The Importance of Good Health and Nutrition for Athletes - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

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

Athlete's bodies are put through enormous stress and physical demands every day, during practice, workouts, and games. Young athletes think they can get by on junk food, because their bodies are still at their youthful peak of strength. However, even for these athletes, diet makes a huge difference in performance. What players choose to fuel their bodies matters-for their playing, their health, and their future in sports.

In addition to eating healthy food, they need to have the knowledge and investment in taking care of themselves to stay at the top of their game. Athletes need more calories than the average person - anywhere from between 2000-5000 per day. Athletes can improve their performance with better nutrition, and education about body, and how to keep it in top shape.

Save Money on Healthcare Through Nutrition

Although healthy and nutritious food can be more expensive than fast food or processed meals, the healthcare costs that can arise can be much more expensive than whole foods in the long run. In fact, $71 billion dollars in healthcare costs for chronic conditions could be saved if people ate more healthfully.

Practicing and training creates damage in the body naturally, and athletes who do not fuel their bodies properly will need longer recovery times. A healthy diet will also help players who experience an injury heal more quickly and get back in the game. Hormone levels, which are important to athletic performance, can also be influenced by diet, and athletes can experience hormone deficiencies if their diets are poor. Food is medicine!

The Role of Education

Just telling athletes they need to eat more healthfully isn't enough. They need to understand exactly why they should make the effort to focus on their diet. After all, it's a lot harder to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables and cook them than it is to pick up a cheeseburger or burrito on the way home. Many players won't know how to choose the right foods, prepare them so they taste good, or even know where to find fresh foods.

McDonalds drive-thru

This lack of education is extremely common, which is surprising considering how much athletes rely on strong, healthy bodies. Be sure to educate athletes about nutrition and which foods are better than others. Explain why these foods are superior fuel, and be sure to touch on subjects like the purpose of carb loading (to store glycogen in the muscles), and the effects that various food groups can have. It may even be a good idea to bring in a nutritionist so your players have a solid foundation of nutrition basics.

Helping Players to Make Smarter Choices

Although your athletes need to make an effort on their own to eat well, you can encourage good habits for the entire group by making it convenient for them to make smarter choices. Keep athletes on track with healthy food routines and have team lunches and dinners to encourage nutrition. You may need to work one on one with players who are trying to find ways to eat more healthfully that work for them. On top of providing nutrition support, it's important to help players manage any problems that may be affecting their health and well-being.

It's also key to have healthy snacks available and to ensure all players are hydrating properly. After a game, high-sodium foods or a small meal that includes a combination of protein, fat, and carbs are good choices. It's key to replace nutrients lost during the intense physical activity of a game.

The Athlete's Physical, Mental, and Emotional Needs

When it comes to health, it is helpful to think about the body as a machine. It has physical, mental, and emotional needs that must be met for peak performance. If players are stressed, struggling with anxiety, or aren't eating well, they won't be able to play their best. The healthcare industry is beginning to recognize the influence these different factors have on overall health, turning to an integrative model that addresses all the factors together.

Players need to be aware of what all their bodies' needs are, and take a proactive approach by focusing on nutrition, mindfulness, and any other activities or practices they need to be well. They need to take care of their bodies and minds, and practice good nutrition to ensure that they're able to give each game their all.

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Articles by Sarah Daren