On Friday night, I went to see Drew Morano speak at the CHSCA T&F Clinic. It was a fantastic hour, I wish he would've spoken for two; and I left with a ton of ideas and new plans percolating in my mind. One thing he mentioned, somewhat briefly, but forcefully, was how he always talks to his athletes about proper nutrition. He is coaching college athletes, so this must be a tough task for him, as I remember subsiding almost solely on PowerBars and gatorade (and beer) for an entire winter when I was in college.
But, I get to coach HS athletes, who live with a family, and who have parents that do the shopping for them. That is an important difference. I believe, if the family does not eat healthy, the athlete will not either. If the family discusses the healthy foods they want to eat, if the family encourages good eating habits, if the family supports the athlete in their diet, then you (the athlete) will have the fuel to compete the demanding workouts throughout the spring. So, CHAP athletes, talk to your parents about what you eat now, what you want to eat, and what you probably shouldn't eat. (Don't make it a one-way street though, in return for giving in to your "demands", your parents deserve at least one night a week of you cooking, serving and cleaning, I think that is only fair.)
Now, what to eat. I have one rule of thumb that encompasses all. If what you are eating is healthy, you cannot eat too much of it. If you like turkey sandwiches, eat four of them. If you like beans and rice, eat three helpings. If you like apples, eat five of them. The intensity of training CHAP track athletes are undertaking results in a caloric deficit at the end of the day. One cannot grow stronger unless one has enough calories to fill up that deficit, plus more to grow stronger with. Calories are energy. You need energy to complete the workouts I prescribe, and you need energy to grow your muscles stronger after the workouts are completed. I am not saying devour a box of Twinkies, or have three Big Macs. I am saying, eat more healthy stuff than you think. No one training with us should be on a restricted diet due to weight. We run, jump, lift enough every day to burn more calories than 95% of your peers. Re-fuel your body, every day, so it will not break down. The old running/skiing saying goes, "A real man (or woman) is one who can eat a full meal on a full stomach." Every tried eating plate of spaghetti when you are already stuffed to the gills? It's pretty tough, but it can be really good for you.
Now, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. What exactly should an athlete eat? Well, Mike Pollan, author of Omnivore's Dilemma, has a few guidelines. Check out Coach Whitenack's review on it. I really like the tips, especially with "Eat Real Food" A & B, and "Buy Real Food" A & B. Eat food that you can pronounce, and shop the perimeter of the supermarket. I have read this book as well, and I really enjoyed it, it was a real eye opener on how Americans have gotten pretty complacent with their diets. Beth and I try to follow these food rules more and more, buying food that we recognize, that has few ingredients in it, that does not have a ton if chemicals sprayed on it. For example, tonight, we had fish, broccoli and rice. Simple, healthy, and I ate a ton of it. (I ran three miles today, I was exhausted!)
What else to eat? Well, google Nancy Clark, renowned athlete nutritionist. I have blogged about her in the past, (check "eating for elite performances" in the left sidebar) but she has articles all over the web giving great advice on specific foods to buy that are healthy and nutrient packed. Foods like bananas, peanut butter, yogurt, and guacamole are all super good for elite athletes.
Want some other ideas for healthy foods to eat? Check out these links, which I found on the Chaparral T&F home page. Coach Monfre came up with this one, and while I don't expect you to fulfill the requirements daily, the closer you can get (without obsessing over it) the healthier you will be. And here is another one, that details what a typical day of eating might look like. I eat all those foods on there (except yogurt, I can't stand yogurt) and they are all delicious! Trust me, salmon is a super food, and it is so freakin' delicious! I could eat it every day. I once had it on a plane to Norway, even airline salmon was fantastic!
Finally, I want to go back to Coach Whitenack again. A couple years ago, he detailed exactly what HS athletes should be consuming for optimum training. Two major points he made were:
I like that. I agree with that. I follow that. After practice, you should go to your backpack, and pull out a granola bar. Then, when you get home, eat a good dinner. After practice, your muscles are wide open to absorb all that food energy. While they are wide open just waiting for it, give those muscles that energy. After long runs, I make a point to eat a big bowl of Cheerios and milk before I have even sat down. Eat quick, your muscles will thank you for it!
In his blog, Coach Whitenack does a great job of breaking food down into three sections, Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats. I will link to each of them, and give a three-four sentence critique of what he says. So, take the time and read what he has to say. Take notes if you need to. Email him at Ryan.Whitenack(at)dcsdk12(dot)org if you have more questions. Even though he coaches at Castle View, he is a great resource for CHAP athletes and he will return your emails in 15 seconds, I would wager.
Protein. I agree with every word Coach Whitenack says. I would only modify the "drink milk" to "drink whole milk". Other than that, perfect. My pregnant wife's midwifery delivers the same message Coach Whitey does.
Carbohydrates. The whiter the food, the worse it generally is for you. Food that is white is bleached. White bread, white pasta, white rice. Eat foods that are not white. And cut out the refined sugar. I have drastically cut down on refined sugar, now when I have a cupcake, I feel horrible for 24 hours. Eliminate refined sugar!
Fats. I admit, I have been known to have a McDouble or two every now and then. And that is not an example of good fats. But, all of Coach Whitenack's examples are example of healthy fats. My only complaint is that he skims over avocados/guacamole. I could eat that stuff every day, with some tomatoes in it, a lot of lemon, oh god, I am drooling right now. And I think dairy fats are fine. I know some studies say they are not, but whole milk, especially if you are trying to gain weight, is totally OK for you.
As for hydration. You all know the rules. You pass a water fountain, you drink from it. You must have clear pee. You should always carry a water bottle around with you (but never share).
Wow, that's about all for now. Thanks for getting this far, but now you must implement these guidelines. Again, sit down and discuss this with your parents. I am not a doctor, nor a dietician, but I do have some experience with training and racing. See how you can incorporate these "rules" into your present family eating routine. In reality, a lot of this food is cheaper than the processed stuff, it just might require a little more preparation to make it. You might have to put together a turkey and cheese sandwich, instead of throwing a Lunchable into your bag last minute. I think you can all do that, don't you?
Remember, becoming a champion is all about the little things. One of those little things is diet (although diet is actually a BIG thing), but all things equal, the athlete who fuels himself the best will win the most races. We have talked a lot about commitment, and this is one area that you can commit to in order to become the best runner you can be! Make sure the athlete you look at in the mirror every day is the one who makes the commitment every day!