Nutrition for the Busy Student-Athlete

Rising obesity rates aside, most high school kids don’t have to worry about nutrient consumption. Despite oftentimes skipping breakfast, sparingly eating meals or snacks throughout the day, and having a subpar lunch, they are still able to make it through the day without worrying about how much (or little) they’re consuming.

On the other hand, the active and busy student-athlete has very different demands, and a lot more to consider. Sports and physical activity every day lead to greater energy expenditures, thus requiring greater intake. If the student-athlete also participates in regular strength and conditioning sessions, then the caloric and nutritional demands climb even higher.

The increased muscular microtrauma that will occur when a young athlete begins strength training will cause many things to change within the body – and if the caloric intake doesn’t adequately change to match these new demands, it will become apparent pretty quickly, as the detriments of training while under-eating will insidiously take their toll.

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The Problem with Under-Eating

I won’t get ultra-geeky on you with nutrition. (I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist, and I try to only give my two cents on nutrition when it is needed – I just see this as a very large problem in amateur baseball that needs addressing) But, let’s look at why “Fuel” is important for athletes.

  • What you eat is what fuels your movements. The energy you possess to not only throw a baseball, but walk to class and chew gum, is derived nutrients extracted from the food that you consume. Without adequate fuel, your body will not have the capacity to propel you through the day with maximum vigor.
  • What you eat fuels your recovery. Your body doesn’t just magically heal and rebuild itself; it takes energy to fuel the rebuilding of muscle tissues, and that energy is derived from the nutrients you take in. Want growth? You have to fuel for it. 
  • What you eat drives different adaptations within the body. Without adequate caloric and protein intakes, your body won’t have the ability to successfully “build-up”. It can only break down.brownbaglunch.png

Assessing the Situation

Think about a typical high school day: For a lot of kids transitioning from middle school to high school (here in Florida, at least), they go from beginning the school day at 9am to roughly 7am. For the first time in their lives, these kids will have to routinely wake up at 5 or 6am. Every kid wants to sleep as long as possible, so what happens? Things like breakfast get compromised or cut out altogether for the sake of convenience.

Consider the differences between the following breakfast examples:

  1. An egg sandwich on whole-grain bread with turkey sausage and almond milk
  2.  Two PopTarts
  3. Nothing

Then, depending on the school system, the kid will spend the next 45-90 mins sitting in class, only to have a 5-10 minute break (not leaving much time for food consumption), before repeating this process over and over. Most of the time, vending machines end up being the most convenient option for between-class munching. Again, convenience wins out.

Finally, lunch arrives around 12pm (for some this is 5-6 hours after their last meal, if they had breakfast). Some schools allow high school students to leave campus for lunch, others don’t. The chances of getting a wholesome meal are slim either way.

Repeat the class schedule until approximately 2pm, and then brace yourself for a 20 minute break followed by 2-3 hours of practice, lifting, and/or conditioning.

By roughly 6pm dinner will hopefully be on the table.

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The Solution? Preparation

There are a lot of problems with the above scenario. Consider the underwhelming amount of real food that is consumed, replaced by convenient soft/sports drinks, processed and vended snacks, and unbalanced lunchroom “meals”. Consider, too, the inadequate nutrient and caloric intake for those experiencing days like these.

Thankfully, most of these dilemmas can be rectified with one simple, yet tedious solution: preparing meals.

With about 15-30 minutes of work on Sunday night, a student-athlete can very quickly transform their life and athletic career by preparing meals for the week (or they can be done nightly).

I know what you’re thinking; who wants to be the kid packing lunches?

I’ll tell you who…the highly motivated student-athlete who understands that Fuel is what drives us, and that every “gain” in the weight room and on the field can very easily be lost without adequate nutrient intake.

Quick Fixes – Simple Snack and Meal Ideas

Here are simple and quick snack and meal ideas that can be made relatively quickly, for the busy student-athlete:

Breakfast:

  • 2 Eggs & Cheese on Whole Wheat Bread w/ Almond Milk & a Banana~500 calories
    • Toast 2 slices of bread
    • Spray small bowl with non-stick spray, crack two eggs and scramble, then microwave ~60s
    • Put scrambled eggs on break, add slice of cheese
    • Wrap in aluminum foil to take it on the go!

Snacks:

  • Peanut Butter Sandwich on Whole Wheat Bread ~ 350 calories
  • Greek Yogurt w/ Granola ~ 325 calories
  • 30 Raw Almonds ~210 calories

If you typically skip breakfast and refrain from snacks during the day, the above breakfast and snacks will increase your caloric intake by over 1,000 calories! 

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The Bottom Line

High school student-athletes are very busy, and are stuck to mandatory schedules that don’t allow for flexibility when it comes to food consumption. In spite of these constraints, the growing body of an athlete still demands more than the typical kid.

If you are serious about taking your game to the next level, your preparation must go beyond the field and the classroom.

It must start in the kitchen!

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