Time to launch into another year of high school sports. If you're a coach (or a parent) you might be trying to figure out ways to get your athletes to reach their full potential. Check out the below post to understand some of the challenges (and solutions) in keeping teenage athletes fueled.
Do your goals match your athletes?
Most coaches are passionate about the sport they support. They want their athletes to perform their best. Usually the goal is to compete (and beat) other teams / individuals. So, naturally they assume everyone is there for the same reason. But stories in my office reveal a different story. Teenage motivations to participate in sport are incredibly varied.
Now that you have an understanding of their motivations, let's talk through some of the fueling challenges I see in clinic.
CHALLENGE #1 - Skipping lunch
Lunch is a touch time for teenagers. Some experience a lot of social pressure around food - whether to eat certain foods or to eat a certain amount. Teens have expressed that it depends on their social circle or perception of self. I've heard it all . . .
What you can do...
Bottom line, it all results in "just not eating." And as we discussed in a previous blog post about fueling sport, lunch is perhaps one of the most important meals for young athletes!
As a coach or parent, avoid preaching and try to understand the situation (and be glad you're not in high school). Try to give as much positive support and reinforcement as possible that connects with the reason they're on your team in the first place.
CHALLENGE #2 - Low quality meal choices
What you can do
Similar to above, preaching doesn't always override those internal motivations and can actually wind up making the teen feel guilty / ashamed. It means they'll either hide from you (or their peers). Instead, help them find balance (not perfection) where they are.
For example. . .
CHALLENGE #3 - Nothing packed for after school
There are a lucky few teenagers have a parent packing food for them throughout their day. But most teens are responsible for their own food choices and planning isn't in everyone's agenda. Some don't have time, others don't have space to store food, and some don't know what to bring (or why it matters). Still others have a social circle that hits the convenience store after school - so what's the point in packing?
But for most athletes, lunch is at 12-1pm and then practice starts at 3pm - the body is ready (and needs) more fuel to perform for the 1-3 hour practice!
What you can do
As a coach, help them problem solve within their comfort level. Give them guidance about what type of fuel is helpful and a few examples they can either pack or grab at a store can be super helpful!
Just a quick word about teens and supplements. Teens commonly misuse and abuse supplements - whether it be performance enhancers, protein powders, or simply sport drinks. They hear the ad and the promises and don't quite have the life experience to know otherwise. Please note that all supplements (protein powders, performance enhancers etc) are not regulated by the FDA and are not required to do what they say they will NOR are they required to "prove" what's in them in accurate. That means products can be laced with dangerous ingredients - especially for the heart.
Here are a few previous blog posts to help on some common questions. . .
Moral of the story...
Teenage athletes are our future. A big part of coaching is helping athletes thrive in their chosen sport - no matter what the motivation. Eating well improves performance and can make athletics MORE fun. But under fueling or poor fueling can get in the way. Meet your athletes where they are with realistic, compassionate support.
Please remember that nutrition (and sports nutrition) is highly individual. The information in these handouts is intended as an example and for informational purposes only. for a personalized nutrition plan, check in with a registered dietitian!
Stay nourished friends!
DISCLAIMER: The writing here is for informational and educational purposes only. It is NOT a substitute for individual care. Your needs may vary. or individual support, please contact a provider.
Please note it's been a number of years since I have updated these posts. The content and philosophies may have changed as I've grown as a provider. Please reach out with questions or concerns.
Dietitian, personal trainer, mother, wife, runner, and endurance athlete supporting well-being, one bit and bite at a time