Visual Nutrition Assessment for High School Athletes

Technology provides us with information within seconds on our devices. The flood of information that we get exposed to daily can be challenging to sift through what is fact and what is fiction. When it comes to nutrition, Ninety percent of the information you find on social media is the wrong advice. This results in individuals jumping on the newest fad, diet, or plan. The question when you are reading this information is the individual creditable? I always advise our athletes to ask a dietitian first or make sure the person writing the nutrition article has their RD, LD, or Ph.D. Dietitians have gone through a four to six-year program in dietetics and nutrition, collected 1,200 practicum hours, have a background in medical nutrition therapy, and have taken a registration exam to allow them to practice. A dietitian must collect 75 hours every five years to allow them to recertify and maintain their credentials.

One trend that is common on social media sites is selling meal plans that promise to get you quick results and look like the individuals on their page. We end up falling into the trap of paying hundreds of dollars for something that may work for few people and ending back up a square one wondering why you didn't get the same results that you saw on the page. The reality is no one person's needs are the same. Everyone has different habits, routines, and work schedules. By buying a "meal plan," the person selling this typically isn't looking at these factors nor the physiological needs like your genetics, activity level, and what goals are you are trying to work towards.

This fad rolls over into athletics, with athletes expecting their dietitians to write them a meal plan. Meal plans can be time-consuming, taking up to an hour to put together depending on the athlete. They are often unrealistic for an athlete to follow for a long-term basis. Instead of writing a plan, we need to start by figuring out and getting to know the athlete. Focusing on developing athletes fueling habits around their routine can set them up for better success because it allows them to be flexible and make choices that best suit them.

When you tell someone what to do for every moment of the day, it doesn't allow them to learn how to do things on their own. It sets them up for failure because they then lack the basic skills to apply the information they have learned in a real-life setting like practice, competition, or in their own home. To develop a fueling routine starts with Assessing the athlete. An assessment is an evaluation of an individual's ability to show their knowledge of a subject. This allows the practitioner to gauge how much the athlete knows, what they know, and what they need to work on that may be dampening their progress.

At IMG Academy, we have created an assessment sheet that is engaging, visual and provides the athlete with a way to track their progress. This data allows the athlete to see what we need to work on and provides us feedback for their readiness to change their habits. Change for many individuals can be challenging. In many cases, athletes have developed a set of habits over their entire life span, and it may be the only way they know how to do things. That is why, as practitioners, we need to be open to listening to the athletes and what they have to say. Many athletes quickly get written off as lazy, do not want to learn, and do not have the ability, but it may be none of these. It may be the first time ever they are getting educated on nutrition. They may have done something their way for years, and it is always worked and thus do not trust that what you are telling them will make a difference. We will never know these key pieces of information until you talk to the athlete to see what roadblocks are holding them back from improving. This assessment has allowed us to change our education tactics to best fit each individual's learning style.

The assessment sheets have a top to bottom approach.

Box 1: Medical, Goals, Supplementation
The athlete's goal is the first place we start. We are here to provide a service to the athlete, so it is important for us to know what is driving them to be better to allow us to understand what we can do to aid in that need. For example, if an athlete's goal is to gain weight, but he skips breakfast 2x a week and misses his school and sports snack 3x a week, we can show that athlete how not taking advantage of these opportunities is hindering their goals. We go over medical history, food allergies, or medications. If there are concerns in these areas, it may impact how the athlete's fuels throughout the day and could mean we may need to make some adjustments to their fueling.

We also look at supplements, injury history, and caffeine usage. You cannot out supplement a bad diet, and there is no magic pill that is going that is instantly change your health. We promote mastering the basics first. Eight to ten hours of sleep, hydration, and eating three meals and two to three snacks a day. These are base-level skills that need to be mastered first. Many times, athletes are using supplements because they lack in one of these three area's and they try to use a supplement as the quick fix around it. We are not anti-supplement. If an athlete has a deficiency or they have shown us they can master all of the information on the assessment. Then there are certain proven supplements through research that could provide that one to two percent edge that an athlete is looking for, but if they can't master the first ninety-eight percent then one to two percent isn't going to make much of a difference.

Box 2: Basic Nutrition
Have you ever been told, "you need to eat this food because it is good for you?" If so, have you ever stepped forward, and like that person, why? As a high-performing athlete, what type of fuel they stick in their bodies is going to result in how well they perform and recovery from training to be able to replicate their performance consistently daily. This box is crucial because it allows us to see if the athletes know why they eat the foods they stick on their plates, what function they have in their body, and they are able to recognize examples of each nutrient. This is critical because if they lack this basic nutrition knowledge, then more than likely, they will struggle in developing a proper performance plate and snacks. Educating on this piece allows the athlete the confidence to know how to fuel and a better understanding of how their body works. This information alone can allow the athlete to start making subtle changes to their choices that may result in less fatigue, more energy, and recovery better after training. When this occurs, they start to buy into what you are advising, which can result in further talks to help them progress forward with their goals.

Box 3: Sleep Schedule:
We have broken the schedule into weekdays and weekends because the sleep schedule changes drastically between these periods of the weeks. Athletes train at IMG anywhere between 10-25 hours a week, depending on what part of the season therein. Sleeping is the prime time that the body must recover from the physical and mental stressors it goes through daily. When we put our sleep on the back burner, it can result in fatigue, tiredness, poor recovery, and possibly increase the risk of injury. Sleep schedules that are consistent for the entire week and not just five days a week is critical. A recommended sleep schedule we might advise an athlete would be 10 pm-6:30 am on the weekdays, and 11-8 am on the weekends. In this example, the time difference is no more than 1-1.5 hours difference. When the time frames start to get to 2-5 hours, the difference from the weekdays to the weekend's declines in performance can begin to occur.

Box 4: Hydration
In this box, we check if the athlete consistently has a bottle with them. Have a one to two bottles with you everywhere allows the athlete to keep on top of their hydration throughout the day. In the meals box, we check if they drink fluids at all their meals and what fluid choices are, they are choosing. We look at if they have a history of cramping, and if so, how long and frequent has this been an issue. Lastly, we ask the athlete if they know how to test to see if they are hydrated or not. This can be done throughout the day by simply checking their urine and making sure they keep light like lemonade and not dark like apple juice.

Box 5: Fueling Timeline
We investigate the athlete's energy levels to PowerPoint if there is a certain time of their day where they feel exhausted that could be contributed by poor flooring. We check to see if the athlete has a good appetite throughout the day. Commonly we will see athletes with a suppressed appetite due to ADHD medications or if they are not recovering from the high volume of training. We also look at cravings. Cravings can occur when an athlete is stressed, poor mood, or has skipped a meal/snack, which has resulted in their body sending them a signal to eat due to a lack of nutrition from other parts of their day.

After we go through the assessment, we run through each section to educate the athlete on better tactics and application of the information that could lead to an improvement in their performance. We will send them an educational resource to reinforce what we went over. They will get an overall grade that will allow us to track what percentage of improvement they make between each assessment. Lastly, we provide them with two goals. These goals are based on several factors. What is their high need at this moment, what are they willing to change, and is it realistic? Our athletes go through a rigorous schedule, so it is important that we give them goals they can successfully complete, build confidence, and begin to provide changes that they see and feel in training. The more changes they can see results in a better buy-in with continuing to work with us and spreading this information to their teammates to allow a greater trust across the sport that we are there to help them and the advice we are giving can make a difference.