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The Whole Athlete (Four Part Series) Part One of Four: Nutrition

By Julie Shepherd

We talk a lot about the importance of building strength in our athletes.  The benefits are vast and include increasing speed, power, endurance, explosiveness, and reducing the risk of injuries.  But there are many aspects to building a strong athlete outside of just strength they do not get enough attention. Today we are going to start a four part series on building the whole athlete.  Our topics will include, nutrition, sleep, mindset, and strength. We will dive a little deeper into each of these topics and discuss the importance they all hold and how if one is “off” it can affect all.  Our focus today will be on the topic of nutrition.

 

As coaches, we know what an important role nutrition plays in how our athletes perform in training and games.  Not only do we need to think about what the athletes eat and drink before and after games, but also leading up to competition and training days. In today’s article we will tackle the topic of what to eat and when.  First, let’s go over the macronutrients and what role they play in athletic performance.

 

Proteins:  Responsible for building, maintenance, and recovery of the muscles.  

 

Carbohydrates: Provide energy for the body.

 

Fats:  Energy source for longer duration activity, assists in keeping hormones in balance, and helps regulate the level of inflammation in the body.

 

Eating a well balanced diet of carbohydrates, proteins,and fats is important for overall performance.  Eating whole foods and limiting the amount of processed and high sugar foods is always the best option.  Your athletes should try and eat a variety of foods to help ensure you get all your essential vitamins and minerals.  If you have an athlete that is a vegetarian they can get protein by eating beans, lentils, and nut butters, to name a few.  

 

Nutrition Before Trainings:

 

Athletes are busy with school and activities and I know it can be hard to get a snack in before training, but it is important.  If they go into practice hungry their risk of injury increases. Their muscles may not be supplied with enough energy and they can be distracted by their hunger.  There are many small snacks they can choose from such as a small sandwich with chicken or lunch meat, a piece of fruit with cheese, or a low sugar energy bar.

 

It is important that athletes allow enough time for digestion as 60-80% of your blood supply goes to the muscles in use during physical activity.  This decreases the available blood supply to your stomach that is needed for digestion. Without enough time alloted to digestion the athlete can feel uncomfortable during training experiencing cramps, or gassy feelings, which can distract  

Them. In addition to these uncomfortable feelings the athlete will not be able to access this fuel during physical activity.  Eating 30-60 minutes before training may allow enough time for proper digestion.

 

Game Day Nutrition:

 

What your athlete eats on game day will depend on the time of their first game.  If they have a mid-morning or early afternoon game, they can eat a full meal for breakfast and a small snack for lunch.  Some good options include:

-eggs, toast/bagel, with fresh fruit,

-yogurt and granola

-fruit smoothie

-sandwich with protein such as chicken or lunchmeat,

-pasta with protein and a salad.  

Steer them clear of high fat/greasy foods as these take longer to digest and can make them feel sluggish.  

 

Following a game, it is important for them to eat something within two hours.  Encourage your athletes to eat carbohydrates to refuel the muscles and protein for repair and growth.  If they will have a second game, make sure they eat a light meal no more than 60 minutes before the game.  

 

As coaches, we want to make sure athletes are properly fueled to be able to perform to their best ability, play to the final whistle, and reduce the risk of injury.  It is important for us to be a good example and practice what we preach. If we are snacking on sugary, heavy/greasy food, it will be hard for them to listen to our suggestion.  Show them how fueling your body with the highest quality whole foods will allow them to put their best foot forward when they step onto the court, field, etc.

 

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