As High School football programs move closer to the beginning of their off-season training programs, we hope you have moved closer to an understanding of the importance of each Fallacy on their own, and the overarching connection between each. To review our first four from PART 1 and PART 2: 1. Assessment, 2. Application and Execution, 3. Numbers?, 4. Emphasis on Conditioning. The significance of the first four Fallacies is that they are specific to the Off-Season, the following Fallacy needs to be a year round responsibility of coaches. We conclude our 5 Fallacies of off-season high school football S&C programs with the most important of all, Nutrition.
Proper nutrition should be the foundation of every strength and conditioning program at every level, regardless of the level. No matter how talented the athlete, a terrible diet will reek havoc on recovery potential and could possibly limit gains made during the precious off-season. The excuse that it is too much work for high school kids to monitor their diets is a cop out meant more to hide the lack of knowledge by those individuals put in place to develop our young athletes. Most kids will eat terrible at times, but what is done to educate them on more effective means? Most of the nutrition talk from high school football coaches to athletes is about misguided information, supplements, and folklore. In Part 3 we will discuss several nutrition fallacies found at the high school level, and provide some insight into steps to take towards implementing a performance based nutrition strategy.
There are several myths among high school football coaches about nutrition and supplementation. The biggest being, if the top linemen in college and the NFL are 300 pounds, then weighing 300 pounds will give you a better chance to play on Saturdays and Sundays. This is an unfortunate reality that pushes many of the young linemen onto the ‘SEEFOOD’ diet. If you see food, eat it. There is no regulation as to the quality, types or amount; it is just eat until you have hit that magic number.
Similar to Fallacy Number 3 concerning Weightlifting Numbers, the same argument can be made here. If your athlete is unable to perform optimally and use all of his 300 pounds on the field, what good is the extra bulk? The emphasis should be on gaining muscle tissue, not some arbitrary number on a scale. The human body cannot biosynthesize muscle tissue faster than about one half to one pound per week, lighter athletes closer to one half and larger athletes closer to one pound (1). This should be the clue as to how fast your young athletes should be gaining towards their optimal playing weight during the off-season.
For the young athletes who need to lose excess body fat to be in a better position to succeed on the field, more conditioning is not the answer. Referring back to Fallacies Part 2, endless hours of stadium steps, extra slow laps after training, and other similar endurance type activities will rob these larger athletes of what makes them succeed at that size. Strength, power and quickness. Nutrition should be the primary focus for these athletes trying to lose excess body fat. This needs to be a job for both coaches and parents, and the focus needs to begin with WHAT the athletes are eating.Fats, Carbs and Proteins
Many young athletes are receiving misinformation on the home front concerning not only how much to eat, but also what to eat. Nutrition should be approached as means of recovery and and preparation for the following training day. Not approached the way a mother limits her husband’s red meat or avoids fats herself to preserve her figure. The fears or ignorance about Fats, Carbohydrates and Proteins from the parents can also negatively affect recovery and performance when applied to a growing young athlete. Fats unjustly have been given a negative rap, and are a key component for an athlete’s recovery, gains, and performance. “Fat on the plate does not equal fat on the waste.” We’ll keep it simple for mom and the athletes. Fats sources should be saturated fats like butter, avocados, and coconut oil; and mono-unsaturated fats from olives and uncooked olive oil.
We stand behind a simple statement: carbohydrates are fuel. Young athletes require fuel for all of the studies, practice and training they have on their plate. Parents and coaches should be focusing on what types of carbs their athletes are consuming. Certain carbohydrates should be limited and others should be avoided all together. This information has been outlined in the Power Athlete Diet discussed here. You will see an athlete’s carbohydrates should come from vegetables, roots, tubers and bulbs. Consuming pastas, breads and other grains has a drastic effect on recovery by causing inflammation and producing toxins that inhibit the absorption of essential nutrients. Your team’s performance on Friday would be better served by cutting the pasta and bread on Thursday night. Serving steak and potatoes would be the more intelligent choice.
Many times, when coaches mention protein with their young athletes, they’re talking about protein supplements, not real food. Supplements are what is required when proper nutrition stops being enough to continue to build the machine. Protein sources need to be judged by their source, calories, vitamins and minerals derived from them, not label design or grams per bottle. Best way to hit all of these is to eat real food and drink real milk, not rely on shakes or tubs to fill your protein requirements. Young athletes are easy prey to the marketing of supplements companies with claims of fantastic gains and ripped guys with a sweet tan peddling them. Welbourn has been saying it for years, “There is no way to out supplement a terrible diet…nothing replaces real food and Flesh Builds Flesh.”
The effectiveness of protein powders and carbohydrates can be argued till the cows come home, but something that cannot is hydration. There is a direct connection between hydration and performance. Fatigue through practice, training sessions and even games may be a result of dehydration versus fuel substrate depletion. An athlete’s performance begins to decline when they’re dehydrated by as little as 2% of body weight. The loss in excess of 5% of body weight through dehydration can decrease the athlete’s ability to perform by 30% (2). Much higher than the risks of declined performance, dehydration may also lead to death during training or practice. This can be prevented, but steps must be taken to educate athletes and have them hydrate throughout the day, not just during training or practice.
Power Athlete recommends having your athletes consume 1oz of water per 2 pounds of body weight over the course of the day. If your athletes are practicing and having training sessions, this can go up to 1 oz per 1 pound body weight. We’re talking strictly water. Sports drinks are designed to be consumed during and post competition when electrolytes and glucose stores are depleted. We know there are better sources for quick replenishment of electrolytes and glucose during games, found here, and only one source for hydration before games. Water.
High school athletes are faced with many pressures; athletically, academically and socially. A coach should understand this when they begin to inform their athletes about nutrition from a performance perspective. Parents may encourage their kids to eat for longevity not performance. Academic demands on top of athletic demands may push kids to rely on energy drinks and fast foods for quick energy. Society may push diets that focus more on aesthetics than athletics. What can a football coach do to combat all of these pressures a young athlete now faces that they didn’t have to ‘back in the day’?!
An ole ball coach once told me, “Investment is gained through understanding.” Every once in awhile a nugget of useful life advice came out between the, “DAMN IT, MCQUILKIN!”’s and the, “You do that again, I’m gonna stick my size 9 boot up your ass!” Coaches are in a position to arm their athletes with knowledge, and empower them through education to make the correct nutrition choices.
The 5 Fallacies were constructed because of their connection to one another and the common theme expressed through all five, empowerment through education. Education of coaches and subsequently, the athletes. All too many high school strength and conditioning programs are built on what the coaches did when they played football. The saying goes, “We fail at the margin of our experiences”, and these programs are limited, not by desire, but by experience. This lack of experience and knowledge creates a vicious cycle of mediocrity which results in good teams sitting at home come playoff time. A good off-season strength program needs to be developed around a team’s strengths and weaknesses which are determined through proper movement assessments. A solid program on paper means nothing without effective application by coaches and wholesale buy in by the athletes. Through the years of working with teams, nutrition and hydration are the most underutilized tools in the off-season program. If the coaches don’t know any better, then there is no way the athletes will either.
(1)Hatfield, F.C. (1989, pg. 226). POWER: A Scientific Approach: Advanced Musclebuilding Techniques for Explosive Strength!. Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, Inc.
(2)Jeukendrup, A. and Gleeson, M. (2010). Sport Nutrition: An Introduction to Energy Production and Performance. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics, Inc.
High School Football Nutrition
Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.