Athletes across all sports participate in draining practices almost every day of the week. They constantly push their bodies to the limit in search of ways to improve their performances. One of the most important, but also most frequently overlooked, aspects of athletics is nutrition.
“The body runs on the fuel you put in it, so both quantity and quality count,” Utah-based coach and therapist Lisa Menninger said (Menninger is the mother of LT teacher and cross country coach Alex Lyons). “If nutrition is off, then training, performance and recovery can suffer. And if you have a sport that has a high caloric output, like running, eating too few calories can greatly affect performance.”
Not only is it important to fuel correctly to provide enough energy to train, nutrition also plays a key role in recovery, Menninger said. Without proper fueling after practices and workouts, the muscles in the body will not have enough energy to repair themselves.
“The other reason it is important is because how quickly we recover is related to our fuel,” Menninger said. “Knowing how to assemble meals and snacks that take in to account post-workout, practices and competitions can mean the difference between success and struggle in a sport. Finally the brain runs off the same glycogen the muscles do, so if you are improperly fueled, it can affect your emotional state as well as your academic performance.”
Athletes, especially ones in high school, are exposed to many unreliable sources about nutrition. Many of the sources available online provide misleading information and encourage fad diets. It is important to find reputable and reliable information, as well as listen to what your body wants and needs to make sure your diet is calorically dense enough to provide the glycogen needed for training, Menninger said.
“Nutrition is another piece in the puzzle that when coupled with these other components can maximize performance,”
“I became interested in nutrition because just as things like sleep and training play a role in success, nutrition is another piece in the puzzle that when coupled with these other components can maximize performance,” cross country and track runner Maddie Ohm ‘21 said. “Consulting a coach or someone who is educated about nutrition is extremely important because there is a lot of false information on social media that when followed can actually be detrimental.”
Ideally, each meal should contain each of the four macronutrient groups: fruits or vegetables, carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
“Anything that limits grains is not based in a scientific understanding of how the body uses fuel,” Menninger said. “Your body needs protein for building muscle and recovery, fruits and veggies for fiber and micronutrients and whole grains for fiber and the production of glycogen. Grains also usually have some protein as well. We also need healthy fats. This is complete eating. Once we have checked these boxes, anything else in moderation is just fine and necessary so we have a balanced diet that does not leave us feeling deprived. Balance is key.”
A common misconception surrounding nutrition is that it is too challenging to eat healthily as a teen, especially in college since most students are limited to the dining hall options. However, by simplifying nutrition to the basic formula of carbohydrates, healthy fats, protein, and fruits and vegetables, it is very simple to eat a balanced diet.
“I love cooking because I think people assume that eating nutritious foods has to be expensive or time consuming, but that is not the case,” Ohm said.
When it comes to nutrition, moderation and balance are the key aspects, Menninger said. Nutrition should be approached from a lens of self-care to give the body what it needs.
“Eat enough; eat regularly,” Menninger said. “Use moderation so you enjoy all the foods you eat. Be loving and respectful to yourself in your food choices.”