Athlete Nutrition 101
Teach Your Athletes
Individualize Nutrition Plans
Every athlete has different needs. This is true for their learning style, how they are motivated, and yes––their nutrition. As University of Washington Director of Sports Nutrition Ema Thake explains, “there is no blanket nutrition prescription.” Although nutritional needs are unique for each individual, a foundational understanding of nutrition can help you and your athletes build the nutrition plan that works best for them. These 4 tips will ensure that each of your athletes have the energy they need to perform on the field and the support they need to lead a healthy lifestyle off of it.
1. Teach Your Athletes About Macronutrients
A strong base in macronutrient education is an important place for athletes to start when learning about nutrition. Take a day to go through the major food groups, vitamins, and nutrients with your team, in order to have the foundation to build a diet that works for each of your athletes.
Thake suggests what is called the 80/20 Rule, which means ensuring at least 80% of your diet is comprised of unprocessed foods like fruits, vegetables, and protein sources. Barring allergy or illness, Thake argues, young athletes should be able to get all the nutrition they need from food––no supplements needed.
After your athletes understand the basics of macronutrients, it’s time to work with them on applying that knowledge to develop healthy, individualized nutrition habits.
2. Individualized Nutrition Plans
To help customize personal nutrition plans, you will need to know three things about each of your athletes: their goals, their day-to-day routine, and their learning process.
First, understanding each athlete’s goals as they relate to their nutrition will not only help you create a nutrition plan that works for them, it will also help keep them invested in continuing to participate in the process.
Second, taking inventory of your athletes’ routines will allow you to take into account things like their day-to-day nutrition, hydration, sleep, mental health, and financial situation, so you can help them create realistic plans that work with their lifestyles, while beginning to change bad habits.
Finally, understanding each athlete’s individual learning process will allow you to help them build toward larger goals through designing small steps they can implement on a daily basis.
3. Collaborate with Athletes and Parents
From her experience working with young athletes, Thake believes that educating parents is as important as educating the athletes themselves.
“Including parents in your discussions about nutrition will give them common language they can use in communicating with their children about what to eat,” Thake says.
As you work with parents, it’s also important to keep athletes involved in their plans. Make sure the athletes are present in meetings so they can actively participate in creating their own individualized nutrition plans.
4. Be Thrifty
Peak nutrition is more accessible than most people think. Eating healthy is often perceived as being expensive, but Thake ensures that cost doesn’t have to be an inhibitor.
“More expensive does not always mean better,” she notes. Look for sales. Utilize coupons. Grab the items located at the bottom of the shelf, which are usually lower in price but similar in quality. Shop for produce seasonally, check out the seasonal produce guides.
You don’t have to sacrifice convenience, either. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are preserved at the peak of their freshness and nutritional value. Consider frozen or canned when looking for options that are less expensive or require less time and effort to prepare.
“Your relationship with food is the longest relationship you’ll ever have,” Thake reminds us.
Helping your athletes along the road to peak nutrition will not only benefit their performance, but it will set them up for a healthy lifestyle for the rest of their lives. “Your relationship with food is the longest relationship you’ll ever have,” Thake reminds us.
It shouldn’t be too much to ask to make it your healthiest one.
Ema Thake is the Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Washington, where she works closely with a variety of teams to help them elevate their performance on and off the field.
Check out her work with the UW football team here: https://www.instagram.com/uw_sportsnutrition/