Are you looking for the perfect gift for your friends, colleagues, or loved ones? Well then look no further! Purchase a gift certificate for nutrition services provided by Wendi Irlbeck, Registered Dietitian Nutrition, and Healthy Lifestyle Coach!
This is the ideal gift for:
-Parent or sibling who wants to lose weight, regain control of their health, or simply just learn how to prepare healthy meals in the kitchen!
-A boss, co-worker, or someone in your community who many desire more energy and accountability in making healthier choices!
-A partner, friend, or family member who may desire to learn more about grocery shopping and meal prep.
-A young athlete who needs help learning more about nutrition to be a stronger and healthier athlete!
-High school educators or parents of young children desiring to learn more about nutrition.
-A sports coach who wants to expand their understanding of nutrition for their teams and fellow coaching staff.
-Anyone who wants to learn more about nutrition, be healthier, gain confidence in the kitchen, lose weight, improve sleep, feel more energy, and feel empowered!
Personalized one-on-one consultations and personalized plans and educational opportunities designed to help each and every client achieve their goals and best self!
Contact Wendi through email, email@example.com to inquiry more details on purchasing the gift of health for your loved ones, friends, community members, or colleagues this holiday season!
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 Twitter, Facebook, and Instagramfor more nutrition information.
Or sign up to work with Wendi from any of her services .
It’s 45-min before your lift and you’re starving but nervous about what to eat? Maybe you’ve had too busy of a day, a small lunch or inadequate breakfast? Sound familiar? Successful athletes plan by consuming a well-balanced meal approximately 1-2 hours before training.
Physical activity demands a large volume of blood to be pumped to working muscles and tissue. It is important not to consume too large of a meal too close to activity to ensure blood flow is going to working muscles like your legs for running and not your stomach for digestion. It sounds so simple right? You also want to limit gastrointestinal (GI) complications which result from eating too close to training. Eat well before your workout to ensure adequate digestion time for available fuel as well as oxygen rich blood to be pumped to working muscles. But what if you eat too many hours in advance and now you’re hungry? “What do I eat before my work-out?” is probably one of the most prominent questions I receive as a performance dietitian. It is also one of the most heavily searched topics on google.
Both young and old athletes may feel too scared to eat so they go to a training session, run or workout with-out any fuel which leads to poor performance and increased risk of injury. Some athletes express they have an “iron clad stomach” and can eat literally anything and go train. This is not typically the case and some foods are more optimal than others to consume around a training session. For that reason, it is best to have a meal containing some protein and carbohydrate before your workout.
When considering pre-workout foods, remember that poorly planned meals, liquids, and snacks can disrupt the quality of your workout or training session. Depending upon the intensity and duration of the training session most athletes and recreational active people are encouraged to consume roughly 200-300 kcal approximately 30-60 min before your workout. The meal should consist of some carbohydrate and protein. The foods chosen should be easily digestible and with a limit of fat and even fiber due to digestion time.
7 Pre-workout meals to beat the fatigue and keep you energized
Whole-grain bagel with powdered peanut butter and honey
Powdered peanut butter has less fat (fat is key to limit around training sessions). A whole-grain bagel will provide a large amount of carbohydrates along with honey providing quick sugar to help with muscle, brain and nerve function before a heavier training load day or longer endurance. Many young athletes under fuel so this would be a great way to get in a good amount of carbohydrates in a short period of time.
Apple slices with Greek yogurt and dried cranberries
Quick sugar and a little bit of fiber from some apple paired with the protein from the Greek yogurt is a recipe for muscle building success. Dried cranberries can be a great addition for additional sugar without the fiber to disrupt digestion for readily available fuel for muscle contraction. A delicious grab-and-go pre-training meal to meet your needs.
Protein oats (whole-grain)
Oats are a great source of complex carbohydrates for slower release of glucose. This means great things for your energy to remain stable and constant during longer and higher intensity workouts. Oats are also rich in vitamin B, which helps convert carbs into energy. Mix non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt with blueberries, oats, chia seeds, 1 Tbsp. almond butter and an optional 0.5 scoop of whey protein powder for a substantial amount of protein, nutrients, and calories to sustain longer training and conditioning sessions.
Protein fruit smoothie
Fruit contains a surplus of nutrients but most importantly, fruit contains simple sugars that are easy to digest. Glucose is the body’s desired fuel substrate for fueling high-intensity training sessions as well as giving young athletes the carbs to thrive. Mix one cup of berries with 1/3 cup whole grain oats, 4 oz of milk, and 2 oz of Greek yogurt for a delicious smoothie. For additional protein add a high-quality whey protein. Recipes available on my website here.
Greek yogurt parfait with mixed berries and whole grain oats
This is a game crushing combo. Fruit is loaded with antioxidants for healthy immune function but also carbohydrates to support energy while providing quick fuel for your workout. The protein in the Greek yogurt will also help with the muscle breakdown and repair process through-out the training session
Hard-boiled egg and banana & kiwi slices
Eggs contain high-quality protein, choline for neurotransmitter production assisting in proper brain cognition and the yolks are an excellent source of omega-3s. Slice the hard-boiled egg and pair it with kiwi and banana for some carbohydrate to fuel your training!
Grapes and string cheese
Grapes or watermelon are high in water as well as quick sugar to fuel an upcoming training session for someone with a nervous stomach before a race. Grapes digest quickly and tend to be well tolerated. String cheese is a great pairing to help provide some protein but not too much to power the training session and prevent muscle protein breakdown.
What you eat before your training session does not have to be complex. Keep the foods simple and focus on the fundamentals of eating for health and fueling for performance. There is no magic meal that can make for a special training session. Training sessions are a great time to experiment for game day. Never try new foods on game day, it is best to try them out and assess tolerance on practice or training days. A rule of thumb for all that wish to be better athletes and healthier humans is to focus on proper meals each day, each week, each month, and each year. There are no magic meals, what works for one may not work for another. For more sports nutrition and health information check out my previous blogs available on my website.
In good health and performance,
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. 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 works remotely and currently operates as a traveling dietitian. Wendi works with clients of all levels and ages across the US as well as Canada and the UK. Wendi is available for one-on-one coaching and public speaking inquiries here .
If you’re a high school athlete, you’ve probably gone to an early morning practice, school, training session or game without eating “breakfast”. Learn how you’re hindering your performance. Or, if you work with young athletes, are a high school athlete or a parent of one you know what crazy mornings look like these days. Many are so worried about checking their phone in the am they are wasting precious minutes that could be allocated to breakfast. Case and point, if you have time to grab your phone, scroll through social in the morning then you have time to grab something nutritious to fuel your day. That’s right, young athletes need to eat breakfast and the excuse “I don’t have time” or “I’m not hungry” is not acceptable. Time for some tough love here. Way too many teens are staying up past midnight snacking and not getting quality sleep which disrupts the circadian clock, hunger hormones like ghrelin and leptin leading to “appetite disruptions” . This is quite common because high-calorie, low-nutrient choices like Cheetos , candies and snack foods were consumed at 1 am while playing Minecraft.
“Time” the biggest barrier in skipping breakfast
According to a study, parents identified time as the greatest barrier to breakfast consumption. To overcome this barrier, we must utilize our down-time outside of morning hours and through-out the week to prepare grab and go-options. This article will help decrease the concern parents also have about the healthfulness of some traditional breakfast. I will provide some simple, high-nutrient options for that first meal of the day!
Breakfast, what is it? According to Merriam-Webister, breakfast is the first meal of the day especially when taken in the morning. While most health professionals, doctors and dietitians will say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The reason breakfast, the first meal of the day I.e. breaking the fast is considered incredibly important is since we wake up dehydrated and need to fuel both our muscle and brain for the day. The first meal we put into our bodies sets the tone for our neurotransmitters that day. Research has indicated nutrients and calories missed at breakfast by teens are unlikely to be made up for later in the day. Studies also illustrate breakfast eaters tend to have higher school attendance, score higher on standardized tests, fewer tardiness and fewer hunger-induced stomach pains in the morning. Additionally, recent studies illustrate the benefits of breakfast. To the parents out there reading this, you should front load your calories. What does that mean? Well it would be helpful for weight-management and long-term health to consume a higher amount of nutrients at breakfast than at dinner according to a 2020 article published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
As the day progresses and schedules intensify there is left time to eat and fuel. If you’re new to my work, then please refer back to my where I break down the difference between eating and fueling. In fact, archive People first an athlete second will always be my approach. We eat for health first and fuel for performance second. Fundamental carbohydrate and protein information for young athletes can be found here . If you are a strength coach then check out this article as I have written it specific for you.
Eating and fueling upon fasting while we are rested is key for supporting growth, development, and maturation. Then factor in practices, training and conditioning? It’s a recipe for injury, blunted maturation, stress fractures and consequences for long-term health if we skip meals. In my opinion breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. That is right, nor is “lunch” or “dinner”. As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and performance dietitian I educate and coach on the philosophy that ALL MEALS MATTER! A great resource on building a high-performance plate can be viewed here. One meal is not more important than another. I also reference pre-training and post-training nutrition in this statement. Many young athletes are so worried about that post-competition meal being perfect but fail to at consistently well at all the other meals leading up to the event. How you eat at each meal will produce much better results for growth and recovery than one meal. #EattheRainbow
All meals matter explained
When I present at coaches, clinics, and conferences I reference “breakfast” but quickly identify that I call breakfast as meal one. I do not use traditional meal patterns like most. Why you may ask? Well, for starters I like to teach my athletes that all meals matter. Not one meal over another, and I also clear up the confusion that there’s some special “pre-game” or “pre-training” meal that will bolster an athlete’s performance. The fact of the matter is that the meals consumed leading up to that training session are what win games and lead to a stellar training session. Consistently eating well over time translates into successful practices, games and ultimately championships won.
Ask any successful coach who has had a string of winning seasons, he/she understands it’s all about the fundamentals carried out day in and day out. Championship teams are not strung together after a few weeks of camp. It takes time, commitment, planning and strategy. Furthermore, high-school and adult athletes need more than the three normal meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) a non-athlete would consume. Athletes need more calories and that requires more frequent feedings with a higher volume of calories. Young athletes also need to get in plenty of colorful fruits and veggies. Unsure of how to incorporate them? Check out one of my recent article, 7 Ways to Get More Veggies into your Young Athlete’s Diet published at Simplifaster .
Nutrition with Wendi Coaching Hack
When counseling my young athletes and recreational active adults we go over the benefits consume four-five meals per day. When we go over their nutrition I ask, what was meal one? Referring to “breakfast” as meal one also helps young athletes feel like eating something before, they leave the house is realistic. Breakfast is often affiliated with a “sit down and eat approach”. Most young athletes and even adults do not have time to sit down and eat something and feel overwhelmed with lack of planning or time in the morning. So, for a young growing and developing athlete meal one is a grab-n-go option of a protein, fiber + carbohydrate. Ideally the meal would be planned out in advance to ensure it is available to grab on the way out. Control your controllables, planning meals in advance for a schedule you know you have come up is a controllable. Simple grab-and-go breakfasts include hard boiled-egg and fruit, string cheese and banana, yogurt parfait and whole-grain granola, whole-grain toast with nut butter, turkey breakfast sandwich, and berries and oatmeal.
My top five premium fuel meal one options
Eggs, one of the most nutrient dense, convenient and inexpensive foods available. Eggs are rich in choline which helps support neurotransmitter production for cognition. 6-8 grams of high-quality protein and contain all essential amino acids for muscle mass, bone health and promoting satiety. also contain lutein and zeaxanthin which are antioxidants that support eye health. Eggs are considered one of the most nutritious foods available containing several vitamins, minerals, and folate . Egg scramble, hard boiled or even a fried egg sandwich!
2. Greek Yogurt, another nutrient rich option that is convenient, delicious, and nourishing for all ages. Greek yogurt is high in protein, reduces appetite, contains beneficial pro-biotics for healthy gut function along with calcium and vitamin D. Greek yogurt also contains electrolytes and carbohydrates to support brain and muscle contraction. I build several yogurt parfaits and keep them in the fridge for busy days. See video on my Facebook page on building the ultimate parfait or posts for inspiration!
Bone Health Hack
Calcium can only reach its full bone-growth potential in the presence of adequate vitamin D. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium. Recommendations for calcium and vitamin D vary. A great way to attain adequate calcium and vitamin D is to consume dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, milk and fortified beverages. Bonus: A yogurt parfait with mixed berries can be a great pre-exercise snack roughly 45-60 min before training. A yogurt parfait offers key carbohydrates and high-quality protein to fuel exercise.
Whole-grains Oatmeal or Overnight Oats, a great way to attain some high-quality calories for optimal focus in the classroom and on the field. Oatmeal is a great swap for those breakfast cereal lovers, oatmeal contains more fiber, less sugar and promotes satiety along with an abundance of B-vitamins. Oats are also rich in antioxidants which help reduce exercise induced inflammation and support heart health. Keep in mind 1 cup of oatmeal contains scant protein, 6-8 g to be exact. Which is why it is important to incorporate some sort of protein option like Greek yogurt, string cheese, hard-boiled egg, milk, whey-protein powder, or a high-protein nut butter like RX nut butter, 100% peanut butter an almond butter Please check out my website for some ideas on over night oats or view this great recipe via the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Whole-grain toast, wrap, waffle or even PANCAKES! That is right, whole-grain pancakes can be a great sit-down option, grab-n-go or even snack later in the week. You can prepare them in bulk and wrap the leftovers in tinfoil. I have a great recipe here for you to try or Nuts’-n-More. Use discount code 143NWW for 10% off your next order. View the high-protein coconut pancake recipe here!
High-protein fruit smoothie, quick and convenient way to consume high-quality protein, carbohydrates, fruits, and liquids on the go. You can even add Greek yogurt, chia seeds, flax, or other omega-3 fatty fats to help support health, digestion and reduce exercise induced inflammation. Be sure to include NSF approved whey protein powder or cow’s milk for ample high-quality protein. Put together protein powder, chia seeds,fruits/veggies in gallon freezer bag and place in freezer to be used in the morning to save time. Add milk, ice and you’re set.
Simple ways to overcome the time barrier with simple meals:
Establish a morning routine
Utilize breakfast at school (if available)Wake up 15-min sooner
Prepare foods for meal one ahead of time
Dozen hard boiled eggs for the week
Hard-boiled egg, spinach & chicken
Smoothie freezer bags ready to go
Overnight oats in mason jars for the week
Turkey cheese sausage bagel wrapped in tinfoil
Grab-and-go chocolate or white milk
Bananas, apples, pears and other perishable fruit on hand
String cheese and portioned out nuts
Whole-grain pita with turkey, egg and cheese
Egg scramble muffin tins baked ahead of time
Greek yogurt parfaits in mason jars or Tupperware container
Please follow me on Twitter for other quick and healthy nutritional strategies
Mixing it all together
We eat for health first and fuel for athletic performance second). Baring in mind that not every young athlete will always be an athlete. We must learn healthy habits early on which begin with meal one. As always, we need to get back to the basics. To be a champion you must be willing to execute the healthy habits consistently to be successful. What are you willing to do today that will help you be better tomorrow? Plan to start your day with intent of what you plan to accomplish which hopefully upon reading this article is meal one. If the pandemic is still overwhelming you please refer back to a previous blog I wrote on staying healthy during the quarantine found here .
Still feeling a little hungry for more information on nutrition and even training? Check out an article I co-authored with Erica Suter available here. In the article I provide a week sample menu for young athletes and Erica provides a sample week of strength and conditioning. I highly recommend Erica to anyone out there who works with young female athletes or is a young female athlete. Erica’s knowledge is next to none and she is someone I respect with significance in our field as a role model to both young men and women of all ages.
“Nutrition is a secret weapon! It can make a good athlete great or a great athlete good, the choice is up to you!” (Sm)
In Good Health and Performance,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN
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 also works with the general population to build healthier habits and improve body composition. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan with her own nutrition consulting business.Follow Wendi on Twitter and Instagram and book a consultation to become a nutritional client HERE.
More than one-third of U.S. adults have obesity, which is defined as having a BMI > 30. According to the World Health Organization, obesity has nearly tripled worldwide since 1975. In 2016, > 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese. A staggering 38 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2019. Most of the world’s population live in countries were overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight. Do I have your attention yet? If not, did you know that 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2016, and 13% were obese. Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were overweight or obese in 2016. All the aforementioned facts are per the WHO . Obesity is preventable. We need to wake up and do better, not just for ourselves but the next generations to come. The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed our lives and we must revisit our lifestyle choices in honor of health and disease prevention.
This article will highlight the association of obesity and Covid-19. First and foremost, for adults, the WHO defines overweight as BMI > or equal to 25; and obesity is a BMI > 30. BMI provides a rough measurement tool to correspond fatness in different individuals. It is not the best indicator of health as it is a population-level measure which is the same for both sexes and all ages and adults. BMI does not tell us bio-metrics, energy levels, sleep, relationship with food and other areas that predict health. However, it does provide a common way to classify
overweight or obesity in adults. BMI is defined as a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of his or her height in meters (kg/m2).
Causes of Obesity
Imbalance of calories from physical inactivity or surplus of calories consumed chronically over time
Family history and genetics
Medications: Some anti-seizure medications, antidepressants, steroids and beta blockers can lead to undesirable weight gain
Environment: Surrounding yourself with friends and family who may be overweight making poor food and beverage choices can lead to greater risk of obesity
Too little sleep which can increase appetite and desire to consume low nutrient foods
Why is obesity a risk factor for Covid-19?
Obesity is considered a large risk factor for risk of severe COVID-19 because of the respiratory dysfunction. Those with obesity have a greater likely hood of experiencing restricted airways, decreased lung volumes, and weaker respiratory muscles which are an essential defense against COVID-19. Such factors make an individual more susceptible to pneumonia, and experience additional cardiac stress. Furthermore, obesity is also linked with diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease, which overall increase the risk of developing pneumonia. Other ailments like hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and pre-diabetes enhance the susceptibility to infection.
The current science:
Data from 383 patients showed that having obesity was associated with a 142% higher risk of developing severe pneumonia associated with COVID-19.
A larger study of over 4,000 patients with COVID-19 in New York City found that severe obesity was a major risk factor for hospitalization, second only to age.
Analysis of critically ill COVID-19 patients in Seattle found that 85% of patients with obesity required mechanical ventilation, compared to 64% of patients without the condition. Moreover, 62% of the patients with obesity died of COVID-19, compared with 36% of those without obesity.
Limitation: Study only assessed 24 patients, all of whom were critically ill, making it difficult to draw attention to the conclusions from the data.
• Another analysis of 124 patients in Lille, France, found that patients with obesity were more likely to require invasive mechanical ventilation.
Collectively this evidence suggest that obesity may be a significant risk factor for COVID-19. Dr. Norbert Stefan, of the German Center for Diabetes Research stated that “obesity may put people infected with Covid-19 at more severe risk and possibly risk of death.” Many of the recent articles published in the last 2 months regarding comorbidities and the association with COVID-19 did not produce data surrounding body composition or metabolic health. The gap in data warrants further research to investigate how body composition, waist circumference, and blood glucose levels play a role in contraction and recovery from the virus, specifically metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a serious health condition that affects roughly 23 percent of adults and increases their risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and diseases related to fatty buildups in arterial walls according to the American Heart Association. The overall underlying cause of metabolic syndrome includes being overweight, obese, inactivity along with other genetic factors associated with aging.
However, given the limited studies there is not sufficient evidence to definitively say that those with obesity at higher risk for more severe COVID-19. The limited literature does suggest a connection and we can note that obesity is indeed a risk factor for worse outcomes in regard to health. Research does support the notion that those who are obese tend to experience more severe forms of infections according to a publication in the International Journal of Obesity .
Strategies to Overcome Obesity: Tips for a Healthier Tomorrow
Now that we are aware of the connection obesity has with disease and infection let’s talk about practical strategies and tips to improve body composition and overall health! First and foremost, obesity prevention begins at a young age. It’s important to help young growing adolescents maintain a healthy weight without a focus on the scale.
Obesity prevention for children
Help your toddlers learn appropriate portion sizes. The American Academy of Pediatrics states children from the ages of 1 to 3, every inch of height should equate to approximately 40 calories. As children age you can teach them what appropriate portion sizes look like.
Eat healthy foods as a family and create a healthy experience with eating at the table with no distractions like tablets, computes, phones and other games.
Encourage eating slowly and eating only when hungry. Eating out of boredom can lead to excess calorie consumption. If you find yourself eating out of boredom be sure to have healthy snacks like fresh cut fruits and veggies available to snack on.
Limit unhealthy foods that lack nutrients in the household. If it ends up in your cart at the store, it will end up in your mouth and eventually your tummy. Stock the fridge and pantry with healthy foods, and limit low nutrient foods as a “treat” that is not consumed daily.
Establish a healthy sleep routine and focus on managing stress. Those that tend to sleep more heave a healthier weight and crave less unhealthy foods that are often low in nutrition. Higher stress is also associated with weight gain due to poor coping mechanisms.
Incorporate regular physical activity which includes at least 60 minutes per day. A byproduct of being more active is less time in front of the screen.
Obesity prevention for adults
It is no secret obesity prevention tips are the same for losing or maintaining a healthy weight. Consuming a healthy diet, sufficient sleep and participating in regular physical activity can help prevent obesity.
Consume plenty of healthy fats. A study published in the Nutrition Journal illustrated that intake of healthy fats, such as polyunsaturated fats, can attenuate cholesterol levels and decrease obesity risk.
Eat regular meals on a schedule. Eat a proper breakfast, lunch and dinner that has appropriate portion sizes. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. Adults should consume five to nine servings of fruits and veggies each day.
Fruits and veggies are low in calories, high in nutrients, water and full of dietary fiber that supports satiety. Research shows dietary fiber plays a key role in maintaining a healthy weight. A 2019 trial published in Journal of Nutrition found that dietary fiber intake promotes weight loss and dietary adherence in adults with overweight or obesity consuming a calorie-restricted diet.
Consume less processed and high sugar foods. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, processed and ultra-processed foods are linked to increased risk for obesity. Most processed foods are high in fat, sodium, and refined sugar which can promote over-eating.
High calorie, high sugar foods often contain limited nutrients and tend to promote over-eating. Processed foods that should be limited to avoided include cereals, white bread, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, granola bars, crackers and other snack foods. Be mindful of marketing claims for certain snack foods that may list “low-fat” or ‘low-carb” but still contain a significant amount of sugar and limited nutrients. Should you choose granola bars or grains ensure they are whole-grain.
Participating in regular activity that includes both strength training and aerobic activity. Regular physical activity of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity is encouraged per week according to the CDC . Find a movement that you enjoy doing and set a goal to complete it each week with the family. Establish smart goals and hire a coach that can assist you in completing appropriate exercise safely to prevent injury. If you’re new to exercise, begin by walking, stretching and strive to improve your time spent exercising each week.
Focus on meal prep and have a plan. It is much easier to shop for healthy foods when you have a list that meets your budget. If you walk into a store with a list you are less likely to be tempted by unhealthy foods. Avoid walking down the aisles looking for items that are not on your list. A good grocery list should contain plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, healthy whole-grains, lean proteins, healthy fats and spices. Be sure to make a regular list and post it on the fridge for items as you run out.
Eat more protein and veggies as snacks. Higher protein intake is associated with better weight management, glycemic index and bone health according to several studies. A review published in the Journal of Food Science specifically illustrates the metabolic advantages of higher protein diet and benefits of dairy. Higher protein intake is associated with greater satiety and healthier better composition. Some great high-protein options include eggs, Greek yogurt, beef, chicken, fish, lentils, wild game and other dairy products. A study published in the European Journal of Obesity examining the effect of a high-protein diet versus a standard protein diet on weight loss and biomarkers of metabolic syndrome found significantly greater weight loss with higher protein diet.
Many are looking for ways to stay calm during one of the most unprecedented health crises our country has ever seen. Shift your focus to these 3 areas to improve your health during the pandemic.
Establish a routine:
Which includes regular wake, bedtime, movement, mealtimes, schoolwork, work projects and “leisure time” built in to create stability. Eat breakfast every day! Those that consume the majority of their calories early on are less likely to be overweight and obese. Be sure to incorporate a high-quality protein, fiber and fluids. By getting into the habit of completing tasks on a regular basis along with mealtimes you set yourself up for a new normal.
Be mindful of fluids, what you are eating at meals and snacking on. High-stress situations can lead to an impact on our ability to make healthy choices. By stress eating high-calorie and low nutrient foods you are more likely to put on undesirable weight. By creating a schedule of mealtimes and having a calendar of meals you are less likely to eat out of boredom.
Have fruits and veggies cut and prepared in the fridge should you be hungry and snack on nutrient dense foods versus processed food.Grocery shopping is critical, be sure to have a list prepared ahead of time and stock up on plenty of frozen along with fresh fruits and veggies.
Eat the rainbow and incorporate as many whole foods as possible. By eating colorful fruits and vegetables you can support a healthy immune system. Vitamins and minerals support a healthy immune system which are found in pigment rich foods (color!).
Be sure to also incorporate unsalted, nuts, seeds, lean proteins and healthy fats can truly help optimize your immune function land even support good sleep. What we eat has a direct impact on our sleep which can also help keep unwanted pounds at bay!
Supporting positive mental health with movement and meditation!
Getting plenty of regular movement, aerobic activities like walking, biking, hiking, swimming along with resistance training with household items or weights at home. Exercise boosts physical, mental and emotional health which can help reduce stress overall. By reducing stress, you are also fighting off the risk of disease and illness. 30-40 minutes a day of yoga, meditation, walking, running or biking is a great way to stay healthy! Many apps, videos and programs are available on demand online.
Work with a Dietitian to Fight Off Obesity and Establish Healthy Habits
Many find great success working with a registered dietitian nutritionist. Research indicates that a few sessions with an RDN can lead to healthier habits, optimal food choices and successful weight loss. As an RDN I personally work with many on improving their relationship with food, eating more fruits and veggies, selecting high-quality proteins, and preparing foods at home. RDN’s can assist in developing a calorie-controlled plan and calculating out energy needs that support appropriate weight loss, weight maintenance goals. Additionally, a personal trainer or fitness coach can also assist you in setting goals for routine physical activity. I work with several individuals on creating a periodized program for appropriate progression of physical activity. The goal is to move more and to feel good about the exercise you are doing. The journey to 100 miles begins with taking that first step. I am here to help you and support you, join me and take that first step to a healthier tomorrow!
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 those looking to improve their health and energy. Along with supporting athletes desiring 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 very active on social media platforms such as facebook , twitter and Instagram.
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.
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.
“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 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:
Risk of stress fractures
Muscle aches and weakness
In the Body, Vitamin D is Linked with:
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.
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 deficiency is being recognized as a world problem that can have serious health consequences for children and adults. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is produced from ultraviolet rays from the sun that strike the skin to trigger vitamin D production. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains calcium and phosphate levels to give us strong bones. It also supports muscle function, cell growth, neuromuscular function and immunity.
In the body, vitamin D is linked with:
Blood pressure regulation
Muscle strength and mass
Absorption of calcium
Healthy weight management
Overall bone and teeth health
Vitamin D deficiency can go undetected as the signs and symptoms are asymptomatic, but lead to several health problems like:
Risk of stress fractures
Muscle aches and weakness
Several factors influence vitamin D levels. Here are the six important ones!
Location. The further away from the equator you live, the less vitamin D producing UVB light that reaches the earth’s surface during winter. For example, residents in Minnesota may receive little if any of the vitamin from October through February. Short days and wearing clothing that covers arms and legs also limits UVB exposure.
Skin color. Dark-skinned people tend to require more UVB exposure than light-skinned people to produce the same amount of vitamin D. This is due to melanin in the skin that makes it dark. It competes for UVB that stimulates the body’s vitamin D production. Sun screen will also limit skin’s ability by 97%.
Body Composition. People who carry excess weight do not have a change in vitamin D production, but higher body fat concentrations affect levels of vitamin D in the blood. Remember that vitamin D is fat soluble, which means the more body fat the more diluted it gets. If you are overweight or obese with a BMI >30 you may need more vitamin D.
Gastrointestinal disorders. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so fat is necessary for absorption. Those with Crohn’s, Celiac, or Inflammatory Bowel Disease are unable to absorb fat properly leading to a deficiency in fat soluble vitamins, like vitamin D.
Aging. Skin production of vitamin D in older adults decreases due to skin changes with a reduced amount of the vitamin D precursor. Lifestyle factors with limited outdoor exposure and more layers of clothing also negatively impact vitamin D production. Lastly, renal production of vitamin D decreases due to diminishing renal function with age. These changing factors in vitamin D metabolism generate a higher risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Dietary intake. Few foods contain vitamin D naturally, and if you avoid milk or follow a strict vegan diet you are at an increased risk. Since most of the natural sources are animal based, including fish and fish oils, egg yolks, fortified milk, and beef liver.
Limited intake requires fortified sources. Fortified means vitamin D has been added. Foods that contain vitamin D include; Fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, halibut, tuna, sardines and herring. Fortified sources include; milk, orange juice, yogurt and cereal. Mushrooms and egg yolks also contain traces of vitamin D. The recommended dietary allowances for vitamin D for male and females under the age of 70 is 600 units, and 800 for people over 70. For those under 12 months calls for an intake of 400 units a day.
Vitamin D content in food sources include:
6 oz. fortified yogurt = 80 IU
3 oz. of salmon = 794 IU
1 cup of fortified cereal = 40 IU
1 cup of fortified milk = 120 IU
1 egg yolk = 41 IU
1 cup of fortified orange juice = 137 IU
Vitamin D is important to overall health. The best way to have a healthy level of vitamin D is consuming foods rich in vitamin D and getting adequate sun exposure when possible. It’s important to note that resources and blood tests available to determine if you are vitamin D deficient. For more information, you should consult with your physician, dietitian or health practitioner before taking a vitamin D supplement or if you feel you are at risk for vitamin D deficiency.
Interested in learning more about your vitamin D status? Check out the website of the Vitamin D Society for more information. A more comprehensive table of Vitamin D concentrations and health are found here via the National Institute of Health.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I am very passionate about vitamin D an overall health. In addition to this article will be another illustrating the important role vitamin D plays in athletic performance.
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.