Athletes and nutrition: Components needed for peak health and performance

Athletes want to train and compete at their best, and one of the most important ways to achieve this is by eating the right foods in the right amounts at the right times.

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Peak Health and Performance, a nutrition education program for adolescents (12-19 years old), was developed in partnership with Michigan State University and Spartan Performance. The program is designed to help young athletes learn about the importance of nutrition as it is related to their health and their athletic performance. The program was funded in part through a grant from the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program Education program (SNAP-Ed) and the Expanded Food and Physical Activity program (EFNEP) and is offered throughout all 83 counties in Michigan with plans to expand to neighboring states and beyond.

This nutrition education curriculum includes six engaging lessons with videos and handouts. The videos and handouts reinforce the key messages as well as provide take-home information that can be shared with parents or referred to later. Below is a brief description of each of the six lessons.

  • Nutrition 101. Understanding the USDA MyPlate is important when it comes to proper nutrition. This lesson explores the fuels needed by student athletes, including the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Energy balance is also addressed.
  • Performance Plates. Exploring what an athlete’s plate might look like as a result of different energy needs for diverse training days. Thinking about different food options for increasing energy into athlete’s diets and learning about the nutritional label is a part of this lesson.
  • Timing of Intake. This lesson stresses the importance of eating breakfast, eating every 2 to 4 hours, hydration and the power hour before and after competition/workout. Timing is critical to make sure athletes have the energy to perform.
  • Hydration. Understand the signs of dehydration and three ways to assess your hydration status throughout the day. This lesson also provides recommendations for types of beverage choices athletes should consume and meeting hydration goals.
  • Convenience Foods. This lesson provides practical applications of the previous nutritional concepts with respect to meal and snack planning and preparation. The overall goal is to prime the young athlete to make healthy decisions when food is available at home and when choosing foods at a restaurant, fast food or convenience store.
  • More Than a Game. The final lesson showcases the many benefits of maintaining a physically active lifestyle and to identify the many ways sport participation can add value to a young athlete’s life. The main theme of this lesson is that sports are a vehicle for life and can impact a young athlete physically, mentally and emotionally.

The Peak Health and Performance curriculum is a great interactive curriculum designed for middle and high school students who are active. Through simple messages and concrete examples, this curriculum provides coaches, schools and parents a great tool to help teach students how to fuel their body correctly. Students will come away with simple healthy behaviors they can immediately put into practice as well as carry into their adulthood.

If you are interested in having MSU Extension provide these education lessons to your student athletes or students, contact your local MSU Extension office or program author RJ Gibbs.

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