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Fueling the human machine for optimal performance.

Probably a third or more of our athletes depend upon the coach as their major source of nutritional information

Sport scientists generally agree that the proper training and fueling of the human machine contributes greatly to athletic performance.

Dr. Keith Wheeler, an outstanding sports nutritionist, is convinced that "There is no question that nutrition can affect performance...however, a good diet in and of itself cannot provide fitness or championship performance, but a poor diet can ruin both."

Research reveals that many young athletes are not meeting the basic nutritional requirements needed for their high energy expenditure and are resorting to diets low in energy foods and nutrients to meet the weight limitations imposed upon adolescent wrestlers, gymnasts, and swimmers.

The diets of such athletes have to be monitored to ensure the presence of the nutrients and energy foods needed for growth and training. Many athletes' diets indicate insufficiencies of calcium, thiamin, and riboflavin, plus excess amounts of fat.

A nation-wide study of 348 coaches, 179 athletic trainers, and 2,977 high school and college athletes showed that 36% of the athletes depended upon their coaches as their major sources of nutritional information. The coaches were most concerned about fluid intake, while the athletes focused more on their weight (44% of the athletes took vitamin supplements).

Susan Rhein's in-depth study of 297 student-athletes and 20 coaches at a Class C high school in Michigan evaluated both their basic nutrition knowledge and their specialized knowledge on such topics as the pre-competition meal, hydration, and protein and vitamin supplementation.

The coaches, in addition, were asked questions on weight loss, fluid restriction, and usage of sport drinks. Seventy-five percent of the participants, when asked for their chief source of sports nutrition information, pinpointed the coach!

While parents, doctors, TV commercials, magazine advertisements, and the school undoubtedly contribute to the nutritional knowledge of the student-athletes, the coach remains the powerful influence on the daily intake pattern of his/her team. It is therefore imperative for coaches to tune in to all the available state-of-the-art information.


Rhein's survey also showed that nearly one-third of the subjects could not identify one nutrient that supplied the body with energy. Some 43% thought that the consumption of vitamin supplements could furnish more energy.

Informed coaches know that the three key sources of energy for athletes are carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Coaches have to emphasize that none of the 14 known vitamins supply energy.

Several of the vitamins help the body use energy, but such vitamins are easily supplied by the athlete's normal diet.


Young athletes have to be guided about the amounts of food needed to meet their increased energy demands.

A Food Pyramid [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] can prove extremely useful. The Pyramid is made up of the five food types recommended for training diets plus a sixth category - fats and sweets, which contain calories. Only minimal amounts of fats and sweets are recommended.


Bread: 1 slice, 1/2 bun, 1 oz. ready-to-eat cereal, rice or pasta

Vegetable: 1 raw cup veg., 1/2 cup cooked veg., 3/4 cup veg. juice

Fruit: 1 medium fresh fruit, 1/2 cup canned fruit, 3/4 cup fruit juice

Milk: 1 cup milk or yogurt, 1 1/2 oz. natural cheese

Meat: 2-3 oz. cooked meat, poultry or fish,

1/2 cup cooked dry beans, 1 egg, 2 lbs. peanut butter

The amounts indicated are for the adolescent athlete. As you can see, the high carbohydrates make up the largest part of the guide. They are the foods most needed by the athlete (grains-legumes, fruits, and vegetables).

Foods in the grains category include breads, cereals, rice, pasta, or low-fat crackers.

High protein foods are needed in smaller amounts. They include: lean meat, poultry, eggs, fish and legumes.

Legumes: dried beans, peas, garbanzo, kidney-lima-navy-pinto beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, or split peas.

Lean meats: round tip, top loin, top and eye of round, tenderloin, top sirloin, ground meat with less than 10% fat, and skinless poultry.

Low fat milk products: skim, 1/2% of 1% milk, yogurt or cheese made with these milks.

A sample day's menu with only about 20% of calories as fat is shown below:


Breakfast: 1 1/2 cups cereal, 1 cup 1% milk, 1 medium banana, 1/2 cup orange juice

Mid-Morning Snack: 1 cup low-fat yogurt, 1 apple, 3-4 graham crackers

Lunch: 3 oz. lean hamburger or 3 oz. turkey breast with mustard, 1 bun, 1 1/2 cups veg. salad with 2 tbsps. fat-free dressing, 1 cup 1% milk

Afternoon Snack: 2 slices whole grain toast spread with jam, 1/2 cup applesauce

Dinner: pizza with cheese, onions, peppers, mushrooms, browned ground round beef, 2 crunchy raw carrot & celery sticks, 1 soda pop

Evening Snack: 3 oatmeal cookies, 1 cup 1% milk

In assisting adolescent athletes with their food choices, the coach might begin by having each athlete provide a typical day's menu which the group can discuss for nutritional soundness.

The teenagers' food choices may directly be influenced by the impact of their menu upon their performance, or by how the athlete looks or feels in response to his/her busy training schedules.


Many Americans, including youngsters, consume too many calories from fat and not enough from carbohydrates.

Fat content can be decreased by selecting foods prepared by baking, broiling, steaming, or grilling, and by avoiding foods with added fat. Nutrition labels on foods are useful for determining the fat content. Foods that contain less than 3 grams fat per 100 calories are low-fat food choices.


Can pose all kinds of problems, as every coach has discovered. The following table can be used in making choices:

Fast-Food Alternatives:

Eat more of these: baked potato, salad with low-fat dressing, roast beef sandwich or lean ground beef, roast chicken, taco, chili, broiled seafood platter, soft-service cone, frozen yogurt, fruit juice-low, milk.

...and eat less of these: French fries, onion rings, super triple burgers and cheeseburgers, fried chicken or chicken nuggets, fried fish sandwiches, breaded veggies, pizzas, nachos, cookies-pies-premium ice cream soda pop-chocolate milk.


Food choices should include easily digested high-carbohydrate foods as well as other familiar foods that can be enjoyed. The speed with which they can be digested, from fastest to slowest, is as follows: simple carbohydrates (sugars), complex carbohydrates (starch), protein and fat. Liquid foods empty from the stomach faster than solids.

The pre-game meal should be high in carbohydrate and low in fat and protein. Fat and protein are slow to digest. Athletes work best on an empty stomach.


Dehydration will, of course, decrease performance, though athletes can dehydrate without feeling thirst.

Before Exercise: Drink 1-2 cups water 1-2 hours before event. Also drink 1 cup cold water or diluted fruit juice 10-15 minutes before event.

During Exercise: Drink 1/2 cup cold water every 15 minutes.

After Exercise: Drink 2 cups of cold water for every pound lost.

Beverages and foods both supply fluid. Water makes up 75-95% of fruits, vegetables, and milk by weight. Beer sometimes is promoted as an after-exercise beverage. Alcohol is a diuretic that increases urinary loss and should be avoided.

Many combinations of foods and fluids will optimize performance for different athletes. The Food Pyramid is a guideline that will supply adequate nutrients for the vigorous schedules observed by student-athletes. All food plans have to be tested during training to find out how well they work for the individual.


1. Lots of protein are needed for energy, strength and power and to increase body weight.

Scientific Fact: Carbohydrate is the major fuel for the human machine and is best provided by complex carbohydrates, not protein. Protein serves as a limited source of energy during exercise. The athlete needs more protein than the sedentary person, but the typical American eats far more than what is needed.

2. Sugar provides quick energy for an event.

Scientific fact: The primary source of energy is stored glycogen from the muscles provided by complex carbohydrates.

3. Vitamin supplements are needed. Large doses are not harmful.

Scientific fact: Vitamins are needed for the energy producing process, but they themselves are not a source of energy. No performance enhancing effects of vitamins have been established. Use of mega doses, especially fat-solubles, can have toxic effects on the body.

4. Salt tablets are needed to replace the electrolytes lost through sweating.

Scientific fact: The athletes should be encouraged to drink as much water as they choose. Extra salt may be added to meals to replace salt loss.


Since athlete's nutrition practices are not always influenced by parental models, coaches can serve as models for sound nutrition. Many opportunities arise in the school cafeterias, on road trips, or in the locker room. Coaches who advocate and practice sound nutrition may have a profound influence on the players.

Coaches with a limited background in sport nutrition who find it difficult to assist young athletes in decision-making may bring in experts to do it for them.


1 cup orange juice 3/4 cup corn flakes medium banana wheat toast and jelly 1 cup low-fat milk

2 cups spaghetti 2/3 cups tomato sauce with mushrooms French bread 1 cup lemon sherbert 1 cup low-fat milk

1 cup orange juice pancakes and syrup English muffin & jelly 1 cup low-fat yogurt

1 cup vegetable soup 2 oz. skinless chicken 2 slices wheat bread 2 slices tomato

1 cup low-fat frozen yogurt 1 cup apple juice


An excellent resource, Sports Nutrition for the Child Athlete, is available at low-cost from the American Dietetic Association, 216 W. Jackson Blvd., IL 60606-6995 - (Phone 312-899-0040)

Food Power: A Coach's Guide to Improving Performance - (3rd edition) is a handbook for coaches, particularly for 11th and 12th grade athletes. This edition has been updated to provide the latest research on nutrition and physical performance. Topics covered: training diets, pre-competition meals, carbohydrate loading, the effects of dehydration on performance, methods of estimating body fat, and ways to gain, lose, or maintain weight. Write or call National Dairy Council, 10255 W. Higgins Road, Suite 900, Rosemont, IL 60018-5616. (Phone 708-803-2000, ext. 220)

"Smart Choices": A video available at low-cost ($10.95) that will help teenage athletes understand the role nutrition plays in athletic performance. It explains the food pyramid, the six primary classes of nutrients, and how to read a nutrition label. The instruction guide also contains reproducible handouts. Order from: Gatorade Sports Science Institute, Resources and Graphic Services, 847 West Jackson, 5th Floor, Chicago, IL 60607, or call 312-222-7704.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on source materials on sports nutrition for young athletes
Author:Hoffman, Carolyn J.
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Date:Dec 1, 1995
Previous Article:Something special in high school volleyball.
Next Article:Power, creation & the high school coach.

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