Friday, June 12, 2020

The Most Neglected 'Winning Edge'

During my time as a head coach in Nashville, we were blessed to test a program sponsored by the NFL called "ATLAS" and "ATHENA". The program was part of a 1.2 million dollar initiative to develop a teaching and training program in schools. The ATLAS (Adolescents Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids) and ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives) was a great program.... we took a lot of time to educate athletes in small groups about nutrition and especially the dangers of supplements.

But the thing I noticed was,  as I stood in the lunch line day after day, too many of our athletes were choosing cheeseburgers and fries in the lunchroom line, even after we had covered the benefit of 'better choices' and the need to fuel the athletic machine even on that same day!

This post is my best attempt to simplify a plan and motivation for teen athletes to develop a lifestyle of hydration, nutrition, and flexibility that would be the MOST NEGLECTED areas of athletic development.

I want to encourage an approach that is realistic and achievable by ALL ATHLETES. I recognize that we can always do more, and I encourage that. But is there a basic approach that can provide a winning edge?

STARTING FUNDAMENTAL- All athletic WORK is diminished if an athlete will not allow the REPAIR of the work to be magnified by water, rest, and good food. A good work out does not build up... it tears down. So, YOU HAVE to get rest, water, and good nutrition to repair and grow and heal from that good work!

I could write a whole book on the need to turn off screens, carry a good water bottle, do great dynamic stretching BEFORE working out and great static stretching AFTER a good workout. But this article is primarily on NUTRITION. I will say though, that I advise every athlete to take a few minutes to static stretch every time they take a hot shower.

But let's think through EATING LIKE A CHAMPION.

The research in athletic nutrition is off the charts. I have been reading on it for over 20 years, and will never even scratch the surface of all the info that is out there. And you can get as technical as you want to...  if you want to get your meal plan to a 'science' then you can calculate your (REE) - resting baseline energy expenditure and add your activity factor based on age and the frequency, intensity, and duration of an activity....this gives you a micro/macro nutrient spectrum.... well you see where that is going.....

I'm wanting to promote some basics that is easy and sustainable... yes, we need all five food groups, we need the macro-nutrients, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, and pro-biotics. But is there a way to make is understandable, repeatable, and realistic?


The first step to eating like a champions is to determine what your goals are. Most athletes want to gain lean muscle weight, but there are some who need to actually lose weight. So getting a goal is important.

Your goal should be measurable and realistic. There needs too be a deadline and it needs to be a body composite rather than just a weight goal.

Regardless of gaining weight or trimming down, this post is a general choices plan.....

STEP ONE- Learn to enjoy drinking water, learn to make it your beverage of choice.

I found out a few years ago that sports drinks were not all that they report to be. Especially if they are pre-mixed and sold over the counter. Most sports drinks that are pre-mixed lack the electrolytes that are marketed in them. Pre-packaged sports drinks can actually have sun damage to the product, which can neutralize the efficacy of the electrolytes and nutrients.

One mentor of mine suggested watered down fruit juice over gatorade or powerade, but I still like water plus  good food. Though sometimes, when sweating a lot, a good electrolyte mix can help.

Recently, I have come to see the sports drink, Body Armor ( a coca-cola product), as a great sports drink to provide electrolytes and the packaging is designed to limit sun damage.

In all of this, be aware of caffeine... it can de-hydrate you!

Make yourself drink water.... even if you are not thirsty.


CARBOHYDRATES take a constant beating in our slim body ideal culture. As an athlete- YOU NEED CARBS! Carbs are the energy you need to work! Carbs should make up 55% to 60% of an athlete's diet.

We tend to think of carbs as only potatoes, but many of the good carbs come from grains, orange vegis, and citrus fruit. The complex carbs provide healing from muscle damage and provide needed free-radicals.


For aggressive, explosive athletes... protein is critical. The recommendation for protein is 0.8 kilograms per body weight per day, but for athletes it can go as high as two grams per kilo . Protein's best benefit may be the contribution of nitrogen. This is where the problem can arise. Too much protein will NOT produce additional growth. If an athlete is consuming more protein than carbs, athletes will have less energy for workouts. Some studies suggest too much protein can have adverse effects on bone density and cause the kidneys undue stress. An athlete must balance protein with other healthy needs. One study suggested a balance of carbs and protein after a workout allowed consumption of amino acids because it balanced the insulin in the system.

All of the studies do suggest an after workout meal of protein and carbs does accelerate healing and growth.


Our messaging in society today often neglects the fact that we need fat..... especially an athlete! Healthy fats can come from peanut butter, fish, dairy, nuts, and eggs.


Here are simple suggestions.....


It is so easy for an athlete to learn to cook breakfast, fast and easy. I have an interesting theory, if you exercise before you break the fast... you actually trigger a weight loss metabolism. If you exercise AFTER you break the fast, the body is still in a weight gain mode.


Every now and then mix it with a supplement of electrolytes and vitamins... but learn to LIKE h2o!

3) EAT MORE THAN 3 Times a DAY

A young athlete should eat some healthy snack between meals. Try to not have it processed... it is easy to make your own trail mix and energy bars. Even a peanut butter/jelly sandwich is good. Keep fruit and veggies in your snack trays.

4) Try to eat WHOLE foods.... the less processed your food is, the more nutrients it packs.

5) Experiment with food before, DURING, and after competition.
Athletes who have trained their bodies to consume a light snack at halftime of football games, have more reserves. Don't wait to try it on your first game, simulate it and evaluate it BEFORE actual games begin!

6) The DAY/NIGHT BEFORE competition is more important than the pre-game meal.

Again, I think you need to rehearse and evaluate your tolerance of the type pre-game meal that fits you. Over the years, a lot of our guys like a basic subway about 4 hours before and then an easy to digest energy bar 2 hours before. But you have to practice it. If you have too much food on your stomach when competition starts, you have blood pooled in the digestive system and not in the muscles.

The food you eat the DAY before is much more important to provide maximum glycogen load.

7) Gain weight? Eat before you go to sleep. Lose weight? Don't eat anything after dinner.

What have I NOT MENTIONED? You guessed it.... supplements.

I do NOT recommend ANY supplement beyond a multi-vitamin/ multi-mineral - except possibly a pro-biotic.

ANY MIX YOU BUY.... I don't trust it! Creatine?.... it is simply water weight gain and the dangers outweigh the benefits.

In 30 years, every athlete I had go into the hospital with heat issues are the ones who were on creatine.

I also believe that an athlete who uses steroids or other un-natural supplements can actually 'outgrow' their joints and ligaments... and are more susceptible to injury!

Finally- I think it is VERY important to change your diet immediately after your competition days are over. It will be the best time to trim down and stay fit.

I am a living testimony as a person who stopped college football but kept eating like I was still a player... and it has been a struggle my entire life since!

What are we building? 

And diet is a HUGE PART OF THAT!

note: long distance runners and swimmers may need a different make-up of calories and nutrients. Please consult with your individual coach about those differences!

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