Nutrition: The Missing Link In Optimal Performance Of Young Athletes

Optimal performance requires the proper combination of physical ability, emotional focus and nutrition/conditioning. For example, without physical ability, no amount of nutrition will generate a winning athlete; however the opposite is also true – a poorly fueled athlete who spends hours and hours training will “bonk” and underperform equally talented peers. We see this all of the time in the athletic world – from the community level to the world’s elite – proper nutrition and hydration can and does make a big difference between success and failure.

Many (if not most)  coaches, athletic directors and parents tend to focus all of their time and attention on physical training and skills development, while practically ignoring nutrition. This is the basis of my position that nutrition is THE MISSING LINK to optimal sports performance. A finely tuned athlete will underperform when feeling run down, not energized, and just “not up to it.” His or her performance will be inconsistent from day to day (up one day, down the next for no apparent reason), deteriorate in a competitive setting (sometimes called “bonking” or running out of gas), or just lose momentum of that “edge” when it matters most.

Don’t just take my word for it. Evidence is everywhere. As but one example, in a recent discussion with Dean Stiles, Assistant Coach for the renowned University of Oregon baseball program,  he explained why the University of Oregon devotes so many resources to nutrition and supplementation. He said, “We’ve seen the difference in performance when our athletes are well fueled and hydrated before, during, and after games. They are not bonking. Athletes couldn’t get the health benefits, achieve needed weight gain or loss without proper nutrition and supplementation.

Before discussing ways to improve nutrition in youth sports, we must first investigate the reasons for our lack of attention to it. Based on observation and discussion with parents and coaches, and my own observations working with athletes both young and old, here are the most common culprits:

1.     No understanding of the critical role of nutrition in youth sports. We often do not have access to the resources and information needed to guide our choices.

2.     Not connecting nutrition to performance on the field.

3.     Our own physical condition. Nearly 2/3 of adults and nearly 1/3 of children between the ages of 2 and 19 in the United States are overweight or obese (which is a medical condition, not a physical observation). If parents are not focused on nutrition in our own behavior, how can we impact our children’s behavior?

4.     Lack of time. We scramble from work to activities, to practices to games and have precious little time to cook healthy meals at home or to prepare and pack healthy snacks to fuel our athletes before and after practices and games. You would not think of driving a long distance on an empty tank of gas, so why do we send our children onto the field without the proper fuel?

5.     Desire for speed. Whatever is for lunch or dinner needs to be fast, easy, and therefore most often it comes out of a box.

6.     Lack of financial resources to invest in more nutritious food.

7.     Finicky children are hard to please. The food we would prefer to serve our children (what we say “is good for you”) may not be what the kids want to eat.

8.     Lack of support/knowledge from coaches.

9.     Lack of desire to change. We all have reasons why it is not easy to make changes to our family’s menu, life style, etc. Change is hard.

Stay tuned for future articles on how to start to eliminate the missing link. As a Personal Trainer and Wellness Coach with an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling, I prepare young athletes and their parents to improve eating lifestyles, increase energy, lose weight, and improve performance.

For more information, contact me at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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