[Editor note]: Below is a piece I wrote for my high school athletes. Notice, when it comes to the basics, there’s really no difference between the ways for athletes to optimize their performance in their sport and for you to optimize your performance in your life. Please forward to any young athletes you know, this stuff is important!
I am currently working directly with approximately 75 high school athletes a week and BY FAR the hardest thing I do is to get them to eat in a way that will optimize their performance and recovery.
I know, I know, eating right in high school is hard. I’ve been there. Cereal for breakfast everyday, bacon grilled cheese and french fries at lunch, peanut butter sandwiches for snack, and pasta for dinner. And you my results? I was tired all the time, carrying around more body fat than I should have for a high school basketball player, and wasn’t recovering 3 hour long practices 6 days a week like I needed to.
But you know what? I didn’t know better. No one ever told me how to eat. I was just told to eat more if I wanted to gain weight and eat less if I wanted to lose weight.
We’ve got to do a better job of educating our young athletes about how to eat for optimal performance and recovery. High school athletics is just too competitive for an athlete or a team to fail due to lack of information. If you give people information, they make better decisions. The players that want to succeed will step up and do what’s necessary to win. The ones that don’t…well they probably won’t go very far in their sport anyway.
The approach to eating for performance is fairly simple. Eat quality food, and eat until you’re full. That’s rule #1. Quality foods promote muscle growth and aid in recovery, which are the most important factors for any athlete.
Rule #1: Eat quality food.
Eat with abandon: Meat, fowl, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, roots, tubers, bulbs, herbs and spices, animal fats, olive, olive oil, avocados, coconut (meat, oil, and flour) and dairy*.
*Dairy is a powerful tool if you are looking to build strength and gain weight. Any dairy from grass-fed animals is allowed. Dairy from grain-fed sources has an unfavorable omega 3 profile, which means it will inhibit your recovery. Heavy cream, butter, and ghee should not be problematic for anybody. Occasional consumption of fermented dairy such as cheese and yogurt is acceptable. Experiment with whole milk, but eliminate it if it becomes problematic.
Limit to roughly once or twice a week: Nuts, seeds, and fruit.
Avoid as best you can: All varieties of cereal grains (wheat, rye, barely, oats, corn, millet, etc) , soy, legumes, and vegetable/seed oils.
I know the above might seem a little drastic to some of you. But, if you want to build muscle, control your inflammation (recover faster), and control your body fat levels, there is no better way.
Rule #2: Eat a minimum of 1 gram of protein per pound of your bodyweight. For example: a 200 pound football player needs to eat at least 200 grams of protein a day. And all of this needs to come from an animal protein source.
Rule #3: Drink a minimum of half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. So, back to the example above, a 200 pound male needs to drink at least 100 grams of water per day to stay hydrated.
Rule #4: Sleep. As much as you possibly can. All of the good stuff in terms of recovery and growth happens while you sleep. Eight hours should be the absolute minimum you sleep every night. The more sleep, the better you’ll perform. And don’t be afraid of taking short naps throughout the day.
I’ve purposefully left certain things out of this post, such as how much to eat and supplements to take. Those are secondary concerns to the four rules listed above. Focus on improving the quality of your food, the amount of protein you eat, the amount of water you drink, and your sleep and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.
Optimal performance and recovery rules recap:
- Eat quality food until you’re full.
- Eat a MINIMUM of 1 gram of protein per pound of your bodyweight per day.
- Drink a MINIMUM of half your bodyweight in ounces of water per day.
- Sleep a MINIMUM of 8 hours every night.
Out of the four rules above, what’s the hardest one to follow? What other nutrition related questions do you have that you’d like me to cover?