A few days ago my brother stopped in to a health food store to buy some supplements. The person working behind the counter was very helpful. In typical fashion, the cashier simply started to rattle off lots of information about a couple of products. He made a few specific comments about creatine that I’ve never heard before. While its possible that the info is accurate, it’s unlikely. The information is probably not backed up by science. If he had to come up with the source for his information, it would most likely have been “somebody told me”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a health food store had a similar experience. Once I started to think about it I realized the real issue. The real issue is that many people are gullible and will take the information they get from a health food cashier as gospel. The issue doesn’t really affect those that work in the fitness industry. The problem affects those who are less informed. This includes a large portion of consumers. I know that this isn’t surprising to most of us. Unfortunately it does affect millions of people everyday. They mistake information from a cashier, an ad in a magazine, or somebody at the gym telling them something as 100% accurate info. So what can be done? Just keep trying to educate your clients. I know, at times it feels like we are Sisyphus rolling a rock up a hill endlessly. But it’s all that we can do. Just keep trying to educate your clients. With as many influences as there are nowadays (parents, coaches, teammates, salespeople, tv, the internet, etc), you might be the only source of reliable info that your athlete hear.
Supplement Use By Youth For Sports Performance Improvement
I found a news article a few days ago about the usage of nutritional supplements by kids. The article discusses a study that was originally published earlier this year. It focused on the use of supplements by children and adolescents for the purpose of improving sports performance. So what do I think about all of this?
So what are my thoughts on the study? I decided to put my them on video. Here they are:
Help your young athletes to make good nutritional choices.
As a coach, you have control over what your athlete does for a few hours a week. You can control what drills they do, how they do them, etc when you are coaching them. As for what happens the other 22 hours of their day, that is up to them (and their parents if they are young). Unfortunately, what they eat during that time away from you can drastically affect their recovery and their future performance. As we all know, the eating habits of the average person in the US are currently lousy. This includes both adults and kids. That means that we have an uphill battle to fight.
(As a side note, sometimes parents allow kids to make horrible choices. A prime example was an 11 year old that I used to train. He regularly showed up to training sessions with a huge energy drink. What??? How does an 11 year old do that??? Oh, that’s right. His mommy let him do it. When dealing with kids and teens, it is often vital to change the parents ideas on nutrition. If they don’t change, the kids won’t ever change either.)
So, what can we do? Here are 3 things:
Get the athlete professional help – First off, we have to leave the diet planning to the Registered Dietitians (RD). We wouldn’t want them writing our training programs and we shouldn’t try to do their job. We can however have one speak to athletes and parents. This could be done as an occasional seminar for all athletes/parents. It could also involve one-on-one help if needed. Regardless, it can be beneficial to develop a good working relationship with a local RD who has a background advising athletes.
Have plenty of handouts ready – Having handouts ready on nutrition is a good way to get info to parents and athletes. Parents are often willing to look through these while their kids train. There are all kinds of wacky diet plans and concepts that have been publicized. While someone may believe some of these, it never hurts to present them with good info from trusted sources. Who knows, it might change their thinking. Where can you find this info? Try your local RD or various nutritional sites on the web. The Gatorade Sports Science Institute also has a lot of valuable handouts on their website.
Become a thorn in the side – Make sure to constantly remind your athletes (and parents) about good nutrition. Ask them how they ate since their last workout. Remind them when they are leaving to eat well. Just mentioning it to them once probably won’t do the trick. Let them know that even though you aren’t there with them 24/7, what they do during that time still matters. For older athletes, if you know that they are going to a big cookout or some other event, you might send a text to remind them to keep things in check and not eat everything in sight.
How an athlete chooses to eat when they are away from you is ultimately up to them (or their parents). While I’m not one that thinks that a kid should never have a piece of cake or pie, I do believe that it is part of a coaches job to impress upon them the importance of good nutrition. As we’ve seen in the news, most of the teens and adults in the US are missing out on that message somewhere. Maybe we can help a few of them. Plus, if they are serious about their training, good nutrition is vital to recovery and performance.
You know what? Most teens eat horribly, especially when it comes to breakfast!! While there could be numerous reasons for this, many times it just comes down to laziness. Yes, I know that there are some people whose eating habits are affected by their current financial situation. I understand that fully. However, most of the time when you ask kids why they didn’t eat breakfast, some version of the phrase “I didn’t have time” is what you get. In other words, “I didn’t get my lazy self out of bed early enough to eat”.
So, how does this affect us as coaches? Let’s use a typical example. Assume that Johnny eats dinner at 7pm. Then after going to sleep for the night, he skips breakfast the next day. Eventually he eats lunch about noon, and then heads off to practice after school. Is it any wonder that Johnny starts to run out of energy about an hour into practice? He’s eaten one meal in 20 hours? What did we expect to happen? I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve had kids start to feel dizzy, weak, nauseous, etc during practice. Guess what? About 75% of those kids skipped either breakfast or lunch. It doesn’t matter what you do to help that kid feel better, until he or she eats a meal, they are won’t be able to practice. If you add an in-season workout into the mix, the situation gets even worse. Even during the off-season, you can’t get a good effort from an athlete that doesn’t have any energy.
So what do I do when I encounter this? You have to use it as situation to educate the athlete. They may not be able to perform today, but if you don’t educate them the situation will reoccur. Explain all of the details about why they feel like they do and how they can prevent that in the future. Now, when I deal with teenagers, I try to simplify things for them. Since the most common excuse is a lack of time, I try to point out to them how they can eat something fast, even while rushing to meet the bus. Oftentimes I suggest things like granola bars. I explain to them that these aren’t an ideal breakfast, but I point out that they are better than nothing. I figure that if a kid already uses a lack of time as a reason, I can’t expect him to get up 30 minutes early and fix eggs, toast, etc for him or herself. I can however at least get them to put some food in their belly. That’s why I start with simple things. Hopefully as they get in the habit of eating something, I can eventually encourage them to eat healthier.
Do you take your time when you shop for food? Do you look at food labels? You should. As we all know, proper nutrition is a key part of the sports performance training plan. Yes, we all know if we go to buy a frozen pizza that it’s probably going to be bad for us. But what about all of the other things we buy? Do you pay attention to those? Some of those might not be as good for you as you think. I know, when we go to the grocery store we’re usually in a hurry. We don’t want to spend any longer than we have to in there, especially if the place is packed with other people. That isn’t my favorite time to be there either. Unfortunately, to be a smart shopper, you need to find a way to spend some time there.
Why is it worth your time? Because you want to be the best. You can never be sure what might be holding you back (or pushing your competition further ahead). Nutrition can very well be the difference maker.
If you are going to improve your nutrition, it starts with some basic steps:
Knowing what you are taking into your body right now
Knowing what your nutritional needs really are
Deciding what adjustments that you need to make
Making wise nutritional choices so that you can make the adjustments
Since I’m not a trained nutritionist, I’ll limit the advice that I try to give in that area. The one thing that I can say is that you should look at food labels carefully. There are so many items that are available for us to eat. However, so many of them are flat out bad for us. As a general rule, you should know why you are eating everything that you put in your mouth (no, “Because I’m hungry” isn’t a good answer). You should never buy something if you don’t check the nutritional info first. Take a little time and look at the info on calories, fat, etc. Compare this info to that on similar products. You might find some surprises. As you can imagine, not all products are created equal.
Nutrition plays a huge role in our athletic success. While looking at the labels closely may not be the most fun thing to do, it can lead to some enlightening discoveries. You might find out that you weren’t doing as well in the nutrition department as you thought. Because of this, the extra time that you spend on your trip to the grocery store may pay huge dividends.
Don't let too much turkey put the brakes on your training
It seems to be an American tradition that on Thanksgiving, we all join our family for good times and food. Lots of food. Generally most of us load our plates too full and eat way too much. Unfortunately, one day of gluttony can throw off your diet and your training. Want a quick tip to help keep your diet and training on track? Exercise before you eat. Research has shown that exercising prior to eating can increase your metabolism, decrease your appetite, and lesson the amount of fat in your blood. Now I’m not suggesting that you disappear on Thanksgiving morning for a 3+ hour workout. Just come up with something that is short and to the point. Keep the intensity level high and get it done fast. That should be enough to gain the benefits without having to miss out on family time.