Back to the basics! There is no magic meal or diet that will “win games”. If you want to be a better athlete listen up. Consume 3-4 high-quality meals with 2 to 3 snacks in between to support health and optimal performance. Discourage from trying new foods on game day or more intense training days when training duration and load are greater. Post-training meal is key to support recovery and training. Simplify the science and empower your athletes to follow the “25-50-30 rule”.
addition to two to three snacks for better focus academically, mentally, and physically. Not skipping meals and fueling up can help increase performance, strength, performance adaptations, decrease the risk of injuries, and on-set fatigue. More on building a high-performance plate can be assessed here.
Nutrient timing 101 Nutrient timing can Consume 25 grams of protein paired with 50 grams of carbohydrates within 30 minutes of activity for reducing muscle breakdown and supporting training adaptations. More information on recovery nutrition here.
Don’t skip breakfast
Nutrients and calories missed at breakfast by teens are unlikely to be made up for later in the day. Grab-and-go options; hard boiled-egg and fruit, string cheese, banana, Greek yogurt parfait, whole-grain oats, berries, or a whole-grain turkey bagel sandwich. More breakfast ideas to share with young athletes can be foundhere.
A second breakfast can satisfy energy needs during high-volume and intense training phases or for weight gain. For example, incorporating chocolate milk, peanut butter sandwich, nuts, and seeds with string cheese can help increase calories and nutrition. For additional guidance on fueling your athletes check out this article on practical tips to fueling young athletes as a strength coach.
Hydration is one of the most undervalued performance enhancers available. Water is vital to peak performance. A rule of thumb I encourage is 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. Invest in a good water bottle for your teen athlete to keep on hand. For every pound lost during training, the athlete should replace it with 16-24 oz. of fluid.
A bedtime snack containing 15-20 grams of protein and 30 grams of carbohydrates for restful sleep and growing lean muscle tissue during the night. Cottage cheese, milk, and yogurt are rich in slow-digesting protein. Pair an 8 oz. serving of cottage cheese with sliced bananas for a high-protein, high-magnesium bedtime snack. Magnesium helps relax muscles and lowers brain temperature to regulate hormones.
Eat the Rainbow. Fruits and veggies contain quality nutrients needed for optimal growth and development. The more pigment and color in an athlete’s diet the healthier the immune system they will have that will fight off the risk of infection, illness, and support long-term health.
Whole meals first supplement second. Supplements are meant to satisfy small gaps in nutrition and to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Good nutritional habits must be established first. For additional guidance to ensure your athletes are meeting their protein and carbohydrate needs check out this article. No supplement can replace whole foods.
In good health,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, and performance coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She partners with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi provides virtual services including telehealth but based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Wendi works with clients of all levels and ages across the US as well as Canada and the UK. You can find more about Wendi and scheduling an appointment with her on her website.
What can hiring a sports nutritionist offer your program? Learn more here.
It seems like everyone is on a diet these days. In fact, many have spent their entire lives trying to lose weight and are chronically dieting. According to the CDC nearly one-half of adults have tried to lose weight within the last 12 months. So, what gives? If everyone is dieting why are we also facing obesity and weight gain across the world? According to the CDC the prevalence of obesity in 2018 was 42.4%. Does that surprise you? How can this be? Let’s look at another shocking statistic. The weight loss industry grew at an estimated 4.1% in 2018, from $69.8 billion to a whopping $72.7 billion. The market is now forecasting growth of 2.6% annually through 2023 according to the Food Research & Action Center .
So, why are facing rising obesity numbers? Why are so many dieting yet not being successful? What if products, programs and organizations do not want you to lose weight? What if they are not giving you the right information to make the best choices for a sustainable diet? The diet industry is full of myths, misinformation and premium trash guidance. People are often instructed to do all sorts of expensive, reckless, restrictive, fear driven and crazy things that lack merit, evidence and efficacy. However, there are several effective strategies that are evidence based when it comes to living a healthier lifestyle and shedding those pounds for good. I am going to share them with you today. Something I work closely on with my weight loss clients is basic, fundamental habits for life-long health that are sustainable. Remember, if our methods are not sustainable our results won’t be. It is time to get back to the basics, with healthy habits.
1.Consume whole eggs for breakfast
Eating whole eggs, yes, the yolk included has a surplus of health benefits which also include weight loss and weight management. Studies have illustrated that eggs can help decrease the number of calories consumed in the next 36 hours as well as lose greater weight and body fat (1). Another more recent study found that after consuming eggs for breakfast, overweight and obese subjects had a lower energy intake in comparison to eating cereal for breakfast (2).
If you do not love eggs, that is totally okay! The takeaway is that a high-quality source of protein and healthy fat for breakfast will more than likely keep you satisfied, help with calorie control, reduce cravings and feel more energized than the traditional breakfast cereal or grain.
Great quick & nutrient dense breakfast option (Avocado, egg scramble with spinach, Greek yogurt, berries and peanut butter).
Being aware and mindful of appropriate portions of protein, fat, carbohydrates and even refined sugars is key for eating less to create a calorie deficit to lose weight. Counting calories isn’t fun and can be quite tedious so learning appropriate serving sizes of the main food groups is the best way to be successful whether you are out to eat, on-the-go, at home, or at a birthday party. I work with many to understand the value of their portions and how it affects their choices and even sleep later.
A simple guide for each meal:
Healthy fats: 1 tbsp. (thumb as a serving size)- oils, butter, avocado, cheese, nuts, seed oils
High-quality protein: 3-4 oz. (deck of cards as a serving size) – fish, chicken, lean beef, turkey, tofu, beans, dairy and pulses
Vegetables and fruits: 1 cup or half of the plate
Whole-grains: ¼ of the plate- whole grains, 1/3 cup of oatmeal
Context is key as always, those that are more active, athletes or require greater energy needs due to infections, wound healing or other situations where more energy is needed such as oncology. You can’t manage what you don’t track so it is important to be mindful of portions and in many cases keeping a food diary, taking photos of your meals or tracking in an app to help you lose weight (3).
You are more likely to choose a healthier food if you’re aware of how many calories are in something. For example, measuring your serving of peanut butter. Many assume they are consuming the serving size but in fact they are doubling it. 2 tbsp. of most peanut butters are 190 kcal, imagine if you are consuming 4 tbsp. in a sitting and doing that every day, every week of every month for a year. This equates into an additional 190 kcal/day which can lead to 1,330 kcal unaccounted for at the end of the week. Weight-gain is inevitable if you are consuming more calories than you are burning. 3,500 kcal are equivalent to one pound and this could easily be the case for many without being aware of portions
3. Always keep a cooler in your car along with healthy snacks to fill it with
Having nutrient dense foods available and accessible can help prevent you from eating something lower in nutrition and higher calorie should you become hungry. As you have learned, protein is important for increasing satiety and can help manage your weight.
Some great options to keep on hand include:
Hard boiled eggs with carrot sticks
Turkey roll-up wraps in spinach
Peanut butter and celery sticks
Cheese slices and green pepper slices
Sliced bell peppers and hummus
Cottage cheese with banana slices
Berry spinach protein shake
Apple with to-go nut butter
Greek yogurt parfait with berries in a to-go container or mason jar
4. Combine resistance training and aerobic exercise
One of the biggest myths out there is that lifting weights makes you “big” or bulky. Studies have shown that resistance training increases your calories burnt at rest (resting energy expenditure), supports lean mass and when combined with aerobic exercise is an effect fat loss strategy (4, 5). Resistance exercise is critical for building healthy strong muscles and bones as well as decreasing your risk for disease later. Resistance training also increases muscle growth when combined with appropriate protein intake. Another study involving 40 post-menopausal women were able to decrease their body fat combining resistance training and a higher-protein diet (6).
The research supporting resistance training and aerobic exercise provides great motivation to get moving! If you’re interested in engaging in activity or ramping up your exercise regimen for the first time be sure to work with a qualified fitness expert who holds a credible certification or has experience as a fitness professional to develop you a plan. Please contact me directly for guidance on a fitness program!
Also, please look at one of my power lifting clients, Molly who dropped > 30 lbs. through proper diet, aerobic and strength training. Her great progress photo is shown. Molly worked daily on creating healthy habits, consistency with her protein intake and managing portion control. Her physical transformation is inspiring, but her mental and spiritual growth is second to none!
5. Follow a high-protein diet
According to the American Heart Association, adults trying to lose weight and maintain weight loss should eat no more than 30% of total daily calories from fat and less than 7 percent from saturated fat. Currently, the recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is a measly 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. The RDA refers to the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. Many confuse the RDA and how to make recommendations to their patients, client and athletes. The RDA is really the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick, not the actual amount you should consume each day. For example, an average adult should consume roughly 25-30 grams of protein per meal, according to Protein Summit 2.0. Furthermore, research by the Protein Summit 2.0 indicated that 1.0 -1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day is beneficial for healthy metabolic function.
I have written about the low RDA for protein and why more is needed to sustain muscle and health in a previous blog published on my website, here . Growing research has indicated following a high-protein diet can help people lose weight, improve body composition, build lean mass, increase satiety and help maintain a calorie deficit over time to further support weight loss maintenance.
By eating more protein, 25-30 grams per meal can help reduce hunger, suppress appetite which can help decrease undesired snacking leading to a calorie deficit. When trying to lose weight it would be beneficial to replace excess carbohydrate choices with high-quality protein snacks like Greek yogurt, string cheese, hard boiled eggs, beef jerky, turkey slices or even protein shake. Research is mixed on the precise figures, but the available research has supported protein has a much higher thermic effect compared to carbohydrates (20-30%) and (5-10%) respectively (7).
Lastly, consuming a casein rich food before bed can also help support muscle growth, recovery, appetite suppression, weight loss and weight management. Casein is the main protein in milk products, and it is considered a “slow digesting” protein. Not to be confused with whey protein isolate which is a fast digesting protein that should be consumed around training sessions and can serve as meal replacement during times of calorie restriction (8). Since casein protein is slow release it can reduce the rate of digestion and support fat loss. Not only does more protein help increase satiety and energy expenditure but it can also help with appetite suppression in the later hours. A study found that taking casein before bed resulted in 25% higher satiety levels the following day (9). Greater satiety will yield greater results when it comes to weight loss.
Ever notice you tend to move less, have limited motivation to do much beyond your daily work tasks, eat more unhealthy foods that are high in sugar or even calories when you do not sleep well? If you’re feeling sleepy at work, you grab another cup of coffee and the cookies in the pantry hoping for a “burst of energy” but actually makes you feel even more tired. You then later skip your usual walk breaks and even the workout you had planned to do. If this is you, you are not alone. Sleep debt is like a high interest rate credit care that if it continues to accumulate you will not be able to pay it off and you crash.
Think you can catch up on sleep lost and it will not affect you or your weight? Think again, a study examined moderate sleep restriction on body weight, body composition and metabolic factors in individuals following a caloric restricted diet. The study found that one hour of sleep restriction on five nights per week led to decreased proportion of fat mass loss despite restricting calories (11).
Insufficient sleep derails your weight loss efforts in many ways. Leptin is the hormone that controls your appetite, and when you are sleep deprived you have less leptin. A surplus of grehlin plus little leptin is a fast track or weight gain. A 2010 study found increased hunger, a shift in energy use, less calories expired and less weight loss in participants who slept 5.5 hours (10).
It’s more than safe to say there is a connection between sleep and weight. Strive for 7 or more hours each night to support good energy levels, metabolism, food and activity choices and overall health. The industry will say, “sleep is for the weak” just take this pill, but you know now know differently.
7. More water, especially before meals
Many are very aware how important water is for health, wellness, weight loss and appetite control yet it is commonly touted that you shouldn’t consume water before meals. A study found that drinking 500 mL of water 30 minutes before each meal combined with a calorie-controlled diet led to greater weight loss in overweight and obese middle-aged adults (12).
Water is essential for nutrient and oxygen transportation, lubricating joints, regulating body temperature, protecting organs and tissues, dissolving minerals and nutrients to make them accessible to your body and helping the liver flush waste products (13).
Work to increase your water intake upon waking by having a 8-20 oz. water bottle by your bed.
Strive to consume 16 oz. before meals.
20 – 24 oz. of water between meals
10 oz. before bed to support good digestion
Increased water intake is associated with better weight control and weight management (13). So drink up!
We need to stop relying on poor information given out by celebrities, influencers who lack credibility. Instead of spending money on pills, powders, challenges and false promises invest in your daily habits. Get more sleep, drink more water, learn portion control, eat balanced meals and stop giving up on yourself. Take control of your habits and implement the strategies in this article that the diet industry doesn’t want you to know. Sustainable weight loss is about controlling your appetite and consuming more protein and getting rest is a simple way to do it! The secret is out, and it is not the next celebrity cleanse. Your habits should support the future you are trying to create. If you are ready to stop saying “day one” or “one day” contact me, and let’s work together to create a plan for success!
In good health,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist, and performance coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She partners with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi 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. You can find more about Wendi and scheduling an appointment with her on her website .
Follow Wendi on Twitter and Instagram for nutrition, health and fitness inspiration.
(1)Vander Wal, J. S., Gupta, A., Khosla, P., & Dhurandhar, N. V. (2008). Egg breakfast enhances weight loss. International journal of obesity (2005), 32(10), 1545–1551. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2008.130
(2)B Keogh, J., & M Clifton, P. (2020). Energy Intake and Satiety Responses of Eggs for Breakfast in Overweight and Obese Adults-A Crossover Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(15), 5583. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17155583
(3). Burke, L. E., Wang, J., & Sevick, M. A. (2011). Self-monitoring in weight loss: a systematic review of the literature. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(1), 92–102. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2010.10.008
(4) Ho, S. S., Dhaliwal, S. S., Hills, A. P., & Pal, S. (2012). The effect of 12 weeks of aerobic, resistance or combination exercise training on cardiovascular risk factors in the overweight and obese in a randomized trial. BMC public health, 12, 704. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-12-704
(5)Hunter, G. R., Byrne, N. M., Sirikul, B., Fernández, J. R., Zuckerman, P. A., Darnell, B. E., & Gower, B. A. (2008). Resistance training conserves fat-free mass and resting energy expenditure following weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 16(5), 1045–1051. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2008.38
(6) Miller, T., Mull, S., Aragon, A. A., Krieger, J., & Schoenfeld, B. J. (2018). Resistance Training Combined With Diet Decreases Body Fat While Preserving Lean Mass Independent of Resting Metabolic Rate: A Randomized Trial. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 28(1), 46–54. https://d6 oi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.2017-0221
(8) Kinsey, A. W., Cappadona, S. R., Panton, L. B., Allman, B. R., Contreras, R. J., Hickner, R. C., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2016). The Effect of Casein Protein Prior to Sleep on Fat Metabolism in Obese Men. Nutrients, 8(8), 452. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8080452
(9) Ananda Hochstenbach-Waelen, Margriet AB Veldhorst, Arie G Nieuwenhuizen, Margriet S Westerterp-Plantenga, Klaas R Westerterp, Comparison of 2 diets with either 25% or 10% of energy as casein on energy expenditure, substrate balance, and appetite profile, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 89, Issue 3, March 2009, Pages 831–838, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.26917
(11) Wang, X., Sparks, J. R., Bowyer, K. P., & Youngstedt, S. D. (2018). Influence of sleep restriction on weight loss outcomes associated with caloric restriction. Sleep, 41(5), 10.1093/sleep/zsy027. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/zsy027
(12) Handbook of Non Drug Intervention (HANDI) Project Team (2013). Pre-meal water consumption for weight loss. Australian family physician, 42(7), 478.
(13) Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition reviews, 68(8), 439–458. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x
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.
The Performance Training and Nutrition Menu for Beast Athletes Let me ask you this: as an athlete, when do you feel at your BEST? When do you feel your most empowered? Your strongest? Your most energized? Your healthiest? Your most resilient? When do you feel ready to step on the field with confidence and tenacity? Let me dive deeper: what exactly are you doing when you feel at your BEST? Are you doing your workouts? Are you training with intensity transferable to the game? Are you tracking your progress? Are you hydrating? Are you filling your body with nutrients and whole foods? Or are you missing workouts? Are you training at a slow pace that won’t sustain in the game? Are you not competing with yourself? Are you rolling your eyes at the thought of a strength workout? Are you “forgetting” to hydrate? Are you eating toxic sludge? Before my friend and amazing dietician, Wendi Irbeck, talks nutrition for performance, I want to get into the physical training aspect first. Right now, there are no excuses to miss workouts and train half-heartedly, unless you have a real emergency. But for everyone else who has good health, a safe family, a roof, a home gym fancier than my facility, and a front yard the size of a soccer field, there are no excuses to not do your strength and conditioning workouts. Sports are canceled, so what are you doing to prepare to be your best when they return? What do you look like and act like when you are training at your BEST? How do you envision yourself stepping back onto the field? They’re deep questions, but get a paper and pencil and start writing your thoughts. It’s critical to become AWARE. Returning to play as the player you were before the quarantine began is going to be immensely hard. And it’s going to take a grind harder than you can imagine. I’m not going to beat around the bush. And no amount of HIIT circuits on the web are going to prepare you. No amount of bodyweight workouts are going to bulletproof you against the change of direction, fatiguing muscle actions in the game that cause ACL injury. No amount of jump squat, burpee and push-up tests are going to train your nervous system how to sprint FAST again. Even though the world has come to a stop, strength and conditioning programming based off of science has not. Too, it’s important to remember this: – Athletes now have time to really improve the physical components of their game: speed, power, and conditioning. Practices and games aren’t in the way anymore. – Athletes now have time to hone in on correct and safe movement patterns for a healthier return to play, and seek out professionals to help. – Athletes now have time to lean into the power of exercise and strength training for mental health and immunity. There’s no excuse. To that end, athletes who care deeply about playing at a high level will show their true colors right now. Do they truly love the game? Are they committed? Can they adapt when adversity strikes? I’m speaking to you: if you want to earn your stripes as a high level athlete, let’s see how well you rise above the chaos during a global pandemic. I’ll take you seriously when you can attack adversity and use it as a means to become better. Don’t take this out of context, though. I’m not totally insensitive to the emotional storm now. I get everyone is anxious, scared, sad, depressed, worried. I get it, I experienced it, my loved ones are going through it, and I want to be considerate. Collectively, yes, the world is freaking out. And I’m speaking to you, coaches: if you want to earn your stripes as a coach, let’s see how much you hold your players accountable for their physical health and care for them with a smooth return to play. Truthfully, I would be a terrible coach to kids who want to perform at a high level if I didn’t encourage them to continue to train like the amazing athletes they are during this time. It’s a win-win to move, get better, improve speed times, get stronger, and keep routine. No going through the motions. Athletes thrive on goal setting, routine, and working hard toward something meaningful.
Okay, okay. I’ll step off my soapbox. I do want to provide actionable items for the athletes and coaches who do not have access to a comprehensive strength and conditioning program, and help people piece this all together with minimal thinking and stress. I’m happy to take everyone through a sample week menu with video links and sets and reps. It is going to be similar to an off-season program that focuses on general strength, power, speed and conditioning, then progresses to specific in the next couple months as we approach sports starting back up again.
Kidding. ;-O So there you are. Have at it and enjoy this sample for a few weeks (I’d say up to 2 weeks, then you need to begin to tweak the sets/reps, progress intensity, learn how to absorb and create force, and put yourself in conditioning drills at a higher intensity than the game to provide a physiological adaptation). But start here and see how you do. Remember, general —-> specific. Done correctly and considering you aren’t skipping workouts, you are good on volume and should be gassed after these workouts. Not depleted nor destroyed, but feeling like you accomplished a tough training session like a high level athlete. I’ll have Wendi take it away with how to work in proper nutrition to make the most of an off-season menu like this, and return to the field feeling empowered and at your best physically. Nutrition plays a major role in the success of these workouts and the intensity, as well as energy you bring to them. Eat. And fuel up. Enjoy.
Well…that is one tough act to follow! Well done, Erica and well said! Now that you have some guidance on training from the expert herself, let’s talk about the other 16 hours of the day outside of sleep. Controlling what you put in your mouth to support overall health and performance. So let’s stir it all together! Erica has really provided the framework for a consistent conditioning and workout program which should be supported by sufficient energy. I will address some of the specifics in greater detail below. Typically, the off-season is the period from December and January to May, June or even July when soccer athletes are fending for themselves. This time is best spent relaxing and disconnecting from the soccer world to “decompress”. As highly competitive athletes we all need rest and our brains and bodies need a break to support recovery to continue building. However, eating and fueling well along with staying active as Erica so thoroughly illustrated in the stated workouts above is important. Eating a variety of real foods, yes real foods, not supplements is critical during this time to help maintain condition, strength and endurance. overlooked piece of the puzzle or a missed opportunity to improve by young players. The goals of this “off-season” sample can be represented below:
Account for the differences in training, lifestyle and of course the unprecedented times we find ourselves in, the Novel Covid-19 Pandemic if you will. It’s important nutrient intake is adjusted but also sufficient to support the “off-season” activity.
Acknowledge body composition changes in which weight may fluctuate and that is OKAY! The off-season is a great time to focus on your individual progress and any body comp changes that may be necessary would be a great opportunity to consult with a registered dietitian. An under-fueled low-energy athlete cannot build or maintain muscle mass or size, so nutrition remains critical during this time.
Create a solid equilibrium between training volume and nutritional intake.
Nutrition with Wendi Fueling Fundamentals for Off-Season:
Intent: Focus on fueling to support your training objectives. Which may include strength gains, improving focus, speed, endurance and decreasing risk of injury.
Quality nutrients: Your plate should contain all the essential components of the plate. Colorful fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Proper nutrition will provide you the sustained energy to help you recover from training and provide satiety between meals.
Quantity: Optimal training requires sufficient energy (calories) to support growth, development, and overall energy needs during training.
Timing: Balance your meals with snacks to ensure you’re feeling appropriately. Post-workouts and training should contain a protein and carbohydrate to support recovery and performance adaptations.
Consistency: Consuming consistent meals, snacks and overall calories to support your growth and performance is vital. There are no magic meals to bolster athletic performance. Games won are in the off-season where nutrition is prioritized. Another key to consistency is finding what works well for you and your training. Never try a new meal on a heavy or intense training day. That stands true for game day. Never experiment with new foods, as they risk stomach pain, digestive challenges and can hinder performance.
Hydration: Fluids are essential for optimal health and athletic performance. You need about 80-100 oz. of fluid per day to support the transportation of essential nutrients to your muscles and organs. Water is key for keeping our joints fluid, muscle contraction and overall focus. A drop in 1-2% of your total body weight can result in declines in your performance ranging from cognition, muscle contraction, speed and overall fatigue. For every pound lost around training, replace with 16 to 24 oz. of fluid.
So, as you’re learning nutrition plays a pivotal role in your health and performance. Nutrition is truly a tool to support the overall maintenance and strength of your body, which is a machine. Your plate should reflect your health and performance goals.
To perform at your best, it’s important to eat the rainbow and get a balance from most IF NOT ALL food groups at every meal. The size of those portions may increase or decrease provided the season. For this specific article, we are in the off-season, so additional whole grains or carbs may not be necessary. However, eating for health and fueling for activity requires the right amount. What does that look like roughly? For girls, that can be anywhere from 2400-3000 kcal per day and boys 2800-3500 kcal per day. In each hour soccer athletes can burn up to 500-700 kcal per hour.
Nutrition with Wendi Quick Nutrition Tips:
Eat breakfast every day, non-negotiable.
Eat real food, prioritize nutrients from whole foods instead of supplements.
Do not skip meals – all meals matter.
Assess hunger, if you’re hungry post-meal, load up on more veggies!
Drink plenty of fluids (80-100 oz.).
Always reach for baked, grilled, steamed, broiled, roasted and never fried.
To ensure good sleep avoid high-fat, spicy or overly large meals prior to bed.
Eat the rainbow, focus on lean proteins, quality fats and fluids at each meal.
Consume quality nutrients every 2-3 hours to avoid hunger and support proper energy levels.
Sample Meal Ideas for Athletes (Nutrition with Wendi)SM
Sample Meal Ideas for Athletes (Nutrition with Wendi)SM
(Protein + fiber rich food + fruit/veggie)
(1-2 carb choices + 1-2 oz. protein)
(Protein + whole grain + fruit/veggie)
(Protein + whole grain + fruit/veggie)
(Protein + Carb within 30-60 min of training
(Little protein + some carb, (60-min of bed))
2 egg veggie omelet + whole grain English muffin with avocado1-2 cups of water
Oatmeal or overnight oats prepared with cow’s or soy milk + sliced almonds + peaches (see recipe)
1-2 cups of water
Sugar snap peas, sliced bell peppers + hummus or low-fat ranch dip
3 oz. of salmon or (baked fish option) veggie salad, avocado, whole-wheat roll
1-2 cups of water
Tomato basil wrap with tofu + sautéed mushrooms and onions + frozen grapes
1-2 cups of water or 8 oz. of low-fat milk
2 Hard-boiled eggs + blueberries
Banana soft-serve (combine ½ scoop protein powder + ice + frozen banana with 4 oz. of milk)
About the Authors
Erica Suter is a certified strength and conditioning coach in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as online for thousands of youth soccer players. She works with kids starting at the elementary level and going all the way up to the college level. She believes in long-term athletic development and the gradual progression of physical training for safe and effective results. She helps youth master the basic skills of balance, coordination, and stability, and ensures they blossom into powerful, fast and strong athlete when they’re older. She has written two books on youth strength and conditioning, Total Youth Soccer Fitness, and Total Youth Soccer Fitness 365, a year-round program for young soccer players to develop their speed, strength and conditioning.
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist, health & fitness coach and former college athlete. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to create nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing oninjury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes and organizations to eat and fuel for success. Wendi specializes in sports nutrition serving elite youth athletes as well as collegiate athletes teaching them the importance of getting back to the basics. She is a former sports dietitian for the Dairy Council of Michigan, is an adjunct instructor in Kinesiology, Health and Wellness Division at Lansing Community College in Lansing, Michigan. She earned both her B.S. and M.S. at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and has spent time learning from several professionals in the field along with an internship at the University of Florida. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan with her own nutrition consulting business.
“Johnny can’t gain weight. Susie is a picky eater and simply doesn’t like to eat meat or many proteins. My all-conference athlete eats everything in sight but can’t see to gain muscle and has frequent headaches. Tommy bonks out half-way through his match but is always eats a large steak the night before his meet. Lydia is concerned about carbs leading to weight-gain, so she completely avoids them and is exhausted going into her soccer games. Brad was told he’d have more energy if he would supplement with the special protein powders and keto drinks from a local woman who sells them in his neighborhood. Brad is frequently injured and has little energy entering fall camp.” Some of these examples may seem extreme, or they may sound all too familiar? Truth be told they are all real situations. I work with several adolescent athletes, parents of young athletes and high-school strength coaches. All of who I have had these very conversations with. Names are changed of course, out of respect to the athletes. Before you read any further, please check out my previous blog on Practical Nutrition Strategies for Youth Athletes if you haven’t already. It provides some great information to share with your young athletes.
The objective of this article is to provide framework for conversations, tips and practical tools to support the health and overall athletic performance of the athletes you may work with. Additionally, to build confidence in talking about nutrition with your young athletes. Along with aspiring strength coaches, we need you and the more versatile you are with knowledge and tools for your toolbox the greater success you will have in getting hired. I also want to direct you to Brett Bartholomew’s website found here. Brett helps coaches, leaders, educators and business owners in many areas. He wrote a book called Conscious Coaching , which I picked up in May, 2017 and could not put down. I finished it in a weekend. Conscious Coaching was a game changer for me. It helped me acknowledge the deficiencies in optimal communication with my athletes and even colleagues years back. It’s a phenomenal resource that I often reference and to note, I am a registered dietitian not a coach. As Brett so clearly illustrates in his writing is that it benefits anyone who has a relationship, which is all of us. I have never met Brett, but he has provided some great content and deserves the credibility. Thanks, Brett.
Proper nutrition is paramount for supporting growth, development and maturation first. Which is something I emphasize and encourage coaches to emphasize when working with young athletes. We eat for health first and fuel for performance second. Why? Because it is essential to develop healthy habits to sustain for life into adulthood as a non-athlete. What do I classify as the difference between eating and fueling? Simply put, we eat for optimal growth, development and maturation of our bones, tissues, and brain. Young children need to learn what foods provide nourishment. Not just energy, which is measured in the form of a kilocalories. One calorie is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1g of water by 1℃. It takes one kilocalorie of heat to raise one kilogram of water by 1℃. Food calories are kilocalories. If you’re interested in the history of the calorie in nutrition check out the explanation here, published in the American Society for Nutrition. So, what does that mean to me, as a coach? Well, let’s acknowledge nutrition is complicated right? For clarity, you can consume candy which contains calories and the vilified pop-tarts. However, you don’t get the same high nutrient composition from those “high-calorie, high-energy” foods like you would fruits, starch vegetables, whole-grain products or even whole-fat dairy. 1 cup of Greek whole-fat yogurt with one medium mashed banana vs one pop-tart offer roughly the same calories or energy, but the nutrient composition of each are significantly different. That is what I am driving home here, it is teaching young adults about the valuable role those nutrients play in supporting their growth, development and maturation. Vitamin D, calcium and protein are found in the Greek whole-fat yogurt which are not the same in relation to the pop-tart. I’m not anti-pop tarts but I am making a stance that each time we sit down for reach for a food it is an opportunity to nourish our bodies, to eat for health. Now, fueling is the next priority. Fueling means to apply additional calories, micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) along with macronutrients (fats, carbs and protein) and fluids to optimize athletic performance, enhance recovery, motor skills, decrease risk of sports related injury, increase muscle mass, gain competitive edge and the list goes on. So again, we eat first and fuel second.
Most athletes won’t go on to play at the next level and if they do, that won’t last forever. We must teach the fundamentals of proper nutrition and facilitating a healthy relationship with food that can be carried into adulthood. I have partnered with some excellent strength coaches who understand the value of good nutritional habits early on. There are many unique challenges that surface when working with a young age group in comparison to collegiate and adult athletes. So, what are these unique challenges coaches face?
Young athletes require more calories, fluids and nutrients.
Based on age alone, their body’s calorie needs are through the roof! I reference carbohydrate and protein needs for young athletes in a previous blog found here . For simplicity of coaches who have limited time with their athletes during workouts you may just want to hand them resources out the door, refer them to a registered dietitian who specializes in sports, or post nutrition info-graphs on the walls in the weight room to help them. One key strategy is to ask them about the basics. The basics are what win games and support health on and off the field. So, what does it mean to return to the basics? We must show our athletes how to build a proper plate with a balance of all food groups including fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, high-quality protein and a source of dairy a minimum of three times per day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and potentially another meal before practice (second chance for lunch) should all be built according to the plate. If you are unfamiliar with the plate, it is the ChooseMyplate.gov resource.
A more aesthetically pleasing plate geared towards athletes is found here. I reference this plate in every single nutrition presentation I deliver. The portions of the food groups on the plate will increase or decrease depending upon performance, training intensity, energy needs and body composition goals. Teen athletes have high energy needs, but throw in being an athlete creates a larger demand for nutrients, fluids and calories to support training adaptations. One of the largest mistakes young athletes make are not eating enough, not eating breakfast, not eating at the proper time, failing to have calories spread out throughout the day, inadequate consumption of fluids and simply failing to consume enough fruits and vegetables. If you’ like to dive into the nuts and bolts of the Tanner Stages of Maturing and its Relationship to Sports published in the Journal of Translational Pediatrics please use the aforementioned links for your knowledge and understanding. What is important to note is you can support your athletes by doing the following:
While your athletes are doing their workout, ask them some of the following questions.
What “fuel” did you consume today?
You’re looking strong today! What great things did you eat before you walked in here today?
What did you have for breakfast?
What did you have for lunch?
What colorful fruits did you try today?
What veggies have you had today?
How many bottles of water have you had?
What great things are you doing at home in your meals?
Are you getting in a pre-lift snack?
What do you plan on eating once you get out of here?
Many athletes may give you the “glazed over deer in the headlights look”. Timmy may say, “Coach, I am here to lift. Who cares what I ate for breakfast?” You can respond with “What you ate before you walked into this weight room has everything to do with your lift. Remember that day you were exhausted and had a bad workout? You didn’t each much at all that day.” Athletes need you to hold them accountable and remind them their performance gains are supported with the activities spent outside the weight room. Hydration practices, food source, quality and quantities by which they are being consumed at (breakfast, lunch, pre-post and at dinner) is what supports recovery, strength, speed and overall desired performance adaptations. Experts promote breakfast is the most important meal and there is existing literature to support the cognitive, behavioral, nutritional status, academic and overall benefits associated with a quality breakfast. However, I argue all meals matter. There is no magic meal that will win games. It’s about consistently consuming quality meals and fluids in the days and hours leading up to the event.
Drawing attention to nutrition among high school athletes and coaches
Greater awareness to the valuable role nutrition plays is being brought to lifts, strength coach conferences and several other gatherings. Which I must take a moment to give a special shoutout to NSCA Coach Doug Glee at Traverse City Central High School and the NHSSCA N. Michigan Director for inviting me to present on Nutrition and Fueling Optimal Performance at the 2020 NHSSCA Michigan State Clinic that was held on January 25th at Novi Catholic Central High School.
By empowering coaches to feel comfortable asking the right questions and providing basic encouragement to their athletes to eat and fuel we are pushing the needle forward and serving our athletes. If you’d like a copy of the presentation which covers the performance plate fundamentals, eating for weight gain, injury prevention and optimizing performance please send me an email directly. If you’re a coach I encourage you to email me or contact me on a social platform and connect with me. I would love to meet you, learn about your work and offer any support I can to you and your athletes.
Unique challenges for high school athletes:
In a study published in 2015 investigating the sports nutrition knowledge of high school athletes it was reported that 55.7% of participants reported eating breakfast daily, 36.6% reported eating one-hour before training and games and 79.4% reported eating within one-hour following training/games. Supplements, protein shake, or meal replacement beverages were used by 30.1% of the participants. Keep in mind the environment, socioeconomic status and affluence of the participants in this study. Most of the athletes I have worked with across the world face financial limitations, constraints and overall access to food to some capacity. This can create challenges for coaches in providing guidance. Good news, eggs, yogurt, milk, whole-grain rice, bread, bananas, chocolate milk, apples, frozen veggies and even poultry can be quite cheap and budget friendly for many. Many athletes often skip breakfast, skimp at lunch, fail to consume a snack and feel fiery hot Cheetos or chips with a few bites of a sandwich and soda are a enough lunch. We know this is not optimal or health. It fails to support eating and fueling goals, right? So, how do we encourage both eating and fueling for success? I encourage you to go eat with your athletes at lunch, most strength coaches work at the school and teach. Set an example for your athletes. By eating what they are eating you are demonstrating you too believe the meals are healthy. In fact, make sure you choose healthy s
nacks in front of them. Your student-athletes will follow suit in your choices. I have been in many schools and have seen what is served, it is so much better than when I was an adolescent. Check out this great meal I enjoyed with student athletes at a local high school in Detroit, Michigan (low quality photo-high quality meal).
Simply put, many athletes don’t eat enough. Athletes who are consistently in a calorie deficit experience several signs and symptoms which is something coaches should keep on their radar.
Key signs and symptoms of inadequate energy intake include:
Decline in performance
Absent or irregular menstrual cycles
Stress fractures or repeated bone injuries
Decreased muscle strength
Always being injured
Training hard but not improving performance
Undesired weight loss
Recurring infections and illness
Depression, disordered eating and expressed concerns about specific foods
Inability to gain or build muscle or strength
For more information on low energy availability in athletes check out the Collegiate Professional Sports Dietetics Association (CPSDA) for some great fact sheets and credible information compiled by the Sports Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) a dietetic practice group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For those interested in reading a more detailed review summarizing low energy availability check out a review article published in Sports Medicine .
Key tips to share with your athletes desiring to weight gain in the off-season or weight maintenance during season
Increase protein & leucine (nutrient trigger for muscle anabolism) rich foods – (meat, fish, poultry, dairy & legumes) are spread evenly through the day, at meals AND snacks, not all at one time, to aid in the growth of new tissue. (30-40 g/protein/meal).
Eat frequently: Every 2-3 hours to help increase calorie intake.
Consistency is key – as with training, practice consistency with these tips Monday – Sunday. Much like recovery, it’s a full-time job.
Focus on food – aim to increase calories first with food and supplements as a secondary option.
Planning– outline meals and snacks for the week. Shop 1x/week
Eat a bed-time snack – include a source of protein (cereal + milk, smoothie, cheese + crackers). Consume dairy products like cottage cheese which are rich in casein and leucine before bed for optimal muscle growth and repair according to a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Below I have listed out some high-quality nutrient snack ideas to support weight gain:
1 Medium apple + 3 Tbsp. PB (400 kcal)
5 c. Pistachios, almonds, walnuts, seeds (400 kcal)
Grilled pita bread with ¼ c. hummus, sliced avocado, tomatoes = (550 kcal)
Trail mix or fruit mix per ¼ cup= 100 kcal
Nutrient timing, exploring optimal meals pre- and post-workout
I advocate for meal timing of 4-2-1. Which I explain in the following. Eating a proper meal (3-4 hours) before an event according to the plate that fuels the muscle, body, prevents hunger and supports hydration levels to help decrease risk of injury. The meal should be balanced, with more of a focus on protein, carbohydrate and limited fat due to the length of time it takes to digest the food source.
Example of meals to consume (4 hours) prior to an event include:
Glass of skim cow’s milk, 4 oz. of grilled chicken, grapes, whole grain wrap with spinach and tomato. Roughly 500 kcal
Glass of skim cow’s milk, 4 oz. of turkey, brown rice, roasted vegetables and a banana. Roughly 500 kcal
Glass of fat-free chocolate milk, egg omelet, whole-grain toast spread with 1 tbsp. avocado, cup of fruit. Roughly 550 kcal
To maintain energy stores and support enough fuel for competition or practice consume a small meal containing minimal protein and some carbohydrate.
Example of meals to consume (2 hours) prior to an event include:
4 oz. of Greek yogurt and berries. Roughly 200 kcal
Hard boiled egg and pear. Roughly 150 kcal
String cheese and strawberries. Roughly 150 kcal
Lastly, about one hour out from practice or event you should sip on fluids, provide minimal about of carbohydrate if still hungry and limit protein and completely avoid fat. The goal is that you are already properly fueled. If breakfast, lunch and proper snacks have been consumed this 1-hour out protocol should really be fluids. If the athlete is still hungry 45-60 min prior to the event the window for opportunity to fuel has been missed.
Example of what to consume (1 hour) prior to event.
Possibly sports drink
Water, flavored waters
Watermelon slices, banana or grapes (quick sugar that can be used as fuel with minimal digestion)
A combination of carbohydrate and protein is highly encouraged for pre-workout meals.
Recovery nutrition broken down
Proper refueling and rehydrating is key after training, practice or an event. Recovery nutrition can depend on type of training, training volume, training intensity, timing of next training session, body weight and overall energy intake. Given most high school athletes struggle to consume enough calories any nutrition post-exercise will be beneficial. Specifically, consuming (15-25 gm of protein) and (30-60 gm) carbohydrate within 30-60 minutes can support recovery and training adaptations due to:
Quicker glycogen (storage form of carbohydrate) replenishment and ultimate tissue repair.
Body initiates muscle anabolism which supports muscle growth and repair.
1.5 cup cottage cheese and 1 cup of berries
1 cup Greek yogurt with berries
8 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk paired with a banana
Chocolate milk is highly underrated among parents, coaches and health practitioners who are concerned about “too much sugar”. However, chocolate milk offers electrolytes, 8-g of high-quality protein but it replenishes glycogen stores and rehydrates just as well as Gatorade. Additionally, you’re getting 9-essential nutrients which include calcium and vitamin D that support bone health. How does chocolate milk stack up to the commercial sports drink regarding both male and female high school athletes? A field based study published in the JISSN study showed that in high school football players, chocolate milk has a greater impact on performance than regular sports beverages when high school athletes drink it for recovery. The athletes who consumed chocolate milk bench-pressed an average of 3.5% more than they could before – whereas those who drank the commercial sports beverage decreased in bench-press strength by about 3.2%. Net difference of 6.7 percent for those who drank CM vs commercial sports beverage. Both groups showed improvement with squats, but chocolate milk drinkers showed more, lifting 15% more weight than before – whereas commercial sports beverage drinkers only lifted 8% more. nearly double the increase in strength for chocolate milk drinkers. Chocolate milk is an accessible, affordable and delicious recovery option for adolescent athletes—and it may give them a strength edge due to the 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio.
If you’re a coach check out your local dairy council to explore options available for stocking your team’s fridge with chocolate milk. This is a grant program offered to you by your local dairy farmers regardless of what state you are in. Check out the National Dairy Council’s resources for more information about your state or regions grant’s available. A great resource to check out recovery nutrition and a long list of snack ideas is found here compliments of the USOC Sport Nutrition Team.
Encouraging a healthy relationship with food
When talking about nutrition we must practice inclusion vs. exclusion. For example, telling your student athletes that bread is bad because it isn’t paleo isn’t optimal. Now, you may be smirking, but this is quite common. It is important to promote healthy behaviors and that certain foods may be more optimal than others we don’t demonize foods. When talking to your athletes ask about their food preferences. Acknowledge how they talk about food, body image, overall relationship with food. Support your athletes who desire to use food and nutrition to enhance, sleep, healing, recovery, and protection from injury and illness.
Forward thinking is adding sports dietitian services in the high school. I hypothesize in the next 5 to 10 years a sports dietitian will be added to the roster of high schools. I work with many young athletes and several of their parents see the benefit of nutritional services. I myself, have met with many athletic directors in the state of Michigan and run into challenges of funding and resources. However, I predict that more and more will learn the valuable role having a sports dietitian on staff is. Not only to help support the health and well-being of the student but the long-term effects on health in creating healthy and sustainable habits. By having a sports dietitian to consult with students and student athletes to support eating and fueling needs. It’s a great opportunity to review daily nutrition, listen to guidance and gain advice from a food and nutrition expert to prevent deficiencies and foster a healthy relationship with food. Sports dietitians can deliver team talks by meeting with teams to discuss fueling strategies to enhance their goals (pre-season, in-season, and off-season). Furthermore, a dietitian that specializes in sports nutrition can help support the four pillars of performance nutrition: Hydration, energy intake, nutrient timing and recovery. Lastly, sports dietitians provide great resources on meal planning for coaches, administration, parents and students.
“Nutrition is your athlete’s secret weapon to outcompete their competition. Nutrition can make a good athlete great or a great athlete good.”
– Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and fitness coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance & lifestyle plans. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan and is the founder of Nutrition with Wendi, LLC. Wendi is active on Twitter and other social media platforms as Nutrition_with_Wendi.
If you’re a man or woman reading this, excellent. It applies to both genders. Are you an aging adult, or someone who has experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI)? Then yes, keep reading. Next, if you’re an athlete or non-athlete reading this, even better because it applies to you as well. Still aren’t with me, do you have a beating heart? If this answer is no, please seek medical attention at once. All jokes aside, if you’re a living breathing homo sapiens (homo = genus , sapiens = species) this article is for you.
If you’re a parent of a young athlete, coach, athlete or bodybuilder you likely have read up on creatine and have supplemented with creatine monohydrate before. Creatine is one of the most well-research and effective supplements to date. Creatine can support exercise performance by quickly producing energy during intense activity. Furthermore, creatine may also provide cognitive benefits, but further research is warranted. Studies have consistently illustrated how creatine supplementation increases intramuscular creatine concentrations that can help us understand the observed improvements in high-intensity exercise performance and overall training adaptations at large. We know creatine supplementation can bolster post-exercise recovery, decrease risk of injury and support injury prevention, expedite rehabilitation, thermoregulation, concussion and or spinal cord neuroprotection. Additionally, clinical applications of creatine supplementation have been investigated in neurodegenerative diseases like (muscular dystrophy, Parkinson’s Huntington’s disease), diabetes, aging, osteoarthritis, brain and heart ischemia, adolescent depression and even pregnancy as cited in the International Society of Sports Nutrition (JISSN) Position Stand on Creatine Supplementation in Exercise, Sport and Medicine . Studies are demonstrating short and long-term supplementation (up to 30 grams per day for five years) is not only safe, but well-tolerated in individuals and a range of clinical settings from infants to the elderly. So, creatine is not just for male athletes trying to build muscle and facilitate recovery. It is beneficial to all given the wide range of benefits associated with supplementation that have been documented in literature and several that are currently under investigation in a clinical setting.
Let’s review and clear up a common myth regarding creatine:
“Creatine is a steroid” Incorrect, please stop this nonsense from making its way into 2021 please. In my professional experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist , this must be one of the most obnoxious fallacies to date. Possibly behind “protein hurts my kidneys”, also false but that’s a whole other subject for a different blog. However, I am happy to direct you to the literature that dispels this myth publish in 2016 in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism compliments of Dr. Jose Antonio and colleagues . Now back to creatine, let’s clear this up quickly, creatine is not a steroid. It has no relation to a steroid structurally or with its mechanism of action. Why? Well, by scientific definition a steroid is any compound that possesses a common structural feature like 3 cyclohexane rings and a cyclopentane ring make up the structure that by definition is a steroid molecule. In fact, eggs contain a steroid compound which is called cholesterol and it is naturally produced in the body that become steroid hormones like testosterone and estrogen. But no, creatine is not a steroid.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a naturally occurring compound made up of three amino acids, which we would call a tripeptide (tri meaning three). Three amino acids (L-glycine, L-methionine and L-arginine) make up creatine. Creatine is largely made in the liver and to a limited extent, the kidneys and pancreas. It deposits high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine which are given to ADP, regenerating it to adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the sole energy carrier in the human body which can be called “energy currency” for cells to execute their functions. For example, in conditions of short-term high-energy demand activities (< 30 seconds) with limited recovery time, ATP runs out quickly, which brings us to creatine that is stored in muscles in the form of creatine phosphate explained here . Creatine phosphate can help restore ATP, giving muscle cells the ability to produce greater energy. The greater creatine you have, the greater energy your muscle cells can yield during high-intensity exercise, thus leading to increased exercise performance. Even though the most well documented and primary benefit is higher energy production this mechanism also supports muscle gain and strength increases explained here.
Creatine is naturally found in several of the foods we consume like, eggs, milk, tuna, salmon, herring, cod, shrimp, beef and pork. Consuming enough creatine from the diet is challenging given the total creatine pool available according to an article published in the Frontiers in Nutrition Sport and Exercise Nutrition via Candow et al., 2019 . Which suggests, the body needs to replenish about 1.0–3.0 g of creatine per day to maintain normal (un-supplemented) creatine stores depending on muscle mass. Creatine improves numerous factors including strength, power, sprint ability, muscular endurance, resistance to fatigue, muscle mass, recovery, cognition, and speeding up muscle growth.
More women should use creatine:
I am a female who participates in regular strength-training (4-5 times per week) along with (2-3 cardiovascular sessions per week). I eat a whole foods diet, supplement with 2,000 IU of vitamin D3, whey protein isolate, 1,200 mg of fish oil and a multivitamin. Those are my supplements; these are not recommendations for “you”, your “young athlete”, “teammate” or “your friend”. I make this clear because there is no one-size-fits all in nutrition, health and fitness. What works well for me, does not mean it will work well for you. I see too many mistakes made with people trying to adapt the same diet, training and lifestyle of those in their cohort when it simply is not sustainable or appropriate. As individuals we have different genetics, hormones, environment stimulus, training styles, body composition, sport and performance goals, resting metabolic rate, and the list goes on. It would be absurd to eat and train the same way as someone else and anticipate the same outcome with the previously listed differences as humans.
One certainty is we can all benefit from eating real food, but given the benefits of creatine supplementation it is an undervalued and written off supplement among my fellow ladies. Hear me out ladies, creatine will not make you fat, bulky, retain water, turn you into a man or any of the other nonsensical claims that exist on the web these days. I don’t care what Linda at the gym said about “creatine making you fat or how it is a steroid that will make you a man”. I hear these claims often, and not only are they flat out wrong, they misinform my fellow ladies out there trying to gain strength, lean mass and other health benefits that would occur with appropriate creatine supplementation.
Here is a side by side comparison of me, roughly 10 years ago when I ate too many carbohydrates, inadequate protein, some strength training and an abundance of cardiovascular exercise. I ran lots of miles. Now, ten years later, I am happy to report I engage in strength training sessions no greater than 45-minutes, 4-5 times per week with some sprints and daily walking. I supplement with 5 gm of creatine monohydrate post-workout , w
hey protein isolate, take a multivitamin and consume 2 gm/kg/body weight per day in protein. I infrequently track calories because I fuel my body with high-quality protein, as many fruits and veggies as I can get my hands on. Creatine won’t make you fat, bulky or manly ladies. It will help support a lean body composition. Let me be more specific to my fellow ladies, creatine can may help you improve your health, fitness, recovery and overall physique.
Trying to turn up the intensity of your workouts? Use creatine! Creatine is like a Koenigsegg Agera RS , the fastest vehicle in the world. Creatine is a vehicle for producing ATP, which as you have learned drives muscle contraction. Kind of important when trying to sprint, lift heavy weights, jump and train with max output? By regularly supplementing with creatine monohydrate (3 -5 gm/day) for 8 weeks or greater can help maximize the body’s stores of phosphocreatine, the necessary compound to product ATP. Thus, allowing for skeletal muscle to produce more energy, bolster power output and exert more work overall. Fitness hack: The greater the intensity expressed fourth the greater your muscles grow stronger, bigger and faster should you train appropriately. Therefore, creatine supplementation is a highly underrated supplement among the female population. I encourage and empower my fellow ladies reading this article who have been on the fence about using creatine to take note of its effectiveness. Creatine has shown to bolster muscular size, power and strength. More muscle equates to more energy burned, healthier body composition, bone mineral density and a decreased risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Not to mention the link between muscle mass and risk of cardiovascular disease. Keeping aging muscles fit is also linked to better health later on in life according to a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health .
Even sedentary women who utilized creatine long-term experienced increases in maximal muscle strength during resistance training by 20 to 25% when compared to women who were given a placebo in a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology . Another study examined the effects of long-term creatine supplementation (12-weeks) combined with resistance training on one-rep max strength, motor functional performance tests and body composition in eighteen older women. The creatine group gained significantly more fat-free mass, muscle mass and were able to efficiently perform submaximal-strength functional test than the placebo group. Special note the creatine group was also able to increase training volume and one-rep max bench press. Creatine contains no calories and does not lead to fat gain. The increase on the scale you may see from use is drawing water into the cell which is a desired response with training.
Many benefits of creatine
A number of studies have shown creatine supplementation can increase brain creatine content by roughly 5-15% along with reducing mental fatigue, and improving cognitive function according to research referenced in the ISSN’s Position Stand on Creatine. Another study carried out by Rawson & Venezia, 2011 reported creatine supplementation of (20 g/day for 5 days or about 2g per day for 30 days) resulted in increased skeletal muscle creatine phosphocreatine which lead to the enhancement of high-intensity exercise tasks. Moreover, there is well documented benefits of creatine supplementation in young adults, increased strength, lean body mass and delayed onset fatigue during resistance training. All of which are critical for older adults striving to maintain cognition, bone mineral density and overall health.
Research is scant but, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial was carried out in using creatine in type 2 diabetes subjects that was published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise . The study illustrated creatine supplementation improved glucose tolerance in healthy subjects. When creatine was supplemented in the diabetic subjects that participated in an exercise program the results lead to an improvement in glycemic control. The underlying mechanism could be contributed to the increase in GLUT-4 recruitment specific to the sarcolemma. More research is warranted in diabetics, but the current literature is promising.
Another study examined the potential of creatine or phosphocreatine supplementation in cerebrovascular disease and in ischemic heart disease . The study illustrates the ability high-dose creatine supplementation has on cerebral creatine content and that it may have the capacity in humans to protect against stroke due to increasing not only the neuronal but also the endothelial creatine content. Emerging evidence also suggest that creatine supplementation with and without resistance training has the potential mechanistic effect to influence bone biology according to a study carried out by Candow & Chilibeck, 2010. A more recent study published in Experimental Gerontology examines pre-exercise and post-exercise creatine supplementation has similar effects on aging bone mineral density and content. A meta-analysis carried out by Forbes et al., 2018 illustrated creatine supplementation did not lead to greater bone mineral density during resistance training in older adults > 50 years of age.
Research in animals also suggested creatine supplementation to support managing Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and brain or spinal cord injuries. Furthermore, a study was conducted examining creatine supplementation following sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state and catecholamines. The study eludes to creatine supplementation decreasing the negative effects, like mood, focus, impulse and emotional reactions that are reliant on the prefrontal cortex.
Creatine is safe and easy to use
As you have learned creatine offers many diverse benefits beyond muscle. It is one of the least expensive and safest supplements available on the market. It has been studied for over 200 years and an abundance of literature supports is safety, efficacy and no reported adverse effects in healthy individuals as referenced in the ISSN’sPosition Stand: Creatine Supplementation and Exercise.
A good dose to begin with is simply taking 3.0 to 5.0 grams of creatine monohydrate post-exercise to support recovery, muscle growth and decreasing fatigue. If you’re a vegetarian or new to using creatine you may wish to start with a loading phase by taking (0.3g/kg/body weight/day). For example, if you’re a 60 kg female = 18 g total for the day but broken up into 4 doses for 5-7 days. This would mean a (4.5 g dose of creatine 4x/day) for 5-7 days. Then onto a maintenance phase of 5 g per day for 12 weeks. If you’re interested in looking at different phases of cycling creatine (short-term and long-term) you can refer to the literature in the Creatine Position Stand paper I have referenced throughout this article. For example, supplementing with (5g/day) for 12 weeks during training to truly help increase intramuscular creatine stores and support health and performance benefits outlined in this article. Dissolve the creatine in water or your protein-carb drink post-workout for best results. Take a break from supplementation after using for 12-16 weeks. Where to order creatine? I strongly advise supplements that are Informed Choice Certified, meaning they are free of any banned substances and ensure the product has been tested from any unsafe substances. Here is a comprehensive list of certified products updated March, 2020.
If you’re parent or coach of adolescent athletes and are considering creatine supplementation. Take note, limited research is available in this population highlighting the safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in young athletes < 18 years of age. Jagim et al., 2018 published a review examining the limited studies in the adolescent population as a means to identify use of creatine in young athletes. The review suggests that adolescent athletes using creatine tolerated supplementation well, had no reported adverse events or incident. Ethically, we do not have enough research to recommend creatine monohydrate to young athletes, but many are using despite direction from professionals. My advice as a sports dietitian is to provide the literature and suggestions to support best interest of my athletes.
As registered dietitian nutritionist and sports nutrition specialist, I advocate for whole foods first and prioritizing nutrition to optimize your health, wellness, physique and performance goals. Creatine is a great supplement to incorporate in addition to great nutrition, enough hydration, adequate sleep and proper training. Creatine works best when paired with resistance training. I hope reading the science outlined in this article surrounding creatine has given clarity. Creatine can benefit everyone, if you have a beating pulse that’s you. Train hard, eat well and stay healthy my friends.
In good health,
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN
Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and fitness coach. Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. Wendi partners with parents, sports performance staff, special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance & lifestyle plans. Wendi is based in East Lansing, Michigan and is the founder of Nutrition with Wendi, LLC. Wendi is active on Twitter and other social media platforms as Nutrition_with_Wendi.
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.
Most parents and families understand how critical a nutrient-rich, balanced diet is for optimal health and athletic performance. If you’re raising an adolescent or teen athlete performing at a high-level, you must focus greater attention to their fueling needs to ward off fatigue, prevent nutrient deficiencies, and decrease risk of injury.
Support your youth athlete using these strategies:
There is no “special diet plan” to assist in achieving optimal athletic performance. Consumption of the fundamentals (three high-quality balanced meals with 2-3 snacks between) on a consistent basis leads to better sports performance, games won, strength increases, and fewer injuries. A great resource to build a plate for optimal performance can be viewed here .
The greater intensity the sport, duration and training volume, the greater requirement of carbohydrates and calories to sufficiently support energy levels. This pertains to sports like ice hockey, field hockey, basketball, swimming, soccer and long-distance running.
You must also make a conscious effort to consume snacks containing protein and carbohydrates between meals. Fruit with string cheese is a great snack to support energy levels and maintain fueling between meals! For snack ideas to fuel your teen athlete, be sure to check out this article from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Water is vital to maintain peak performance during exercise. A good rule of thumb is to encourage consumption of 1 oz. of water per pound of body weight. It is worthwhile to invest in a good water bottle for your teen athlete to carry and keep on hand to foster good habits and prevent dehydration. Check out this article from USA Triathlon for fluid needs before, during and after exercise.
Eating breakfast is non-negotiable. Teens need adequate nutrition to support proper growth and development. Research has indicated nutrients and calories missed at breakfast by teens is unlikely made up for later in the day. This can result in insufficient intake which can hinder sports performance and prevent proper maturation. Great grab-and-go meals include a hard boiled-egg and fruit, string cheese and banana, yogurt parfait and whole-grain granola, berries and oatmeal.
A bedtime snack containing 15-20 grams of protein and approximately 30 grams of carbohydrates will support restful sleep and help build lean muscle tissue during the night. Athletes training intensely especially need bedtime protein to improve recovery and training adaptations (Trommelen & VanLoon, 2016). Cottage cheese, milk, and yogurt are rich in casein, a slow digesting protein. Pair an 8 oz. serving of cottage cheese with sliced bananas, which are a rich source of magnesium helping to relax the muscles in your body as well as lower brain temperature to regulate hormones.
Caffeine has no place in an adolescent’s diet. A 2018 report stated that greater than 40% of American teens surveyed had consumed an energy drink within the past three months. Several emergency visits have occurred due to energy drink consumption among teens between the ages of 12-17. The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that energy drinks are “not appropriate for children and adolescents, and should never be consumed.” Monster and Gatorade do not provide the same hydration benefits so be weary of advertisements that contribute to this confusion. Caffeine can negatively impact sleep, anxiety levels and also impair appetite.
Load up on fruits and vegetables between meals! The more colorful your athlete’s plate, the better their gut health and immune function will be. Fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and contain quality nutrients needed for optimal growth and development.
Calcium is critical for proper bone growth, development and overall health. However, calcium can only reach its full bone-growth potential in the presence of adequate vitamin D. Calcium and vitamin D work together. How? Vitamin D helps absorb calcium. Research has proven that American girls do not get adequate calcium in their diet after age 11. This deficiency increases risk of injuries like stress fractures. 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. A yogurt parfait with mixed berries is a great pre-exercise snack to fuel performance and also serves as a great breakfast to start the day!
Ramp up the color game! No, I am not talking about your outfit; I am talking about your plate. Be sure to fill your plate with many colorful fruits and vegetables that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that are essential for health and injury prevention. Citrus fruits, red and yellow bell peppers, dark leafy greens, broccoli, berries and tomatoes offer vitamin C. Vitamin C offers anti-inflammatory properties that speed up recovery and decrease risk of injuries.
Due to their zinc content, meat, fish, nuts, seeds and whole grains should be staple foods to help your youth athlete recover from a tough practice, while supporting growth and even provide wound-healing properties. Zinc is a component of proteins and enzymes and research has shown that insufficient zinc can delay recovery and wound-healing.
I hope you find useful these basic strategies to support your adolescent in their sport. It is important to make sure your adolescent is consuming balanced meals consistently with snacks in between before implementing supplements, as supplements are meant to satisfy the gaps in nutrition. Good nutritional habits must be established first. Click here for information on building a performance plate.
Nutrition is a secret weapon! It can make a good athlete great or a great athlete good, the choice is up to you!