creatine dose of 5-10 g daily or smaller doses like the standard 2-3 g. However, if you desire to do a loading phase, it would look something like 20-25 g for 5-7 days followed by a maintenance phase of 5 g daily for 4 weeks, 2 weeks off, and then repeat. I do not have any of my athletes do this cycling as it is unnecessary. See the ISSN’s Position Stand for more on this (4).

Studies support the benefits of CM supplementation regardless of the dose. However, that does not mean more is better. If you are a vegetarian and new to using CM, you would benefit from saturating the muscles with CM, leading to an acute increase in strength and bodyweight via water retention. However, please refer to the experts and those I respect most in the field like Dr. Darren Candow, Dr. Tim N. Ziegenfuss, Dr. Scott Forbes, Dr. Jose Anotonio, Dr. Rich Krider, Dr. Eric Rawson, and others who can further provide the research they have been doing for the last few decades.

Please see another podcast in which I had the opportunity to speak about creatine in the youth population via the Big Time Strength podcast.

Closing thoughts

There is robust literature to support the beneficial effects creatine has on body composition, physical performance, injury prevention, recovery, brain health, and clinical use. Currently, there have not been any negative effects associated with the use of CM in both the adolescent and adult population. Adolescent athletes under the age of 18, and even children as young as infants, can safely consume CM. There is zero evidence to suggest CM supplementation would cause harm, dehydration, cramping, or any other outlandish claims that have been disproven by Antonio et al., 2021, and others. Not incorporating a CM supplement would be a disservice to your athletes or even yourself!

Key takeaways:

  • Anyone looking to improve their health of any age or activity level can safely consume 3-5 g of creatine monohydrate immediately post-workout paired with a carbohydrate. 
  • By supplementing with creatine monohydrate immediately following training, you’re able to support muscle growth and recovery, injury prevention, and overall health. 
  • Yes, creatine is safe to consume if you are a teen athlete. Yes, you should use creatine monohydrate.
  • No, creatine is not a steroid. No, creatine will not cause baldness. No, creatine will not dehydrate you. No, creatine will not cause cramps. No, creatine will not decrease your bone mineral density.
  • If you have a beating pulse, then creatine monohydrate is for you!

Sports physicians, athletic trainers, coaches, performance nutritionists, and others working with youth athletes should provide the best guidance to teen athletes based on the available science to support their principal interests. Kids are going to be using supplements like energy drinks and pre-workouts, which contain dangerous amounts of caffeine. I would rather we provide education behind the safety and use of creatine, which is not dangerous but beneficial. I would like to see more people using creatine given the ergogenic benefits and no reported adverse effects. Creatine monohydrate is a safe, effective, and inexpensive way to support health and physical performance! Please don’t let, “Joe Public” from accounting or “Susie Quinn,” on Instagram tell you any different. 

In good health and wellness,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN  is a registered dietitian nutritionist and performance coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She partners with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi provides virtual services including telehealth but is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wendi works with clients of all levels and ages across the US as well as Canada and the UK. You can find more about Wendi and scheduling an appointment with her on her website.

What can hiring a sports nutritionist offer your program? Learn more here.  Interested in signing up for the NEW and upcoming NWW newsletter? Click here to sign up!

References

  1. Antonio, J., Candow, D.G., Forbes, S.C. et al. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show?. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 18, 13 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w
  2. Grindstaff PD, Kreider R, Bishop R, Wilson M, Wood L, Alexander C, et al. Effects of creatine supplementation on repetitive sprint performance and body composition in competitive swimmers. Int J Sport Nutr. (1997) 7:330–46.
  3. Ostojic SM. Creatine supplementation in young soccer players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Feb;14(1):95-103. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.14.1.95. PMID: 15129933.
  4. Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-017-0173-z
  5. Jagim AR, Stecker RA, Harty PS, Erickson JL, Kerksick CM. Safety of creatine supplementation in active adolescents and youth: A Brief Review. Front Nutr. 2018;5:115. Published 2018 Nov 28. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00115
  6. Ostojic SM. Creatine supplementation in young soccer players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Feb;14(1):95-103. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.14.1.95. PMID: 15129933
  7. Antonio J, Ciccone V. The effects of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Aug 6;10:36. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-36. PMID: 23919405; PMCID: PMC3750511.

 

Fueling Youth Athletes in Under 500 Words

Back to the basics! There is no magic meal or diet that will “win games”. If you want to be a better athlete listen up. Consume 3-4 high-quality meals with 2 to 3 snacks in between to support health and optimal performance. Discourage from trying new foods on game day or more intense training days when training duration and load are greater. A post-training meal is key to support recovery and training.  Simplify the science and empower your athletes to follow the “25-50-30 rule”.

addition to two to three snacks for better focus academically, mentally, and physically. Not skipping meals and fueling up can help increase performance, strength, performance adaptations, decrease the risk of injuries, and on-set fatigue. More on building a high-performance plate can be assessed here.

Nutrient timing 101 Nutrient timing can Consume 25 grams of protein paired with 50 grams of carbohydrates within 30 minutes of activity for reducing muscle breakdown and supporting training adaptations. More information on recovery nutrition here.

Don’t skip breakfast

Nutrients and calories missed at breakfast by teens are unlikely to be made up for later in the day. Grab-and-go options; hard boiled-egg and fruit, string cheese, banana, Greek yogurt parfait, whole-grain oats, berries, or a whole-grain turkey bagel sandwich. More breakfast ideas to share with young athletes can be found here. Bowls filled with granola and berries

A second breakfast can satisfy energy needs during high-volume and intense training phases or for weight gain. For example, incorporating chocolate milk, peanut butter sandwich, nuts, and seeds with string cheese can help increase calories and nutrition. For additional guidance on fueling your athletes check out this article on practical tips to fueling young athletes as a strength coach.

Hydration is one of the most undervalued performance enhancers available. Water is vital to peak performance. A rule of thumb I encourage is 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. Invest in a good water bottle for your teen athlete to keep on hand. For every pound lost during training, the athlete should replace it with 16-24 oz. of fluid.

A bedtime snack containing 15-20 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbohydrates for restful sleep and growing lean muscle tissue during the night. Cottage cheese, milk, and yogurt are rich in slow-digesting protein. Pair an 8 oz. serving of cottage cheese with sliced bananas for a high-protein, high-magnesium bedtime snack. Magnesium helps relax muscles and lowers brain temperature to regulate hormones.

Eat the Rainbow. Fruits and veggies contain quality nutrients needed for optimal growth and development. The more pigment and color in an athlete’s diet the healthier the immune system they will have that will fight off the risk of infection, illness, and support long-term health.

Whole meals first supplement second. Supplements are meant to satisfy small gaps in nutrition and to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Good nutritional habits must be established first. For additional guidance to ensure your athletes are meeting their protein and carbohydrate needs check out this article. No supplement can replace whole foods.

In good health and wellness,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, and performance coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She partners with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi provides virtual services including telehealth but based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wendi works with clients of all levels and ages across the US as well as Canada and the UK. You can find more about Wendi and scheduling an appointment with her on her website.

What can hiring a sports nutritionist offer your program? Learn more here.

 

Testimonials of Wendi’s expertise from colleges, coaches, parents, young athletes, and high school administrators can be found at the testimonial link on her website. You can also follow Wendi on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram for more nutrition information. Service

6 Necessary Tips to Maintain Health and Conditioning During Quarantine

Baseball and softball diamonds are empty. Soccer fields and tracks lay desolate. High school sports’ championships are cancelled. Indefinite halt in practices, games, and tournaments have left many coaches, parents and young athletes devastated. A whole new pain has developed around the world when the term “cancelled” is used due to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). For many, their outlet for stress, health, social time and joy has been halted with short notice. The all-around impact when sports and organized recreation resumes, remains uncertain. The big question remains: “When will this end, and when can we return to our normal lives again?” The reality is, we will not return to how things were. How do we adapt, overcome, and conquer the many challenges of unknowns and uncontrollable modalities? This article will aim to provide clarity, support and motivation, and simple tips to stay healthy and conditioned during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are many things sport athletes cannot control, such as weather conditions, their opponent, playing fields and, now, a pandemic! Ultimately one thing that athletes of all ages (adults too) can control is themselves. Being involved in a sport creates routine through practice and preparation. Routines were carried out and executed pre-pandemic and they should now be established during the coronavirus to prevent further declines in health, wellness, and overall athletic performance. Creating structure in life is more important than ever. Many young athletes may find themselves feeling “abnormal” or “off” and it is important for coaches and parents to check in with them. During these first few weeks of the “Stay at Home Order” here in Michigan many of my young athletes and clients have been faced with a different way of life and schedule. Schedule and routine should be the second most important priority after the shelter in place. Health hack: You can still maintain your fitness at home with regular walking, body weight exercises, light weights with greater volume and of course proper nutrition. -Please Schedule a consultation with me if you’re desiring further assistance in any area of your health, I am here to help.

5-6 Simple Suggestions to Keep You Healthy & Conditioned During the Pandemic:

  • PLAN Your Day. Set your alarm to wake up to the same time each day, eat regular meals & snacks, hydration goals, when you will train, complete school-work, watch your favorite show, read, walk the dog, study, and complete chores. Without a routine, your energy, nutrition, water or fueling goals will be affected. Structuring your day will benefit your mental health and athletic success post-virus. Utilize this time to focus on taking care of your body, schoolwork, mental health, and maintaining overall optimism. It is okay to live by the “one-day-at-a-time” mantra. Do not undo all the hard work put into your training. Take a breath, stay motivated, and conditioned.
  • PLAN Your Bedtime. Establish a bed-time routine to carve out time to brush teeth, wash your face, and prepare for rest. Research supports more restful sleep when we limit phone use prior to bed. For example, establish a bedtime of 10 pm. Begin getting ready for bed at 9:15 pm. Put your phone away, meditate, limit time around books and activities that would decrease your ability to relax. Be in bed by 9:45 with time to quiet your mind and fall asleep by 10 pm.
  • PLAN Your Intent. What does this mean? When you wake up, write down what you want to accomplish for the day. This simple act is powerful, it creates structure and meaning to our day. If we start our day being mindful of what we want to accomplish and the intent of our actions, it will facilitate the motivation and drive to tackle them.
  • Body Composition. Many are concerned about gaining weight due to less activity. This applies to not only young impressionable athletes but adults as well. Do not overdo it with exercise trying to “earn calories” or “burn off what you ate”. For some young and older athletes, this time at home may mean more activity because of “extra time”. It may be wise to limit intensive training to what your coach or trainer has prioritized. Be sure to enjoy light, mindful movement with your family such as going on walks together. It is key to remember that supporting proper growth, development and maturation needs, are all priorities for young athletes. To learn more, please read one of my previous blogs here. Reminder: young athletes eat first and fuel second. This concept is also illustrated in a blog I recently wrote for strength coaches at the high school level.
  • PLAN Your Meals. By no means should young athletes be cutting out food groups, meals or critical calories because schedule changes. Meal planning and usual eating habits are likely to be affected if they are less active and not training as intensely. Pandemic or not, young athletes still need the fundamental three to four high-quality meals that contain the basics (lean protein, fruit, vegetable, whole-grain and dairy). The snacks consumed in-between meals may decrease due to less activity, training and events. I have always encouraged my athletes to consume a protein and carbohydrate source as snack. However, with less activity than usual, a lower carbohydrate snack may be a better option (such as string cheese with cucumber slices). For many, eating nowadays may be similar to “off-season” eating or rest days. However, the athletes training more intensely or adding in addition cardio sessions, may need to increase their protein and carbohydrate snacks following training. This a very important concept for people to understand. Ultimately, an athlete’s plate needs to support the training and work that is being done. See the performance plate guidelines which provide clear illustrations of building a plate to reflect the type of training day.
  • PLAN to be Creative. Food access, security, safety, and overall availability impacts how we eat. Now is not the time to try out a rigid diet, dirty dozen, 21-day fix in the house. Foods may be available in limited amounts and many families are going shopping for one to two week’s worth of groceries. Meeting nutrition needs perfectly is not necessarily the reality, but it is a good goal to keep front and center. When shopping, pick up canned veggies, canned beans, frozen fruits, frozen vegetables, and consider buying meats in bulk that can be placed in the freezer. Keep in mind you can freeze many food items! Please navigate to my social media platforms such as twitter and Instagram for more instructions and ideas. A quick online search will also show you some creative ideas. It is critical to continue avoiding overly processed foods that are high in sugar and low in nutrition, such as chips, pastries, sweets, etc. All foods fit, but keep in mind good nutrition is the foundation for good health. Focus on consuming a variety of foods that are nutrient dense to support a healthy immune system to fight off disease, decrease exercise induced inflammation, promote healing of tissues and overall health. Eating an abundance of nutritious foods will provide stable energy levels, cognition, athletic performance, injury reduction, self-confidence, healthy body composition, and heart health. I encourage my athletes to continue to pursue a healthy relationship with food despite the challenges we currently face.

If you’re interested on some specifics check out what the Food and Drug Administration has to say regarding food availability during the novel Covid-19 virus in a recent article.

This unexpected challenge is our opportunity to define our new normal. Stay at home, wash your hands, create a routine, limit discretionary calories, keep training, prioritize your hydration, eat well and fuel accordingly. This is the ultimate chance to learn from professionals, peers, and family, to move forward with different and healthier habits. And, this is exactly what we will do. Opportunity favors the prepared. Don’t miss this opportunity to optimize your health and training. What controllable behaviors are you willing to work on daily to set yourself up for your next power play?

 

**The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has helpful tips on keeping your family healthy and safe at home. They can be found here. Avoid misinformation online regarding COVID-19. Rely on credible, accurate sources such as the CDC, FDA ,and the NIH .

**I recently delivered a presentation on “The Importance of a Routine During Uncertainty” on a recent webinar with the West Virginia Soccer Association. The webinar will be available on demand on the WVSA Beyond the Pitch Podcast in the next week.

“Nutrition is your athlete’s secret weapon to out compete their competition. Nutrition can make a good athlete great or a great athlete good.” (SM)

 

– Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and fitness coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance & lifestyle plans. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan and is the founder of Nutrition with Wendi, LLC. Wendi is active on Twitter and other social media platforms as Nutrition_with_Wendi.

 

Practical Nutrition Tips for Strength and Sport Coaches

“Johnny can’t gain weight. Susie is a picky eater and simply doesn’t like to eat meat or many proteins. My all-conference athlete eats everything in sight but can’t see to gain muscle and has frequent headaches. Tommy bonks out halfway through his match but is always eats a large steak the night before his meet. Lydia is concerned about carbs leading to weight gain, so she completely avoids them and is exhausted going into her soccer games. Brad was told he’d have more energy if he would supplement with the special protein powders and keto drinks from a local woman who sells them in his neighborhood. Brad is frequently injured and has little energy entering fall camp.”  Some of these examples may seem extreme, or they may sound all too familiar? Truth be told they are all real situations.

 

I work with several adolescent athletes, parents of young athletes and high-school strength coaches. All of who I have had these very conversations with. Names are changed of course, out of respect to the athletes. Before you read any further, please check out my previous blog on Practical Nutrition Strategies for Youth Athletes if you haven’t already. It provides some great information to share with your young athletes.

The objective of this article is to provide a framework for conversations, tips and practical tools to support the health and overall athletic performance of the athletes you may work with. Additionally, to build confidence in talking about nutrition with your young athletes. Along with aspiring strength coaches, we need you and the more versatile you are with knowledge and tools for your toolbox the greater success you will have in getting hired. I also want to direct you to Brett Bartholomew’s website found here. Brett helps coaches, leaders, educators, and business owners in many areas. He wrote a book called Conscious Coaching , which I picked up in May, 2017 and could not put down. I finished it on the weekend. Conscious Coaching was a game-changer for me. It helped me acknowledge the deficiencies in optimal communication with my athletes and even colleagues years back. It’s a phenomenal resource that I often reference and to note, I am a registered dietitian not a coach. As Brett so clearly illustrates in his writing is that it benefits anyone who has a relationship, which is all of us. I have never met Brett, but he has provided some great content and deserves the credibility. Thanks, Brett.

Proper nutrition

Proper nutrition is paramount for supporting growth, development and maturation first.  Which is something I emphasize and encourage coaches to emphasize when working with young athletes. We eat for health first and fuel for performance second. Why? Because it is essential to develop healthy habits to sustain for life into adulthood as a non-athlete. What do I classify as the difference between eating and fueling? Simply put, we eat for optimal growth, development, and maturation of our bones, tissues, and brain. Young children need to learn what foods provide nourishment. Not just energy, which is measured in the form of a kilocalories. One calorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1g of water by 1℃. It takes one kilocalorie of heat to raise one kilogram of water by 1℃. Food calories are kilocalories. If you’re interested in the history of the calorie in nutrition check out the explanation here, published in the American Society for Nutrition. So, what does that mean to me, as a coach? Well, let’s acknowledge nutrition is complicated right?

For clarity, you can consume candy that contains calories and the vilified pop-tarts. However, you don’t get the same high nutrient composition from those “high-calorie, high-energy” foods like you would fruits, starch vegetables, whole-grain products, or even whole-fat dairy.

The point I am driving home here is teaching young adults about the valuable role those nutrients play in supporting their growth, development and maturation. Vitamin D, calcium, and protein are found in the Greek whole-fat yogurt which is not the same in relation to the pop-tart. I’m not anti-pop tarts but I am making a stance that each time we sit down to reach for food it is an opportunity to nourish our bodies, to eat for health. Now, fueling is the next priority. Fueling means applying additional calories, micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) along with macronutrients (fats, carbs, and protein) and fluids to optimize athletic performance, enhance recovery, motor skills, decrease the risk of sports-related injury, increase muscle mass, gain a competitive edge and the list goes on. So again, we eat first and fuel second.

Most athletes won’t go on to play at the next level and if they do, that won’t last forever. We must teach the fundamentals of proper nutrition and facilitating a healthy relationship with food that can be carried into adulthood. I have partnered with some excellent strength coaches who understand the value of good nutritional habits early on. There are many unique challenges that surface when working with a young age group in comparison to collegiate and adult athletes. So, what are these unique challenges coaches face?

Young athletes require more calories, fluids, and nutrients.

Based on age alone, their body’s calorie needs are through the roof! I reference carbohydrate and protein needs for young athletes in a previous blog found here. For simplicity of coaches who have limited time with their athletes during workouts, you may just want to hand them resources out the door, refer them to a registered dietitian who specializes in sports, or post nutrition info-graphs on the walls in the weight room to help them. One key strategy is to ask them about the basics. The basics are what win games and support health on and off the field. So, what does it mean to return to the basics? We must show our athletes how to build a proper plate with a balance of all food groups including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high-quality protein, and a source of dairy a minimum of three times per day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and potentially another meal before practice (second chance for lunch) should all be built according to the plate. If you are unfamiliar with the plate, it is the ChooseMyplate.gov resource.

A more aesthetically pleasing plate geared towards athletes is found here. I reference this plate in every single nutrition presentation I deliver. The portions of the food groups on the plate will increase or decrease depending upon performance, training intensity, energy needs and body composition goals. Teen athletes have high energy needs, but throw in being an athlete creates a larger demand for nutrients, fluids and calories to support training adaptations. One of the largest mistakes young athletes make is not eating enough, not eating breakfast, not eating at the proper time, failing to have calories spread out throughout the day, inadequate consumption of fluids and simply failing to consume enough fruits and vegetables. If you’ll like to dive into the nuts and bolts of the Tanner Stages of Maturing and its Relationship to Sports published in the Journal of Translational Pediatrics please use the aforementioned links for your knowledge and understanding. What is important to note is you can support your athletes by doing the following:

  • While your athletes are doing their workout, ask them some of the following questions.
  • What “fuel” did you consume today?
  • You’re looking strong today! What great things did you eat before you walked in here today?
  • What did you have for breakfast?
  • What did you have for lunch?
  • What colorful fruits did you try today?
  • What veggies have you had today?
  • How many bottles of water have you had?
  • What great things are you doing at home in your meals?
  • Are you getting in a pre-lift snack?
  • What do you plan on eating once you get out of here?

Many athletes may give you the “glazed over deer in the headlights look”. Timmy may say, “Coach, I am here to lift. Who cares what I ate for breakfast?” You can respond with “What you ate before you walked into this weight room has everything to do with your lift. Remember that day you were exhausted and had a bad workout? You didn’t each much at all that day.” Athletes need you to hold them accountable and remind them their performance gains are supported with the activities spent outside the weight room. Hydration practices, food source, quality, and quantities by which they are being consumed (breakfast, lunch, pre-post, and at dinner) is what support recovery, strength, speed, and overall desired performance adaptations.  Experts promote breakfast as the most important meal and there is existing literature to support the cognitive, behavioral, nutritional status, academic and overall benefits associated with a quality breakfast. However, I argue all meals matter. There is no magic meal that will win games. It’s about consistently consuming quality meals and fluids in the days and hours leading up to the event.

Drawing attention to nutrition among high school athletes and coaches

Greater awareness of the valuable role nutrition plays is being brought to lifts, strength coach conferences, and several other gatherings. I must take a moment to give a special shoutout to NSCA Coach Doug Glee at Traverse City Central High School and the NHSSCA N. Michigan Director for inviting me to present on Nutrition and Fueling Optimal Performance at the 2020 NHSSCA Michigan State Clinic that was held on January 25th at Novi Catholic Central High School.

By empowering coaches to feel comfortable asking the right questions and providing basic encouragement to their athletes to eat and fuel we are pushing the needle forward and serving our athletes. If you’d like a copy of the presentation which covers the performance plate fundamentals, eating for weight gain, injury prevention, and optimizing performance please send me an email directly. If you’re a coach I encourage you to email me or contact me on a social platform and connect with me. I would love to meet you, learn about your work, and offer any support I can to you and your athletes.

 

Unique challenges for high school athletes:

In a study published in 2015 investigating the sports nutrition knowledge of high school athletes it was reported that 55.7% of participants reported eating breakfast daily, 36.6% reported eating one hour before training and games and 79.4% reported eating within one hour following training/games. Supplements, protein shakes, or meal replacement beverages were used by 30.1% of the participants. Keep in mind the environment, socioeconomic status, and affluence of the participants in this study. Most of the athletes I have worked with across the world face financial limitations, constraints, and overall access to food to some capacity. This can create challenges for coaches in providing guidance.

Good news, eggs, yogurt, milk, whole-grain rice, bread, bananas, chocolate milk, apples, frozen veggies, and even poultry can be quite cheap and budget-friendly for many. Many athletes often skip breakfast, skimp at lunch, fail to consume a snack and feel fiery hot Cheetos or chips with a few bites of a sandwich and soda are enough lunch. We know this is not optimal or healthy. It fails to support eating and fueling goals, right? So, how do we encourage both eating and fueling for success?

 

I encourage you to go eat with your athletes at lunch, most strength coaches work at the school and teach. Set an example for your athletes. By eating what they are eating you are demonstrating you to believe the meals are healthy. In fact, make sure you choose healthy snacks in front of them. Your student-athletes will follow suit in your choices. I have been in many schools and have seen what is served, it is so much better than when I was an adolescent.

Simply put, many athletes don’t eat enough. Athletes who are consistently in a calorie deficit experience several signs and symptoms which is something coaches should keep on their radar.

Key signs and symptoms of inadequate energy intake include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Decline in performance
  • Absent or irregular menstrual cycles
  • Stress fractures or repeated bone injuries
  • Decreased muscle strength
  • Always being injured
  • Training hard but not improving performance
  • Undesired weight loss
  • Recurring infections and illness
  • Depression, disordered eating, and expressed concerns about specific foods
  • Inability to gain or build muscle or strength

For more information on low energy availability in athletes check out the Collegiate Professional Sports Dietetics Association (CPSDA) for some great fact sheets and credible information compiled by the Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) a dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For those interested in reading a more detailed review summarizing low energy availability check out a review article published in Sports Medicine .

Key tips to share with your athletes desiring to weight gain in the off-season or weight maintenance during the season

  • Increase protein & leucine (nutrient trigger for muscle anabolism) rich foods – (meat, fish, poultry, dairy & legumes) are spread evenly throughout the day, at meals AND snacks, not all at one time, to aid in the growth of new tissue. (30-40 g/protein/meal).
  • Eat frequently: Every 2-3 hours to help increase calorie intake.
  • Consistency is key – as with training, practice consistency with these tips Monday – Sunday. Much like recovery, it’s a full-time job.
  • Focus on food – aim to increase calories first with food and supplements as a secondary option.
  • Planning– outline meals and snacks for the week. Shop 1x/week
  • Eat a bedtime snack – include a source of protein (cereal + milk, smoothie, cheese + crackers). Consume dairy products like cottage cheese which are rich in casein and leucine before bed for optimal muscle growth and repair according to a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Below I have listed out some high-quality nutrient snack ideas to support weight gain:

  • 1 medium apple + 3 Tbsp. PB (400 kcal)
  • 5 c. Pistachios, almonds, walnuts, seeds (400 kcal)
  • 2 Tbsp. PB + whole wheat bagel + honey = (500 kcal)
  • 5 c. granola + 5 oz. low-fat Greek yogurt = (350 kcal)
  • Cooked veggies in olive oil + ¼ c. avocado= ( 400 kcal)
  • 8 oz. whole milk + 0.5 c. oatmeal = (325 kcal)
  • 5 avocado = (150 kcal)
  • 4 Tbsp. hummus + 10 baby carrots = (220 kcal)
  • Plain whole grain bagel with 2 Tbsp. cream cheese= (400 kcal)
  • Grilled pita bread with ¼ c. hummus, sliced avocado, tomatoes = (550 kcal)
  • Trail mix or fruit mix per ¼ cup= 100 kcal

Nutrient timing, exploring optimal meals pre-and post-workout

I advocate for meal timing of 4-2-1. Which I explain in the following. Eating a proper meal (3-4 hours) before an event according to the plate fuels the muscle, body, prevents hunger and supports hydration levels to help decrease the risk of injury. The meal should be balanced, with more of a focus on protein, carbohydrate, and limited fat due to the length of time it takes to digest the food source.

Examples of meals to consume (4 hours) prior to an event include:

  • A glass of skim cow’s milk, 4 oz. of grilled chicken, grapes, whole grain wrap with spinach and tomato. Roughly 500 kcal
  • A glass of skim cow’s milk, 4 oz. of turkey, brown rice, roasted vegetables, and a banana. Roughly 500 kcal
  • A glass of fat-free chocolate milk, egg omelet, whole-grain toast spread with 1 tbsp. avocado, a cup of fruit. Roughly 550 kcal

To maintain energy stores and support enough fuel for competition or practice consume a small meal containing minimal protein and some carbohydrate.

Examples of meals to consume (2 hours) prior to an event include:

  • 4 oz. of Greek yogurt and berries. Roughly 200 kcal
  • Hard-boiled egg and pear. Roughly 150 kcal
  • String cheese and strawberries. Roughly 150 kcal

Lastly, about one hour out from practice or event you should sip on fluids, provide a minimal about of carbohydrates if still hungry and limit protein and completely avoid fat. The goal is that you are already properly fueled. If breakfast, lunch, and proper snacks have been consumed this 1-hour out protocol should really be fluids. If the athlete is still hungry 45-60 min prior to the event the window for opportunity to fuel has been missed.

Example of what to consume (1 hour) prior to the event.

  • Possibly sports drink
  • Water, flavored waters
  • Watermelon slices, banana or grapes (quick sugar that can be used as fuel with minimal digestion)

A combination of carbohydrates and protein is highly encouraged for pre-workout meals.

Recovery nutrition 101

Proper refueling and rehydrating are key after training, practice, or an event. Recovery nutrition can depend on the type of training, training volume, training intensity, the timing of next training session, body weight, and overall energy intake. Given most high school athletes struggle to consume enough calories any nutrition post-exercise will be beneficial. Specifically, consuming (15-25 gm of protein) and (30-60 gm) carbohydrates within 30-60 minutes can support recovery and training adaptations due to:

  • Enhancing heart rate, blood pressure allowing greater nutrient delivery to muscles.
  • Quicker glycogen (storage form of carbohydrate) replenishment and ultimate tissue repair.
  • The body initiates muscle anabolism which supports muscle growth and repair.

Recovery options:

  • 1.5 cup cottage cheese and 1 cup of berries
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt with berries
  • 8 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk paired with a banana

Chocolate milk is highly underrated among parents, coaches and health practitioners who are concerned about “too much sugar”. However, chocolate milk offers electrolytes, 8-g of high-quality protein but it replenishes glycogen stores and rehydrates just as well as Gatorade. Additionally, you’re getting 9-essential nutrients which include calcium and vitamin D that support bone health.  How does chocolate milk stack up to the commercial sports drink regarding both male and female high school athletes? A field based study published in the JISSN study showed that in high school football players, chocolate milk has a greater impact on performance than regular sports beverages when high school athletes drink it for recovery. The athletes who consumed chocolate milk bench-pressed an average of 3.5% more than they could before – whereas those who drank the commercial sports beverage decreased in bench-press strength by about 3.2%. Net difference of 6.7 percent for those who drank CM vs commercial sports beverage. Both groups showed improvement with squats, but chocolate milk drinkers showed more, lifting 15% more weight than before – whereas commercial sports beverage drinkers only lifted 8% more. nearly double the increase in strength for chocolate milk drinkers. Chocolate milk is an accessible, affordable, and delicious recovery option for adolescent athletes—and it may give them a strong edge due to the 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.

If you’re a coach check out your local dairy council to explore options available for stocking your team’s fridge with chocolate milk. This is a grant program offered to you by your local dairy farmers regardless of what state you are in. Check out the National Dairy Council’s resources for more information about your state or regions grant’s available. A great resource to check out recovery nutrition and a long list of snack ideas is found here compliments of the USOC Sports Nutrition Team.

Encouraging a healthy relationship with food

When talking about nutrition we must practice inclusion vs. exclusion. For example, telling your student-athletes that bread is bad because it isn’t paleo isn’t optimal. Now, you may be smirking, but this is quite common. It is important to promote healthy behaviors and that certain foods may be more optimal than others we don’t demonize foods. When talking to your athletes ask about their food preferences. Acknowledge how they talk about food, body image, overall relationship with food. Support your athletes who desire to use food and nutrition to enhance, sleep, healing, recovery, and protection from injury and illness.

Speaker before audience in auditoriumForward-thinking is adding sports dietitian services in the high school. I hypothesize in the next 5 to 10 years a sports dietitian will be added to the roster of high schools. I work with many young athletes and several of their parents see the benefit of nutritional services. I myself, have met with many athletic directors in the state of Michigan and run into challenges of funding and resources. However, I predict that more and more will learn the valuable role having a sports dietitian on staff is. Not only to help support the health and well-being of the student but the long-term effects on health in creating healthy and sustainable habits. By having a sports dietitian to consult with students and student-athletes to support eating and fueling needs. It’s a great opportunity to review daily nutrition, listen to the guidance, and gain advice from a food and nutrition expert to prevent deficiencies and foster a healthy relationship with food. Sports dietitians can deliver team talks by meeting with teams to discuss fueling strategies to enhance their goals (pre-season, in-season, and off-season). Furthermore, a dietitian that specializes in sports nutrition can help support the four pillars of performance nutrition: Hydration, energy intake, nutrient timing, and recovery. Lastly, sports dietitians provide great resources on meal planning for coaches, administration, parents, and students.

“Nutrition is your athlete’s secret weapon to outcompete their competition. Nutrition can make a good athlete great or a great athlete good.”

– Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, CISSN

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and fitness coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance & lifestyle plans. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan and is the founder of Nutrition with Wendi, LLC. Wendi is active on Twitter and other social media platforms as Nutrition_with_Wendi.

Creatine: Not Just for Men or Muscle

If you’re a man or woman reading this, excellent. It applies to both genders. Are you an aging adult, or someone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Then yes, keep reading. Next, if you’re an athlete or non-athlete reading this, even better because it applies to you as well. Still aren’t with me, do you have a beating heart? If this answer is no, please seek medical attention at once. All jokes aside, if you’re a living breathing homo sapiens (homo = genus , sapiens = species) this article is for you.

If you’re a parent of a young athlete, coach, athlete or bodybuilder you likely have read up on creatine and have supplemented with creatine monohydrate before. Creatine is one of the most well-research and effective supplements to date. Creatine can support exercise performance by quickly producing energy during intense activity. Furthermore, creatine may also provide cognitive benefits, but further research is warranted. Studies have consistently illustrated how creatine supplementation increases intramuscular creatine concentrations that can help us understand the observed improvements in high-intensity exercise performance and overall training adaptations at large. We know creatine supplementation can bolster post-exercise recovery, decrease risk of injury and support injury prevention, expedite rehabilitation, thermoregulation, concussion and or spinal cord neuroprotection. Additionally, clinical applications of creatine supplementation have been investigated in neurodegenerative diseases like (muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s Huntington’s disease), diabetes, aging, osteoarthritis, brain and heart ischemia, adolescent depression and even pregnancy as cited in the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) Position Stand on Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Sport and Medicine . Studies are demonstrating short and long-term supplementation (up to 30 grams per day for five years) is not only safe, but well-tolerated in individuals and a range of clinical settings from infants to the elderly.  So, creatine is not just for male athletes trying to build muscle and facilitate recovery. It is beneficial to all given the wide range of benefits associated with supplementation that have been documented in literature and several that are currently under investigation in a clinical setting.

Let’s review and clear up a common myth regarding creatine:

“Creatine is a steroid” Incorrect, please stop this nonsense from making its way into 2021 please. In my professional experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist , this must be one of the most obnoxious fallacies to date. Possibly behind “protein hurts my kidneys”, also false but that’s a whole other subject for a different blog. However, I am happy to direct you to the literature that dispels this myth publish in 2016 in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism compliments of Dr. Jose Antonio and colleagues . Now back to creatine, let’s clear this up quickly, creatine is not a steroid. It has no relation to a steroid structurally or with its mechanism of action. Why? Well, by scientific definition a steroid is any compound that possesses a common structural feature like 3 cyclohexane rings and a cyclopentane ring make up the structure that by definition is a steroid molecule. In fact, eggs contain a steroid compound which is called cholesterol and it is naturally produced in the body that become steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen. But no, creatine is not a steroid.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound made up of three amino acids, which we would call a tripeptide (tri meaning three). Three amino acids (L-glycine, L-methionine and L-arginine) make up creatine. Creatine is largely made in the liver and to a limited extent, the kidneys and pancreas. It deposits high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine which are given to ADP, regenerating it to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the sole energy carrier in the human body which can be called “energy currency” for cells to execute their functions. For example, in conditions of short-term high-energy demand activities (< 30 seconds) with limited recovery time, ATP runs out quickly, which brings us to creatine that is stored in muscles in the form of creatine phosphate explained here . Creatine phosphate can help restore ATP, giving muscle cells the ability to produce greater energy. The greater creatine you have, the greater energy your muscle cells can yield during high-intensity exercise, thus leading to increased exercise performance. Even though the most well documented and primary benefit is higher energy production this mechanism also supports muscle gain and strength increases explained here.

Creatine is naturally found in several of the foods we consume like, eggs, milk, tuna, salmon, herring, cod, shrimp, beef and pork.  Consuming enough creatine from the diet is challenging given the total creatine pool available according to an article published in the Frontiers in Nutrition Sport and Exercise Nutrition via Candow et al., 2019 . Which suggests, the body needs to replenish about 1.0–3.0 g of creatine per day to maintain normal (un-supplemented) creatine stores depending on muscle mass. Creatine improves numerous factors including strength, power, sprint ability, muscular endurance, resistance to fatigue, muscle mass, recovery, cognition, and speeding up muscle growth.

More women should use creatine:

I am a female who participates in regular strength-training (4-5 times per week) along with (2-3 cardiovascular sessions per week). I eat a whole foods diet, supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D3, whey protein isolate, 1,200 mg of fish oil and a multivitamin. Those are my supplements; these are not recommendations for “you”, your “young athlete”, “teammate” or “your friend”. I make this clear because there is no one-size-fits all in nutrition, health and fitness. What works well for me, does not mean it will work well for you. I see too many mistakes made with people trying to adapt the same diet, training and lifestyle of those in their cohort when it simply is not sustainable or appropriate. As individuals we have different genetics, hormones, environment stimulus, training styles, body composition, sport and performance goals, resting metabolic rate, and the list goes on. It would be absurd to eat and train the same way as someone else and anticipate the same outcome with the previously listed differences as humans.

One certainty is we can all benefit from eating real food, but given the benefits of creatine supplementation it is an undervalued and written off supplement among my fellow ladies. Hear me out ladies, creatine will not make you fat, bulky, retain water, turn you into a man or any of the other nonsensical claims that exist on the web these days. I don’t care what Linda at the gym said about “creatine making you fat or how it is a steroid that will make you a man”. I hear these claims often, and not only are they flat out wrong, they misinform my fellow ladies out there trying to gain strength, lean mass and other health benefits that would occur with appropriate creatine supplementation.

Here is a side by side comparison of me, roughly 10 years ago when I ate too many carbohydrates, inadequate protein, some strength training and an abundance of cardiovascular exercise. I ran lots of miles. Now, ten years later, I am happy to report I engage in strength training sessions no greater than 45-minutes, 4-5 times per week with some sprints and daily walking. I supplement with 5 gm of creatine monohydrate post-workout , w

hey protein isolate, take a multivitamin and consume 2 gm/kg/body weight per day in protein. I infrequently track calories because I fuel my body with high-quality protein, as many fruits and veggies as I can get my hands on. Creatine won’t make you fat, bulky or manly ladies. It will help support a lean body composition. Let me be more specific to my fellow ladies, creatine can may help you improve your health, fitness, recovery and overall physique.

Trying to turn up the intensity of your workouts? Use creatine! Creatine is like a Koenigsegg Agera RS , the fastest vehicle in the world. Creatine is a vehicle for producing ATP, which as you have learned drives muscle contraction. Kind of important when trying to sprint, lift heavy weights, jump and train with max output? By regularly supplementing with creatine monohydrate (3 -5 gm/day) for 8 weeks or greater can help maximize the body’s stores of phosphocreatine, the necessary compound to product ATP. Thus, allowing for skeletal muscle to produce more energy, bolster power output and exert more work overall. Fitness hack: The greater the intensity expressed fourth the greater your muscles grow stronger, bigger and faster should you train appropriately. Therefore, creatine supplementation is a highly underrated supplement among the female population. I encourage and empower my fellow ladies reading this article who have been on the fence about using creatine to take note of its effectiveness. Creatine has shown to bolster muscular size, power and strength. More muscle equates to more energy burned, healthier body composition, bone mineral density and a decreased risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Not to mention the link between muscle mass and risk of cardiovascular disease. Keeping aging muscles fit is also linked to better health later on in life according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health .

Even sedentary women who utilized creatine long-term experienced increases in maximal muscle strength during resistance training by 20 to 25% when compared to women who were given a placebo in a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology . Another study examined the effects of long-term creatine supplementation (12-weeks) combined with resistance training on one-rep max strength, motor functional performance tests and body composition in eighteen older women. The creatine group gained significantly more fat-free mass, muscle mass and were able to efficiently perform submaximal-strength functional test than the placebo group. Special note the creatine group was also able to increase training volume and one-rep max bench press. Creatine contains no calories and does not lead to fat gain. The increase on the scale you may see from use is drawing water into the cell which is a desired response with training.

Many benefits of creatine

A number of studies have shown creatine supplementation can increase brain creatine content by roughly 5-15% along with reducing mental fatigue, and improving cognitive function according to research referenced in the ISSN’s Position Stand on Creatine. Another study carried out by Rawson & Venezia, 2011 reported creatine supplementation of (20 g/day for 5 days or about 2g per day for 30 days) resulted in increased skeletal muscle creatine phosphocreatine which lead to the enhancement of high-intensity exercise tasks. Moreover, there is well documented benefits of creatine supplementation in young adults, increased strength, lean body mass and delayed onset fatigue during resistance training. All of which are critical for older adults striving to maintain cognition, bone mineral density and overall health.

Research is scant but, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was carried out in using creatine in type 2 diabetes subjects that was published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise . The study illustrated creatine supplementation improved glucose tolerance in healthy subjects. When creatine was supplemented in the diabetic subjects that participated in an exercise program the results lead to an improvement in glycemic control. The underlying mechanism could be contributed to the increase in GLUT-4 recruitment specific to the sarcolemma. More research is warranted in diabetics, but the current literature is promising. Functional foods for brain health go mainstream

Another study examined the potential of creatine or phosphocreatine supplementation in cerebrovascular disease and in ischemic heart disease . The study illustrates the ability high-dose creatine supplementation has on cerebral creatine content and that it may have the capacity in humans to protect against stroke due to increasing not only the neuronal but also the endothelial creatine content. Emerging evidence also suggest that creatine supplementation with and without resistance training has the potential mechanistic effect to influence bone biology according to a study carried out by Candow & Chilibeck, 2010. A more recent study published in Experimental Gerontology examines pre-exercise and post-exercise creatine supplementation has similar effects on aging bone mineral density and content. A meta-analysis carried out by Forbes et al., 2018 illustrated creatine supplementation did not lead to greater bone mineral density during resistance training in older adults > 50 years of age.

Research in animals also suggested creatine supplementation to support managing Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and brain or spinal cord injuries. Furthermore, a study was conducted examining creatine supplementation following sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state and catecholamines. The study eludes to creatine supplementation decreasing the negative effects, like mood, focus, impulse and emotional reactions that are reliant on the prefrontal cortex.

Creatine is safe and easy to use

As you have learned creatine offers many diverse benefits beyond muscle. It is one of the least expensive and safest supplements available on the market. It has been studied for over 200 years and an abundance of literature supports is safety, efficacy and no reported adverse effects in healthy individuals as referenced in the ISSN’s Position Stand: Creatine Supplementation and Exercise.

A good dose to begin with is simply taking 3.0 to 5.0 grams of creatine monohydrate post-exercise to support recovery, muscle growth and decreasing fatigue. If you’re a vegetarian or new to using creatine you may wish to start with a loading phase by taking (0.3g/kg/body weight/day). For example, if you’re a 60 kg female = 18 g total for the day but broken up into 4 doses for 5-7 days. This would mean a (4.5 g dose of creatine 4x/day) for 5-7 days. Then onto a maintenance phase of 5 g per day for 12 weeks. If you’re interested in looking at different phases of cycling creatine (short-term and long-term) you can refer to the literature in the Creatine Position Stand paper I have referenced throughout this article. For example, supplementing with (5g/day) for 12 weeks during training to truly help increase intramuscular creatine stores and support health and performance benefits outlined in this article. Dissolve the creatine in water or your protein-carb drink post-workout for best results. Take a break from supplementation after using for 12-16 weeks. Where to order creatine? I strongly advise supplements that are Informed Choice Certified, meaning they are free of any banned substances and ensure the product has been tested from any unsafe substances. Here is a comprehensive list of certified products updated March, 2020.

If you’re parent or coach of adolescent athletes and are considering creatine supplementation. Take note, limited research is available in this population highlighting the safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in young athletes < 18 years of age. Jagim et al., 2018 published a review examining the limited studies in the adolescent population as a means to identify use of creatine in young athletes. The review suggests that adolescent athletes using creatine tolerated supplementation well, had no reported adverse events or incident. Ethically, we do not have enough research to recommend creatine monohydrate to young athletes, but many are using despite direction from professionals. My advice as a sports dietitian is to provide the literature and suggestions to support best interest of my athletes.

As registered dietitian nutritionist and sports nutrition specialist, I advocate for whole foods first and prioritizing nutrition to optimize your health, wellness, physique and performance goals. Creatine is a great supplement to incorporate in addition to great nutrition, enough hydration, adequate sleep and proper training. Creatine works best when paired with resistance training. I hope reading the science outlined in this article surrounding creatine has given clarity. Creatine can benefit everyone, if you have a beating pulse that’s you. Train hard, eat well and stay healthy my friends.

In good health,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and fitness coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance & lifestyle plans. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan and is the founder of Nutrition with Wendi, LLC. Wendi is active on Twitter and other social media platforms as Nutrition_with_Wendi.

Vitamin D and the Athlete: An Overlooked Element in Exercise Performance

Athlete warming up for run

An estimated 1 billion people worldwide, across all ethnicities and age groups, have a vitamin D deficiency according to a review published in the Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmoacotherapeutics . Vitamin D is a steroid hormone that regulates > 1,000 processes in the body, and it has been well known as the “sunshine” vitamin playing an important role in preventing illnesses like, osteoporosis and rickets . Winter days are often dark and sun exposure is limited leading to an increased risk for vitamin D deficiency and infections. Vitamin D is a hormone but is most widely known as a fat-soluble vitamin. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut. Vitamin D supports muscle function, cell growth and immunity. Vitamin D is obtained from supplements, sun exposure and consuming vitamin D-containing foods like, wild salmon, eggs, mushrooms, fortified cereal and dairy products.

How Much Vitamin D Is Needed?

One confusing element of understanding vitamin D guidelines to correct deficiency can be challenging. Currently, there is no consensus definition of vitamin D deficiency according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently reviewing vitamin D screening. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) guidelines for vitamin D use a blood level of 20 ng/ml o 25-hydroxyvitamin D as a benchmark for deficiency because it is the minimum level that meets the needs for good bone health for at least 97.5% of the population (1). However, the Endocrine Society recommended that people aim for a level of 30 ng/mL or higher . A more comprehensive table of Vitamin D concentrations and health are found here via the National Institute of Health.

Current Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for Vitamin D:

  • Birth to 12 months: 400 IU
  • Children 1-13 years: 600 IU
  • Teens 14-18 years: 600 IU
  • Adults 19-70 years: 600 IU
  • Adults 71 years and older: 800 IU
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women: 600 IU

Vitamin D Deficiency Signs and Symptoms that Can Lead to Severe Health Complications:

  • Osteomalacia
  • Osteoporosis
  • Risk of stress fractures
  • Muscle aches and weakness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Periodontitis
  • Light-headedness

In the Body, Vitamin D is Linked with:

  • Immune function
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Muscle strength and mass
  • Absorption of calcium
  • Healthy weight management
  • Overall bone and teeth health

Vitamin D and Athletes

Numerous studies reviewed in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition has assessed the possibility for vitamin D’s impact on performance and recovery. In fact a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examining soccer players who supplemented with 5,000 IU of vitamin D per day for a total of eight weeks had interesting results. Those that supplemented jumped higher and were linked to faster sprints.

A vitamin D deficiency in athletes increases the risk for stress fractures, anemia and a weaker immune system which and blunt athletic performance. A 2008 study examining Vitamin D status in a group of distance runners found that forty percent of the runners, who trained indoors in sunny Baton Rouge, Louisiana had insufficient vitamin D.   deficiency is common among athletes and enough levels are needed to maintain bone health and aid in injury repair. A review carried out in 2015 identified about 56% of athletes had inadequate levels of vitamin D. Another study evaluating vitamin D levels in athletes participating at the NFL combine found that players with a history of lower extremity muscle strain an core muscle injury had a greater prevalence of inadequate vitamin . Furthermore, another study assessing association of vitamin  levels with race and found a higher rate of vitamin D deficiency among black football players than white football players.

As stated above musculoskeletal pain and weakness are often unrecognized symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. A study conducted in Minnesota identified 93% of individuals with persistent non-specific musculoskeletal pain had 25(OH)D concentration <20 ng mL and 28% had a concentration <8 ng mL. Animal studies have also reported that vitamin D deficiency leads to the atrophy of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are critical in power movements like sprints. Fast-twitch fibers also fatigue faster which can explain the physiological why vitamin D can influence based on its function.

As you have learned, vitamin D deficiency is overlooked and should be a focus of concern for any professionals working with athletes. The strong association in muscle fatigue and low vitamin D levels in elite and collegiate athletes may lead to long-term injuries with life and career altering effects. An article published in the American College of Sports Medicine provides charts and illustrations representing the vitamin D status in athletes living in various geographic locations.

To Supplement or Not Supplement?

Upon reading this article you can see how challenging it is to achieve daily vitamin D needs from foods and limited sun exposure. Provided the critical role vitamin D plays in our mood, digestion, cognition, recovery, athletic performance and overall health it would be wise to supplement with 1,000 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day during the winter solstice months and likely even more if you fall into any of the high-risk categories for vitamin D deficiency. Justifying a greater need for vitamin D for athletes who train often and participate in multiple sports. Disclaimer, I am not a physician and I would encourage you to discuss vitamin D testing with your doctor to ensure you’re not reaching toxicity, which can occur with high-dose vitamin D intakes of 60,000 IU per day. Blood levels should be monitored by anyone who chooses to take higher dose of vitamin D. As always, talk with your doctor and sports medicine staff before taking any vitamin and mineral supplements. Interested in learning more about your vitamin D status? Check out the website of the Vitamin D Society for more information. Other great resources to learn more about vitamin D include ,the Linus Pauling Institute and the National Institute of Health fact sheet for health professionals.

 

Check out my previous blog highlighting the six risk factors for vitamin D deficiency.

In good health,

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RD, Sports Nutritionist