Fueling Athletes to Disease

Michael Shukis

Fueling Athletes to Disease


What if our way of "fueling athletes" is wrong? Maybe we aren't fueling their activity at all. What if we're setting them up for a lifetime of problems instead?

Think about it. What is good about this example of an athlete's diet? Here's a common day-in-the-life: Breakfast is orange juice, waffles, fruit, cereal, and sausage. Their post-training meal is half a gallon of chocolate milk, fruit, granola bars, cheese, protein shakes, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (On whole-wheat bread, of course). Their pre-practice snack is a Clif bar or two and Gatorade. More Gatorade during practice. After practice is chicken fingers, burgers, fries, and pasta. And maybe some more fruit—you know, for health reasons. Dinner might be a pizza or pasta buffet.

I don't have all the answers. But there's something wrong with how we're “fueling” athletes. They consume chocolate milk, pasta, pizza, fruit juice, energy chews, recovery drinks, Gatorade, etc. You might be asking what's wrong with this. We're shoveling hundreds of grams of cheap sugar and processed carbohydrates into athletes every day. Is this healthy? Do they really “burn” these calories off? Is this the best way to fuel their activity?

How can we continue kidding ourselves into believing that this is good nutrition? It's a disaster. It isn't quality, it's the cheapest option. We're kidding ourselves if we think a diet full of cheap, processed carbohydrates is good "fuel" for athletes. It's the easiest and cheapest option. (How convenient, I know). And then schools wonder why they fail. Too many easy choices never make things right. We're setting a bad example for young people to follow.

This all makes me question what we're doing. Maybe athletes don't need this insane amount of sugar. Just because athletes can eat crap for a few years doesn't mean they should.

There's no debating that athletes need a lot of food for energy. They practice, play games, and have school work to do. But do they need endless amounts of this so-called “fuel?” Unfortunately, we've chosen to provide quantity instead of quality.

On top of setting a bad example, we're also setting kids up to fail after graduation. Let's be honest-90% of athletes aren't playing professional sports. So, how do you think they're going to eat when they graduate? Is there diet magically going to switch from pizza and Gatorade to meat and vegetables? Obviously not.

But, you see, the real problem is that we-as an industry-just don't care. We say we do. We tell the cameras that we're here for the “student-athlete experience.” We share our love of helping young people. We say all the right things. And they sound wonderful. But we're full of hot air. These are lies.

People like to claim that the “student-athlete experience” is their motivation. They talk about developing students into mature adults. And they say they're driven to help young people. Is feeding students cheap sugar every day helping them? Do mature adults eat a breakfast of waffles, orange juice, and Frosted Flakes? Shouldn't we help them make the right choice, not the easy one?

Actions speak louder than words. We can say we care about the student-athlete experience, but the only example you need is how we feed young people. Food is arguably the most important aspect of a quality life. Along with sleep, exercise, and stress management, food is on top of the list. If we are here to provide a good student-athlete experience, shouldn't high quality food be the focus?

Let's stop pretending to care. Start helping people. Teach them how to eat by providing good options. Don't make easy or convenient choices. Quality must run deep throughout any organization.

Nutrition makes a big difference in life. It affects our health, how we feel, and how we perform. But the way we "fuel" athletes is a total disaster. A dumpster fire, if you will.

Don't make easy and convenient choices; make the right ones. Choose quality over quantity. Help athletes develop good habits. Educate them on good food choices. Supply what's best, not what's easiest and cheapest.

Our job is not to give athletes what they want; it's to give them what they need. We're supposed to be the examples. We're here to help them, right? Remember the student-athlete experience we talked about earlier? This is how you provide a good one. Providing quality food options sets people up for a lifetime of success. Remember: these are young people we are leading. Take the sport out of the equation.

Start being the example you're supposed to be. And stop the madness. No more pizzas, pastas, Gatorades, and granola bars. Start with real food. It might take some effort and money. But that's okay. There's plenty of that to go around.

tags: nutrition

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