Good Health Articles

Changing the Eating Habits of Young Athletes

Banana Smoothie

By Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN | Contributor

John is a 15-year-old high school football player who is constantly tired and lacks the drive and energy needed to perform on the field and in the weight room. He’s also not getting enough rest, and the quality of his diet along with eating at the correct times of the day has been inconsistent.  John is looking for a boost and asks his mom to take him to the local supplement store to look for a product that can meet his needs. They inform the supplement store clerk about John’s significant medical history, which includes four catheter ablation surgeries to correct an abnormal heart beat. John has a condition called Super Ventricular Tachycardia (a rapid heart rhythm originating at or above the atrioventricular node). After discussing his medical history with the supplement store clerk, John is recommended to take a product that contains a combination of three stimulants (caffeine, bitter orange, and guarana—found in many energy drinks). John’s parents were concerned and sought the advice of a Sports Dietitian who advised John not to take this supplement as it can be life-threatening. Furthermore, research in the Journal of Pediatrics (2017) demonstrates the supplement store staff lacks proper knowledge on supplement education and supplement safety. There is no magic pill or supplement that will solve John’s poor fueling strategies as his primary focus should be to focus on a “food first” approach that will effectively fuel his body for optimal performance and body weight. 

3 Nutrition Tips for High School Athletes to Fuel Performance

Breakfast Every Morning
A research study from the Journal of School Health has demonstrated that 30-40% of high school students skip breakfast. The majority don’t feel they have time, but in reality they want to sleep later. Skipping breakfast could create a 14-16 hour gap between dinner the night before and lunch the next day where no calories are consumed leading to a large calorie deficit (i.e. gas tank is empty). This makes afternoon practice difficult as you’re competing on one meal (lunch) over the last 20 hours. If teens are short on time, they can try a few quick grab-and-go options that get their stomachs acclimated to breakfast:

 • Peanut butter or sunbutter and jelly sandwich and a ready-to-drink protein shake

• Breakfast protein smoothie (protein powder, milk, peanut butter, banana, oats)

 • 2 handfuls of trail mix (i.e. mixed nuts, granola, dark chocolate chips) and fruit

• 2 whole grain waffles with peanut butter and glass of milk

• Fast food: Egg white grill or egg McMuffin and milk or chocolate milk

• Nutrition bar, fruit, and ready-to-drink protein shake

Bring Food to School
High school athletes who have after-school activities could easily spend 10-12 hours a day at school, and the school lunch and vending machine will not support their daily energy needs. Athletes who have the most success with building muscle and reaching their strength and body weight goals do so by having a plan, which involves bringing snacks to have between main meals. Teens can take a few minutes each day or 20 minutes on a weekend day to prepare snacks for the week. They can make 10-15 sandwiches (pb and j, turkey and cheese, etc.), 10-15 bags of trail mix, and organize their nutrition bars and fruit so that when they wake up in the morning, all they have to do is grab an AM, PM, and after-practice snack fuel for the day.

Increase Nutrient Quality
The diet of a young athlete is often filled with a variety of fast and processed foods (i.e. candy, cookies, soda, etc.). There is a place for these type of calories, but we want to keep these foods to about 10-15% of the diet at most as they contain little to no nutritional value (i.e. low in vitamins and minerals) and increase the risk of inflammation. 

Purpose of Food
State Championship Carbs – provide fuel and sustained energy to the working muscle as well as facilitates muscle recovery. Think sweet potatoes, beans, whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, butternut squash, whole grain pasta, potatoes, and whole grain waffles. 

Fruits and Vegetables – reduce inflammation, muscle soreness, and improve immune function, reducing an athlete’s chance of getting sick.

Lean Protein – helps promote a healthy metabolism, facilitates muscle recovery, and improves muscle growth when combined with a well-rounded strength program. 

Editor’s Note: Tavis Piattoly, MS, RD, LDN is the Education Program Manager and Sports Dietitian for the Taylor Hooton Foundation where he educates young individuals and their adult influencers about the dangers of Appearance and Performance Enhancing Substances and Dietary Supplements. For more information, go to taylorhooton.org.

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