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GUTS - Evolving Student Athlete Nutrition

So a post-game Slushie isn't recommended?

Diane  Johnson
Diane JohnsonPublished on April 05, 2022

This was a witty comment that my brother made on a recent post I shared about the importance of nutrition for student athletes.

My Mom followed his comment with ‘face palm’ emojis.

Post game Slushies were a common occurrence for us growing up. Knowing what I know now, I might have made different choices, but it was what we did at the time and I learned from it.

His comment got me to thinking though. I often speak to the importance of strong nutritional intake for student athletes and many assume that I just means cutting out all the treats; the Slushies, chips, chocolate bars and cookies. While reducing these non-foods certainly offers long term health benefits, I am speaking about something deeper.

The harsh reality is that many student athletes today are facing some real physiological challenges because of a lack of nutrition during periods of rapid growth and prolonged physical exertion. They are not only nutrient and energy deficient, they are depleted. One only need pay attention to the increases in injuries, illness, mental and emotional challenges and burn out among student athlete populations. While there are certainly many factors that contribute to these less than ideal outcomes, one thing student athletes across all sports share is that nutrition hasn't ever been a consistent component of their youth sport experience.

Perhaps the most important conversation about food for our young athletes is how, in the midst of their extremely busy lives, while navigating many body and life changes, they are supposed to eat enough good quality food to sustain their energy requirements. Most don’t even know what their energy requirement is.

Over the last 12 years I've had the opportunity to work with hundreds of student athletes from grassroots to postsecondary. The vast majority of them were shocked to discover that they did not consume enough energy in the average day to support their basic physiological needs (their BMR). Most had no idea that their body required energy to simply keep them alive and even fewer had any concept of just how much energy their body required to grow, function at school all day and do all their sporting activities. The best thing about these conversations is watching the relief wash over their faces when they realize that the reason they are hurt and underperforming isn't their fault. And, that they can change it.

Most of us parents and coaches also grew up in a sport systems that focussed on individual pieces and looked for quick fixes instead of addressing underlying causes and prevention. Prevalence of this continues today with our young athletes.

Tape the ankle and play on.

Drink the energy drink when you feel tired.

Push through the pain despite the consequences.

Get frustrated because of unsatisfactory performance.

Continuing with this perspective is sure to increase athlete exhaustion, injury and drop out in youth sport. When in reality, each of these challenges could be prevented or at least supported through ensuring proper nutrition first.

We all share the common goal of having our kids thrive in and enjoy youth sport. It is time for us understand however that nutrition must be a part of this environment if our children are to thrive in it. Demands on their young bodies and minds are high and although many programs are facilitating extra programming to increase strength and prevent injuries, the truth is that without a foundation in nutrition, this could be doing more harm than good.

Our student athletes are essentially malnourished.

They are not only energy deficient, they are energy depleted.

Their performance and enjoyment of sport suffers in the moment.

And their health suffers long term.

So while we can tell our athletes and kids to focus on whole foods and cut out the Slushies and chocolate bars post game, it isn't nearly enough.

We get to think bigger than Slushies now. We get to empower our student athletes with nutrition foundations and ongoing strategic support that will increase their energy, improve strength and speed, reduce injury and illness and speed healing and recovery times. With all of these benefits also comes a much broader ripple of impact including increased confidence and enjoyment of their youth sport experience.

Join me in our movement to change the nutrition culture in youth sport.

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