All things being equal, diet can be the x-factor that sets one athlete apart from another, both in the short term and for life.
But in these days of information overload, it can be overwhelming to know where to start and what nutrition plan to follow.
Isaac Hicks, director of sports performance nutrition for Indiana University Athletics, recommends keeping it simple when encouraging athletes to fuel performance through their diet. He notes there’s one major problem he sees time and time again.
“The number one issue we have is that our athletes simply don’t eat enough,” says Hicks.
He says athletes often have a lack of understanding about their needs.
“We have football players who are burning 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day simply through training and practice,” says Hicks. “On top of that, they’re going to class. All of that requires energy. It’s important that they get enough calories.”
Hicks encourages his athletes to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a post-workout snack. Once his athletes have a foundation for how often to eat, he takes a closer look at what they’re eating.
A visual tool known as the Athlete’s Plate® can provide valuable foundational information for athletes who are learning how to use sports nutrition to build strength, power and endurance. Proportions are modified based on an athlete’s goals or current training intensity. For example, heavier training days require heavier carbs. Lighter days, lighter carbs. While whole foods are preferable to processed foods, Hicks tries to avoid mandating any specific items.
“One of the things that was really important for me when working with the younger population was looking at lifestyle patterns and what was happening at home,” says Hicks. “If someone has never had or rarely had green vegetables, I won’t talk to them about eating green vegetables. I’ll focus on other foods that can give them similar nutrients.”
Hicks takes into consideration that change doesn’t happen overnight. Developing a new mindset takes time, especially for those who say they don’t like the taste of fruits and vegetables, for example.
“I say you may not feel like eating one now, but sometimes you don’t feel like going to the gym or training either,” says Hicks. “You still do it because you know that long-term, you’re going to get stronger.”
“If you take a similar approach food-wise, you’re going to get healthier,” he says.
These recommendations have been excerpted from Coaches Corner, a free monthly webinar series for coaches, athletic directors and athletic trainers. The series, developed and presented by Forté, in partnership with IHSAA, aims to arm coaching and support teams with helpful information to consider when working with their athletes. Subscribe online so you don’t miss an episode.