How Cross-Training and Proper Diet Can Provide a Competitive Edge in High School Sports - by Sarah Daren

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Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

With today's high school sports as competitive as they are today, high school athletes are spending time, energy, and money finding strategies for gaining even minute competitive advantages over their competitors. From skills coaches to clubs or AAU leagues, to buying the latest shiny device or course promising to increase their performance, there are literally hundreds of ways to spend hard-earned money on performance promises made by slick marketing copy.

However, some of the most effective methods for creating competitive gains aren't new and, often, don't cost a penny. This article will explore two such methods: cross-training and healthy diets.

What is Cross-Training?

Cross-training refers to engaging in practice or training activities for a secondary sport in order to improve performance in a primary sport. This tactic can be immensely beneficial for a couple reasons.

First, every sport uses certain movements, patterns, and fitness components more than others. Think of that set of elements as a sport's "portfolio." Basketball players train for quick movements, agility, defensive position, and a wooden court. Soccer players do their training on a grass field instead of a wooden floor, don't need the same strength in their arms, need additional strength and agility in their legs and feet, and play longer games than basketball players.

Though not inherently bad, a sports portfolio can make it possible for you to overstress certain fitness components and neglect others. These preferences can eventually lead to body, muscle, strength, or coordination imbalances that can have negative long-term effects. Cross-training helps even out these imbalances by employing different skills, movements, or training regimens.

Second, cross-training allows an athlete to employ different parts of the brain by learning new skills. Especially for high-level athletes, the process of active learning can sometimes wane as an athlete's experience in the sport increases. Learning new skills is a skill in itself and is good for the brain and for developing problem-solving and creativity skills. Learning new techniques in an unfamiliar competitive sport like swimming, for example, can help make an athlete's brain more elastic and provide a foundation for increased performance in his or her primary sport.

try softball! - or baseball
How about softball (or baseball)?

Diet and the Ways It Can Impact Competitive Progress

Old "got milk?" commercials, performance videos on YouTube that advocate carnivore or high-protein diets, and other highly publicized mantras about certain dietary components and their supposed miracle results have long existed. However, employing fad diets or extreme measures won't actually create lasting results. The average high school athlete doesn't often operate with a robust understanding of sound dietary principles.

An athlete's "diet" simply refers to what goes into his or her body. In simple terms, what goes in dictates what comes out. Though younger bodies are usually much more resilient than older bodies to the effects of junk food, sugary products, energy drinks, and unhealthy snacks, they still play an instrumental part in determining how well that body can perform. (And sometimes the majority of these effects are only seen years down the line.)

Athletes who begin to develop healthy eating habits in high school will gain a tremendous upper hand as they grow older - and the margin between how their bodies perform, recover, and grow compared to their peers' will begin to show.

How to Implement Cross-Training and Better Diet Habits in Your Training

If you are interested in implementing cross-training and a healthy diet in your training regimen as a high school athlete, here are a few easy tips to get you started:

Look for an Off-season Opportunity to Engage in a Different Sport

Whenever your off-season happens in your primary sport, a variety of other sports are gearing up or are in full seasonal swing. Explore opportunities for rec leagues, training camps, informal play, or other opportunities to engage with a new sport during your off-season.

try track!
... or track

Diet Doesn't Have to Be Complicated

There are plenty of resources out there if you are interested in learning more about performance nutrition, but you can make one small change today that can have profound effects on your health over your lifetime: limit or cut out sugar. Start small; do it in stages; and make it work for your lifestyle. But even this single change can help regulate energy levels, decrease cravings for unhealthy foods, and increase health tremendously as an athlete.

Find a Buddy

Nervous about exploring either of these areas alone? Get a teammate, sibling, friend, parent, or coach to do it with you! They'll benefit too and you'll have someone who can encourage you to follow through.

Articles by Sarah Daren