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. 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 foundhere.
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,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN
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.
The Performance Training and Nutrition Menu for Beast Athletes Let me ask you this: as an athlete, when do you feel at your BEST? When do you feel your most empowered? Your strongest? Your most energized? Your healthiest? Your most resilient? When do you feel ready to step on the field with confidence and tenacity? Let me dive deeper: what exactly are you doing when you feel at your BEST? Are you doing your workouts? Are you training with intensity transferable to the game? Are you tracking your progress? Are you hydrating? Are you filling your body with nutrients and whole foods? Or are you missing workouts? Are you training at a slow pace that won’t sustain in the game? Are you not competing with yourself? Are you rolling your eyes at the thought of a strength workout? Are you “forgetting” to hydrate? Are you eating toxic sludge? Before my friend and amazing dietician, Wendi Irbeck, talks nutrition for performance, I want to get into the physical training aspect first. Right now, there are no excuses to miss workouts and train half-heartedly, unless you have a real emergency. But for everyone else who has good health, a safe family, a roof, a home gym fancier than my facility, and a front yard the size of a soccer field, there are no excuses to not do your strength and conditioning workouts. Sports are canceled, so what are you doing to prepare to be your best when they return? What do you look like and act like when you are training at your BEST? How do you envision yourself stepping back onto the field? They’re deep questions, but get a paper and pencil and start writing your thoughts. It’s critical to become AWARE. Returning to play as the player you were before the quarantine began is going to be immensely hard. And it’s going to take a grind harder than you can imagine. I’m not going to beat around the bush. And no amount of HIIT circuits on the web are going to prepare you. No amount of bodyweight workouts are going to bulletproof you against the change of direction, fatiguing muscle actions in the game that cause ACL injury. No amount of jump squat, burpee and push-up tests are going to train your nervous system how to sprint FAST again. Even though the world has come to a stop, strength and conditioning programming based off of science has not. Too, it’s important to remember this: – Athletes now have time to really improve the physical components of their game: speed, power, and conditioning. Practices and games aren’t in the way anymore. – Athletes now have time to hone in on correct and safe movement patterns for a healthier return to play, and seek out professionals to help. – Athletes now have time to lean into the power of exercise and strength training for mental health and immunity. There’s no excuse. To that end, athletes who care deeply about playing at a high level will show their true colors right now. Do they truly love the game? Are they committed? Can they adapt when adversity strikes? I’m speaking to you: if you want to earn your stripes as a high level athlete, let’s see how well you rise above the chaos during a global pandemic. I’ll take you seriously when you can attack adversity and use it as a means to become better. Don’t take this out of context, though. I’m not totally insensitive to the emotional storm now. I get everyone is anxious, scared, sad, depressed, worried. I get it, I experienced it, my loved ones are going through it, and I want to be considerate. Collectively, yes, the world is freaking out. And I’m speaking to you, coaches: if you want to earn your stripes as a coach, let’s see how much you hold your players accountable for their physical health and care for them with a smooth return to play. Truthfully, I would be a terrible coach to kids who want to perform at a high level if I didn’t encourage them to continue to train like the amazing athletes they are during this time. It’s a win-win to move, get better, improve speed times, get stronger, and keep routine. No going through the motions. Athletes thrive on goal setting, routine, and working hard toward something meaningful.
Okay, okay. I’ll step off my soapbox. I do want to provide actionable items for the athletes and coaches who do not have access to a comprehensive strength and conditioning program, and help people piece this all together with minimal thinking and stress. I’m happy to take everyone through a sample week menu with video links and sets and reps. It is going to be similar to an off-season program that focuses on general strength, power, speed and conditioning, then progresses to specific in the next couple months as we approach sports starting back up again.
Kidding. ;-O So there you are. Have at it and enjoy this sample for a few weeks (I’d say up to 2 weeks, then you need to begin to tweak the sets/reps, progress intensity, learn how to absorb and create force, and put yourself in conditioning drills at a higher intensity than the game to provide a physiological adaptation). But start here and see how you do. Remember, general —-> specific. Done correctly and considering you aren’t skipping workouts, you are good on volume and should be gassed after these workouts. Not depleted nor destroyed, but feeling like you accomplished a tough training session like a high level athlete. I’ll have Wendi take it away with how to work in proper nutrition to make the most of an off-season menu like this, and return to the field feeling empowered and at your best physically. Nutrition plays a major role in the success of these workouts and the intensity, as well as energy you bring to them. Eat. And fuel up. Enjoy.
Well…that is one tough act to follow! Well done, Erica and well said! Now that you have some guidance on training from the expert herself, let’s talk about the other 16 hours of the day outside of sleep. Controlling what you put in your mouth to support overall health and performance. So let’s stir it all together! Erica has really provided the framework for a consistent conditioning and workout program which should be supported by sufficient energy. I will address some of the specifics in greater detail below. Typically, the off-season is the period from December and January to May, June or even July when soccer athletes are fending for themselves. This time is best spent relaxing and disconnecting from the soccer world to “decompress”. As highly competitive athletes we all need rest and our brains and bodies need a break to support recovery to continue building. However, eating and fueling well along with staying active as Erica so thoroughly illustrated in the stated workouts above is important. Eating a variety of real foods, yes real foods, not supplements is critical during this time to help maintain condition, strength and endurance. overlooked piece of the puzzle or a missed opportunity to improve by young players. The goals of this “off-season” sample can be represented below:
Account for the differences in training, lifestyle and of course the unprecedented times we find ourselves in, the Novel Covid-19 Pandemic if you will. It’s important nutrient intake is adjusted but also sufficient to support the “off-season” activity.
Acknowledge body composition changes in which weight may fluctuate and that is OKAY! The off-season is a great time to focus on your individual progress and any body comp changes that may be necessary would be a great opportunity to consult with a registered dietitian. An under-fueled low-energy athlete cannot build or maintain muscle mass or size, so nutrition remains critical during this time.
Create a solid equilibrium between training volume and nutritional intake.
Nutrition with Wendi Fueling Fundamentals for Off-Season:
Intent: Focus on fueling to support your training objectives. Which may include strength gains, improving focus, speed, endurance and decreasing risk of injury.
Quality nutrients: Your plate should contain all the essential components of the plate. Colorful fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Proper nutrition will provide you the sustained energy to help you recover from training and provide satiety between meals.
Quantity: Optimal training requires sufficient energy (calories) to support growth, development, and overall energy needs during training.
Timing: Balance your meals with snacks to ensure you’re feeling appropriately. Post-workouts and training should contain a protein and carbohydrate to support recovery and performance adaptations.
Consistency: Consuming consistent meals, snacks and overall calories to support your growth and performance is vital. There are no magic meals to bolster athletic performance. Games won are in the off-season where nutrition is prioritized. Another key to consistency is finding what works well for you and your training. Never try a new meal on a heavy or intense training day. That stands true for game day. Never experiment with new foods, as they risk stomach pain, digestive challenges and can hinder performance.
Hydration: Fluids are essential for optimal health and athletic performance. You need about 80-100 oz. of fluid per day to support the transportation of essential nutrients to your muscles and organs. Water is key for keeping our joints fluid, muscle contraction and overall focus. A drop in 1-2% of your total body weight can result in declines in your performance ranging from cognition, muscle contraction, speed and overall fatigue. For every pound lost around training, replace with 16 to 24 oz. of fluid.
So, as you’re learning nutrition plays a pivotal role in your health and performance. Nutrition is truly a tool to support the overall maintenance and strength of your body, which is a machine. Your plate should reflect your health and performance goals.
To perform at your best, it’s important to eat the rainbow and get a balance from most IF NOT ALL food groups at every meal. The size of those portions may increase or decrease provided the season. For this specific article, we are in the off-season, so additional whole grains or carbs may not be necessary. However, eating for health and fueling for activity requires the right amount. What does that look like roughly? For girls, that can be anywhere from 2400-3000 kcal per day and boys 2800-3500 kcal per day. In each hour soccer athletes can burn up to 500-700 kcal per hour.
Nutrition with Wendi Quick Nutrition Tips:
Eat breakfast every day, non-negotiable.
Eat real food, prioritize nutrients from whole foods instead of supplements.
Do not skip meals – all meals matter.
Assess hunger, if you’re hungry post-meal, load up on more veggies!
Drink plenty of fluids (80-100 oz.).
Always reach for baked, grilled, steamed, broiled, roasted and never fried.
To ensure good sleep avoid high-fat, spicy or overly large meals prior to bed.
Eat the rainbow, focus on lean proteins, quality fats and fluids at each meal.
Consume quality nutrients every 2-3 hours to avoid hunger and support proper energy levels.
Sample Meal Ideas for Athletes (Nutrition with Wendi)SM
Sample Meal Ideas for Athletes (Nutrition with Wendi)SM
(Protein + fiber rich food + fruit/veggie)
(1-2 carb choices + 1-2 oz. protein)
(Protein + whole grain + fruit/veggie)
(Protein + whole grain + fruit/veggie)
(Protein + Carb within 30-60 min of training
(Little protein + some carb, (60-min of bed))
2 egg veggie omelet + whole grain English muffin with avocado1-2 cups of water
Oatmeal or overnight oats prepared with cow’s or soy milk + sliced almonds + peaches (see recipe)
1-2 cups of water
Sugar snap peas, sliced bell peppers + hummus or low-fat ranch dip
3 oz. of salmon or (baked fish option) veggie salad, avocado, whole-wheat roll
1-2 cups of water
Tomato basil wrap with tofu + sautéed mushrooms and onions + frozen grapes
1-2 cups of water or 8 oz. of low-fat milk
2 Hard-boiled eggs + blueberries
Banana soft-serve (combine ½ scoop protein powder + ice + frozen banana with 4 oz. of milk)
About the Authors
Erica Suter is a certified strength and conditioning coach in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as online for thousands of youth soccer players. She works with kids starting at the elementary level and going all the way up to the college level. She believes in long-term athletic development and the gradual progression of physical training for safe and effective results. She helps youth master the basic skills of balance, coordination, and stability, and ensures they blossom into powerful, fast and strong athlete when they’re older. She has written two books on youth strength and conditioning, Total Youth Soccer Fitness, and Total Youth Soccer Fitness 365, a year-round program for young soccer players to develop their speed, strength and conditioning.
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist, health & fitness coach and former college athlete. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to create nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing oninjury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes and organizations to eat and fuel for success. Wendi specializes in sports nutrition serving elite youth athletes as well as collegiate athletes teaching them the importance of getting back to the basics. She is a former sports dietitian for the Dairy Council of Michigan, is an adjunct instructor in Kinesiology, Health and Wellness Division at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan. She earned both her B.S. and M.S. at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and has spent time learning from several professionals in the field along with an internship at the University of Florida. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan with her own nutrition consulting business.
“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 half-way 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 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 in a 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 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 which 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. 1 cup of Greek whole-fat yogurt with one medium mashed banana vs one pop-tart offer roughly the same calories or energy, but the nutrient composition of each are significantly different. That is what I am driving home here, it 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 are 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 for reach for a food it is an opportunity to nourish our bodies, to eat for health. Now, fueling is the next priority. Fueling means to apply 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 risk of sports related injury, increase muscle mass, gain 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 are 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’ 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 at (breakfast, lunch, pre-post and at dinner) is what supports recovery, strength, speed and overall desired performance adaptations. Experts promote breakfast is 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 to the valuable role nutrition plays is being brought to lifts, strength coach conferences and several other gatherings. Which 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 shake, 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 a enough lunch. We know this is not optimal or health. 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 too believe the meals are healthy. In fact, make sure you choose healthy s
nacks 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. Check out this great meal I enjoyed with student athletes at a local high school in Detroit, Michigan (low quality photo-high quality meal).
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:
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 season
Increase protein & leucine (nutrient trigger for muscle anabolism) rich foods – (meat, fish, poultry, dairy & legumes) are spread evenly through 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 bed-time 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)
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 that fuels the muscle, body, prevents hunger and supports hydration levels to help decrease 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.
Example of meals to consume (4 hours) prior to an event include:
Glass of skim cow’s milk, 4 oz. of grilled chicken, grapes, whole grain wrap with spinach and tomato. Roughly 500 kcal
Glass of skim cow’s milk, 4 oz. of turkey, brown rice, roasted vegetables and a banana. Roughly 500 kcal
Glass of fat-free chocolate milk, egg omelet, whole-grain toast spread with 1 tbsp. avocado, 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.
Example 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 minimal about of carbohydrate 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 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 carbohydrate and protein is highly encouraged for pre-workout meals.
Recovery nutrition broken down
Proper refueling and rehydrating is key after training, practice or an event. Recovery nutrition can depend on type of training, training volume, training intensity, 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) carbohydrate within 30-60 minutes can support recovery and training adaptations due to:
Quicker glycogen (storage form of carbohydrate) replenishment and ultimate tissue repair.
Body initiates muscle anabolism which supports muscle growth and repair.
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 strength 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 Sport 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.
Forward 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 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
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.
An athlete’s energy and nutrient needs depend individually on his or her age, body composition, goals, and training volume, and depends globally on the demands and intensity of the sport. Put simply, the greater the intensity, duration and frequency of the activity combined with the athlete’s weight or body composition, the higher the demand of protein, carbohydrate and calorie intake.
If you’re a coach, parent or athlete reading this, don’t become overwhelmed. This article intends to introduce to you some general guidelines on optimizing energy needs (i.e. calories, protein, and carbohydrates) to sufficiently support overall health and advance athletic performance.
First rule of thumb, ALL adolescent athletes should consume breakfast, lunch and dinner with 2-3 snacks in between meals to fully optimize energy levels. You must build a plate that includes a source of lean protein, a fruit, a vegetable, a healthy fat and a serving of dairy if you wish to get real and progress with your nutrition. A visual of the plate and practical nutrition strategies can be found in my previous blog here.
Fuel Up to Avoid Stalling Out
Youth athletes have significantly higher nutritional needs than their less-active classmates because athletes need more calories to support performance demands, normal growth, general development and maturation. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, female teen athletes need roughly 2,200-3,000 calories and male teen athletes need roughly 3,000-4,000 calories per day (depending upon the individual and sport). Additionally, adolescent athletes training in multiple sports may need upwards of 5,000 calories per day to maintain weight and support growth needs. It’s paramount to encourage adequate calorie consumption during times of heavy training. For perspective, low-energy availability in female adolescent athletes can lead to short stature, increased injury, delayed puberty, poor bone health, metabolic and cardiovascular issues, menstrual irregularities, disordered eating behaviors – this according to a review published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism published by Desbrow et al., 2019.
Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (RED-S) is a more comprehensive label that builds on the condition of low-energy availability, also known as “female athlete triad,” to describe an energy deficiency gap that results when energy intake is insufficient to support daily activities, living, growth and function. RED-S affects primarily females, but also young males.
Premium Fuel for the Young Athlete – Carbohydrates!
Carbohydrates are an athlete’s most important source of energy for optimal athletic performance. Several studies carried out during the last 50-60 years have consistently highlighted carbohydrates as the primary macronutrient to sustain and enhance physical performance. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has established that 45-65 percent of calories in one’s diet should come from carbohydrates or between 3 and 8 grams per kilogram of body mass, depending upon the exercise intensity. For example, a 14-year-old female athlete should consume 2,000-2,400 calories per day, with 225 – 270 g (45% of total calories) to 325 – 390 g (65% of total calories) from carbohydrates. Keep in mind the dietary reference intake (DRI) remains at 100 g per day and recommended daily allowance (RDA) at 130 g day for all age and sex categories (children ≥ 1 year), both measures not related to physical activity. High-quality carbohydrates for athletes to consume include, but are not limited to, 1. whole grains like pasta, rice, tortillas, bread, oatmeal, low-fat dairy, and energy bars, 2. fruits like berries & bananas, and apples, 3. starchy vegetables like squash, potatoes and eggplant. To experience a boost in energy, consider adding items from this longer list of quality carbohydrate-rich foods to achieve enhanced athletic performance.
Performance tip: Make half your plate carbohydrates if you’re an endurance athlete, especially on heavy training days. The average athlete should be eating around 360-500 grams of carbohydrates per day. Failing to consume enough carbohydrates will cause a decline in performance, cognition, focus, and athletic performance. Time-to-fatigue and injury risk will also increase without enough dietary carbohydrates. To keep it simple, carbohydrates are not “optional”; they are essential. You can take it from an RDN whom stands for science or examine the science for yourself by checking out Nutritional Considerations for Performance in Young Athletes published in the Journal of Sports Medicine.
Power Up with Protein!
Protein is critical for building, maintaining and repairing many cellular structures, like skeletal tissues. Consuming enough protein supports synthesis of hormones, neurotransmitters, energy production, gene activity and transportation of biological molecules. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has established that 15 to 20 percent of total calories, or about 70-160 grams should derive from high-quality protein sources.
To breakdown the science, consuming adequate protein is critical for proper growth, development and normal physiological function during adolescence leading into adulthood. Distinctive demands during adolescence, especially those that engage in high-intensity sport, call for a greater daily protein intake than that of adults. Currently the RDA for protein is 0.95 g/kg/day for children ages 4-13 years and 0.8 g/kg/day for adolescents between the ages of 14-18. Those that engage in regular training and endurance sports like swimming, rowing, distance running, and soccer may need 1.2-1.4 g/kg/day while power sports like weightlifting, gymnastics, football, wrestling shall require 1.0 – 1.5 g/kg/day .
High-quality protein sources include beef, poultry, bison, pea protein, pork, tuna, turkey, seafood, fish, and dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, whey, cheese and cottage cheese. To find out how much protein some of your favorite sources provide, check out this list from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Keep in mind that not all proteins are created equal. To deter you from going down the rabbit hole of plant proteins vs. animal proteins, I will simply link an article for you to review here. It’s important to just remember that foods rich in leucine, a branched chain amino acid found in animal proteins, will have the greatest positive affect on driving muscle protein synthesis. We could get really complex on this topic but it’s enough to simply emphasize the importance of consumption of high-quality proteins that are listed above due to their rich leucine content, especially since we are addressing protein intake for adolescent athletes. Most young athletes barely consume enough calories and protein as it is. To keep it simple, make sure your adolescent athlete consumes ¼ of their plate or a 4 oz. serving of a high-quality protein three-five times per day. As I always say, success starts with the basics and carrying them out on a consistent basis.
Failure by your adolescent athlete to consume adequate protein intake will cause declines in energy, weight, muscle growth, and strength, while increasing the likelihood of onset fatigue. Does this mean your adolescent athlete should be slamming protein shakes? Of course not, but they should be consistently consuming whole foods at regular mealtimes. Consuming good old fashioned chocolate milk on-the-go can even be a great way to increase calories while meeting additional protein intake demands. This is especially a great addition to refuel and re-hydrate post-practice or game! Make no mistake, a protein shake or chocolate milk will not make up for missed nutrients from consuming regular meals. Furthermore, supplements like protein powders are not regulated by the FDA and so it is important to select a protein powder that has been third-party tested with a NSF stamp of approval, which deems it certified for sport. This is paramount to ensure there are no banned substances on the label, that the product is manufactured in a facility that follows acceptable manufacturing standards, and that the contents of the supplement match what is printed on the label, ultimately being safe for consumption. To search supplements that are third-party tested and free of any banned substances, check out Informed-Sport.
Stirring it Altogether:
Knowing your carbohydrate and protein intake recommendations is great, but I encourage using the plate as a method of hitting your intake requirements. If you consume a balanced plate with all the components 3-5 times per day with high-quality snacks in between, you’re likely going to meet the energy demands of your sport. Again, it’s important to remember that carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy.
Keeping with the basics such as eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with small snacks in between meals will help improve your health and sport performance. Don’t skip meals and make sure your plate is full of colorful fruits and vegetables. Always choose water or milk over sugary beverage to support hydration and better overall health. It’s time we get back to the basics, which I discuss in detail in the last article I published, available for reference here. As always, nutrition is a secret weapon that can help you perform optimally in the classroom and in sport.