Athletes and coaches are paying more attention to the role of nutrition, with an eye toward improving sports performance. “We just used to eat meat and potatoes,” said Amy Faricy, manager of Menu …
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Athletes and coaches are paying more attention to the role of nutrition, with an eye toward improving sports performance.
“We just used to eat meat and potatoes,” said Amy Faricy, manager of Menu Services for the Douglas County School District, “but people have really come around.”
Athletes must eat enough calories, while consuming the right types of foods and avoiding the wrong ones, stay hydrated and not succumb to the quick-fix promises of supplements, coaches and nutrition experts say.
Being smarter about what they eat doesn’t mean all teenage athletes have nutrition down to a science. One of the biggest problems is simply not eating enough, which often includes skipping the day’s first meal, said Jenna Moore, a performance dietitian for the Panorama Wellness and Sports Institute in Highlands Ranch.
“Breakfast is essential,” she said. “If these kids are going from dinner to lunch the next day, that could be 18 hours without any food. These (athletes) with very fast metabolisms need to be eating frequently.”
In a sport like cross country, in which endurance is critical and calories are burned at a high rate, nutrition’s role can’t be overlooked.
“We talk about proper nutrition and fueling your body like an athlete frequently,” said Mountain Vista cross country coach Jonathan Dalby. “Most of what we teach our athletes are basic principles of good eating.
“We emphasize with the kids that they should eat plenty of calories, good fats, carbohydrates and protein. Keep things like sugar, bad fats and empty calories in moderation. If our athletes are hungry, we want them to eat. This is their bodies’ way of telling them that they need more fuel.”
Faricy said eating frequently during the day with small snacks can avoid gaps in energy levels. Meals hours before competition are important, and helping muscles recover after a competition with a meal, snack or a drink like chocolate milk is also crucial.
Christina Chisler, a registered dietitian with Jefferson County Public Schools, said the timing of a pregame meal is important.
“It is recommended an athlete eat a meal two to three hours before the competition or practice to supply energy to their muscles and delay fatigue,” she wrote in an email.
Another tip from Chisler: “A good rule of thumb is also never to introduce a new food on a race/game day.”
Horizon football coach Frank Ybarra said athletes have plenty to learn about good eating habits.
“To a point, I think high school athletes are smarter but that may be more because the parents are better informed on good nutrition,” Ybarra said. “A lot of athletes are still looking for the next great quick fix that they can purchase at a supplement store.”
Some supplements, such as multivitamins, protein and some recovery drinks, can be beneficial, Ybarra said. But popular supplements purported to build muscle and boost performance, like creatine and nitric oxide, are not needed, he said.
Moore agrees that knowing which supplements are helpful and which are harmful is integral to young athletes’ success — and that ultimately, pills and powders can’t replace what’s on a plate.
“There are a lot of good supplements like vitamins, especially vitamin B,” she said. “Then there are supplements that are pre-workout that are basically energy drinks in a powder form. That’s not doing anything for your energy level except giving you a blast of caffeine. What is happening is, athletes are not dealing correctly with their food and their energy levels are low, and instead of trying to get food, they go to the nutrition stores looking for help for their energy levels.”
Perhaps as important as anything athletes put in their bodies is water.
“Being hydrated is essential for peak performance,” Dalby said. “Our athletes typically have a water bottle with them wherever they go.”
Valor Christian golf coach Jason Preeo is no stranger to performing at the highest level — he played in the 2010 U.S. Open. To him, nutrition is more of a mental matter than a physical one.
“The effort and energy to hit any one shot is not great, but as energy levels drop the ability to continually make good decisions diminishes,” he said, “and golfers tend to make mental mistakes that are typically much more costly.”
While coaches in all sports today emphasize the importance of eating right, they are dealing with teenagers, and that means candy bars and chips are still going to be part of the equation at times.
Highlands Ranch softball player Taryn Dragseth, a senior, admits she sometimes eats junk food. But overall, she’s says she’s focused on eating right and has noticed the increased importance coaches put on that.
“Definitely eating right is more important now,” she said. “Like two years ago, it was never mentioned. Now, we have certain things we are supposed to eat throughout the day. I’ve noticed that a lot more recently, especially as we get older. I think it is a maturity thing, too.”
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