One evening I was talking to one of my high school athletes in the athletic development camp that I teach. During the workout, I casually asked him, like I do with all my athletes, what he ate during the day. Keep in mind I was training him at 7:00 p.m. The kid said that he had had a bowl of cereal (and not the good kind) for breakfast and a slice of pizza for lunch. That’s it! Three things came to mind as he listed his food intake—what a bunch of crap this kid has had so far today, I can’t expect this kid to execute and perform the drills I set for him if he’s running on low and inefficient energy, and his response is what I hear all too often from athletes his age.
The high school years are a great time for most boys and girls. Most don’t have to get a job, they don’t have any financial responsibilities, they don’t have any kids, and they don’t have any particular long-term worries. It’s a better time for athletes because they’re playing a sport they enjoy, and in most cases, this leads to a positive social interaction among their peers. They’re asked to do a few things—play well, get solid grades, and stay out of major trouble. I believe there’s one major thing high school athletes should strive to be—educated in nutrition.
There are many reasons why high school athletes should be well-verse in nutrition, many of which are non-sports related. It’s important for any athlete to know the effects certain foods have on sports performance. They need to understand that the energy they get from wheat pasta with marinara sauce (good energy) is far different from the energy they get from a Taco Bell burrito supreme (bad energy). Ultimately, what type of food an athlete consumes can vastly affect practice and on field performance in a positive or negative manner. I often tell my athletes that you can’t always directly control the outcome of the game, but you can always control your preparation for the particular contest by being mentally focus, hydrated, and rested and having good energy on board. The saying is so true—failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Nutrition is a major part of preparing for athletic success. The main objective I have for any high school athlete is to understand what foods provide good energy and what foods provide bad energy. Along with this, they should all have a basic understanding of how the three macronutrients—fats, carbohydrates, and protein—affect the body.
Good nutrition pertains to many aspects of life. For one, healthy eating is part of a positive lifestyle. The earlier kids understand how foods can affect their lifestyle, the better off they’ll be as they enter adult life. Often times, I have adult clients who are striving to lose weight but struggle because they’ve developed poor eating habits during their pre-adolescent and adolescent years. How athletes eat can also affect their school work. If they’re low on energy due to a lack of eating or a poor quality of eating, their ability to recall information for a test or essay can be severely hindered.
More importantly, being nutritionally conscious is a microcosm about choices. In life, you’re always presented with choices. Within this, you have good choices and bad choices, and with any choice, there are consequences. A good choice will lead to certain outcomes, most of which will be desired. However, a series of bad choices could lead down a difficult path. So whether it’s a choice about nutrition, drug use, or school, young kids need to understand that the choices they make can have an effect on their overall life.
So if your athlete is presented with Taco Bell or wheat pasta with marinara sauce before a game, does he have the knowledge to know the difference between the two and understand how the choice of one can affect his performance? Life is about choices, and it’s never too early to learn.
Jeff King is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and personal trainer at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. Jeff has worked with many young athletes ranging from ages 8-18 and has experience working with athletes from a variety of sports. Jeff’s main goal in working with young athletes is to teach them the basic principles of strength and conditioning which will allow them to develop a multitude of skills while minimizing their risk of injury.