The Saints are on fire right now, executing at a level of play that we
haven’t seen in years. What leads to a team performing at a high
level? It’s a great question – one that coaches and athletes
have asked themselves for years. Obviously, the athletes need to be highly
skilled and coaches must be dialed in completely. However, there are many
tiny details that factor into top performance. The difference between
good and great often comes down to the smallest factors.
Thibodaux Regional Health System is well-aware of this and recently hosted
a seminar at the Wellness Center entitled “Maximizing Athletic Performance.”
In front of a packed house, several talented professionals revealed some
of those small factors and how today’s youth athletes can use them
to elevate their games to a new level.
Proper fuel is crucial to elite athletic performance, and certainly not
all calories are created equally. If you’re athletic performance
isn’t where you want it to be, nutrition could be the missing piece.
That was the message from Sports and Fitness Dietitian Lilli Rozanski,
MS, RDN, LDN. In today’s world, so often we shy away from foods
that have fat or carbohydrates in them, but actually your body needs those
things, if they are consumed from the correct foods and in the proper
amounts. Carbohydrates should make up 45-60% of a young athlete’s
diet, according to Rozanski, because they are your body’s most important
source of energy. Think whole grain bread, brown rice or fruits.
Fats are important because they lubricate joints, help your body absorb
vitamins and are key in hormone production, especially for young female
athletes. Now here’s the key: you can’t get those fats from
any source. Rozanski says for everyone, but especially athletes, one must
choose good fats instead of unhealthy, saturated fats. Avocados, salmon
and almonds are excellent sources of good, un-saturated fats.
Most high-level athletes have a strict game day routine that includes not
only what they eat, but when they eat it. Pre-practice or pre-game fuel
and then recovery fuel are specifically planned out. It’s important
to eat outside of the 3 traditional meals a day to increase metabolism,
maintain blood sugar levels and provide constant energy to muscles. This
is an easy strategy for amateur athletes or weekend warriors to follow
too. What makes a good pre or post game snack? Rozanski recommends yogurt,
oatmeal, milk or peanut butter.
An easy way to remember all this: the 4 R’s of Recovery:
REFUEL with carbohydrates to replace energy stores
REPAIR and rebuild muscle with protein
REHYDRATE with water and electrolytes
REINFORCE muscle cells and immune system with colorful anti-oxidant rich foods
One thing Rozanski told the crowd that I think is really important: hydration
is a process. When Peyton or Eli had an outdoor game in steamy temperatures,
they started hydrating at the beginning of the week. It’s an important
thing for young athletes to think about. Chugging a gallon of water the
morning of a game isn’t going to cut it. Athletes need to hydrate
for several days leading up to competition.
Another thing that can be hard for young athletes to master is time management.
They face a lot of schedule demands, and it can be over-whelming. NFL
sideline reporter Jen Hale discussed some of the strategies that she uses
- or has seen professional athletes use - to get the most out of their day.
I was glad to learn that making a To-Do List is not out of fashion. Hale
recommends young athletes write down all of the obligations they need
to address in a day and check them off as the tasks are completed. Athletes
are competitive, and every time one checks off an item on a To Do list,
it’s a small victory.
Today’s society celebrates squeezing everything you can into each
minute. Hale recommended coaches and parents talk with young athletes
about the difference between multi-tasking and half-work. Multi-tasking
is productive; half work is not. Hale said multi-tasking is making the
most out of your time, such as reviewing flash cards or notes while a
young athlete is rehabbing in a cold tub. Hale also gave a few personal
examples of productive multi-tasking, such as listening to podcasts of
the upcoming teams she’s going to cover while working out and keeping
notes for upcoming games on her phone so that she can readily review them
when she’s waiting in line at the airport or store.
Half work means you aren’t being as productive as you should be because
you’re distracted. You’re trying to do two things at once,
and therefore you’re only accomplishing a part of what you could
be doing if you turned your full attention to the task at hand. For instance,
while a young athlete can benefit from reviewing flash cards while rehabbing,
they should give the job of initially writing out those flash cards his
or her full attention. Remove distractions like the television, texting
or conversation. Focus on the one job at hand so it can be completed thoroughly
Hale talked about Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll and how he helps his
athletes manage the stress of elite competition. We can all take something
away from Carroll’s strategies. Coaches, it’s your job to
get the most out of young athletes and to push them. However, consider
talking about goals in terms of mastering a skill in order to motivate
athletes, instead of an ego or performance-related goal.
The good news is that research shows student athletes benefit from many
ways because of participating in sports. The Center for Disease Control
published a report recently spelling out how sports can boost self esteem,
GPA, standardized testing scores, attentiveness, creativity and planning.
Student athletes must learn early how to balance their schedules and fit
in many priorities. Those lessons stretch on past the field of competition
into adult life.