Don't Get LAX About Your Sports Nutrition!

By Lilah Al-Masri, MD and Simon Bartlett, PHD

Has this ever happened to you? You get half way through the season and you notice that your performance is decreasing, your weight has changed and you are experiencing more muscle fatigue and injury? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you may be experiencing what is commonly referred to as "the overtraining syndrome." The overtraining syndrome is not just overworked muscles and joints; it is more complex than that and usually involves poor sports nutrition habits, muscle imbalances, inadequate flexibility and insufficient rest. In this article, we are going to focus on the sports nutrition component of "the overtraining syndrome."

Sports specific nutrition is usually one of the most neglected aspects of an athlete's training program. What an athlete eats immediately before, during and after practice/competition can be critical to how the athlete performs not only that day, but in the weeks and months to come. Does this sound familiar? You go to practice on an empty stomach. You skip meals during the day. You do not take a water bottle with you to practice and if you do you rarely drink from it. You eat out often, usually at fast food restaurants. These are all important issues for an athlete to regularly address in order to stay on top of his/her nutrition game. Here is an example of a young athlete we recently encountered.

Joe is a 16 year old lacrosse player who has been playing the game for four years. He loves lacrosse and wants to compete at the collegiate level, but is regularly plagued by a reoccurring injury around mid-season. Most mornings Joe finds himself physically and mentally exhausted; getting up only a few minutes before the bus arrives. Because he wakes up late, he rarely eats breakfast. A few hours after Joe arrives at school, he begins to feel hungry and has a hard time concentrating in class. By the time lunch rolls around, Joe's hunger is intense. To satisfy his hunger and low energy level, he often chooses to eat a cheeseburger, fries and an energy drink. After school, Joe heads to practice for two hours without eating or drinking anything immediately before, during or after practice. The next meal Joe consumes is at home about one hour after practice is over. After dinner, Joe does his homework. When finished, he watches TV then heads to his room to instant message some of his friends before going to bed. Before Joe realizes it, it is 11pm and he is exhausted. He falls asleep quickly and before he knows it, the alarm clock is ringing. Joe wakes up and comments, "it feels like I just fell asleep." Joe rolls over and hits the snooze button to get some additional sleep, but realizes that he never feels fully rested from his night sleep.

Joe has fallen into a cycle that is causing him to feel worse as the season progresses. On top of feeling worse as each week progresses, Joe realizes that over the weeks and months of the lacrosse season, he is more worn down and exhausted. In addition, Joe even finds himself falling asleep in class and wanting to skip practice to get extra rest. He has noticed that it is harder and harder to maintain his energy and focus during practice. At the beginning of the season, two hour practices went by quickly, now every minute seems to drag.

Joe's mother noticed that Joe continues to be mentally and physically exhausted and that his injuries continue to plague him. She also noticed that he regularly skips breakfast and rarely brings food to eat on the bus. She took Joe to the Physician who suggested that some of Joe's problems may be directly related to his poor nutritional habits. The Physician suggested that Joe and his mother make an appointment to meet with a Registered Dietitian that specializes in Sports Nutrition.


The Registered Dietitian helped Joe develop a nutrition plan that would keep him mentally and physically focused for both school and lacrosse. Simultaneously, the plan would speed up the recovery of his nagging injury. Together they reviewed Joe's current eating/drinking schedule to evaluate its effectiveness. This is what they discovered:
  • Joe is frequently skipping breakfast to get extra sleep.
  • Joe is over-hungry at lunchtime and often chooses inappropriate meals that will not enhance his performance in the classroom or at afternoon lacrosse practice.
  • Joe does not consume any foods or fluids immediately before, during or after practice.
  • Joe waits too long after practice to eat his next meal.
  • Joe is not getting enough sleep.
Recommendations:
  • Joe must consume appropriate meals and snacks regularly throughout the day in order to have the energy he needs to stay alert in class and play his best on the field.
  • If Joe regularly consumes energy (through meals and snacks), he will not be over-hungry at any one time and be able to choose foods that are performance enhancing rather than performance decreasing.
  • The Registered Dietitian helped Joe develop an individualized eating and drinking plan that Joe can follow before, during and after practices/games. Timing of meals and snacks is imperative for optimizing Joe's performance and recovery.

It is vital that an athlete properly fuel their body. You would not expect a car to work without the right type of gas; similarly you cannot expect your body to run efficiently without the right fuel (foods/fluids) either. An athlete must be careful and realize that not all foods are created equal. The athlete must understand that there is not just one "super food" that will allow him/her to optimally perform. Seeking guidance from a Registered Dietitian, one that specializes in Sports Nutrition Coaching, can help you get back on track to being the best possible performer you can be. The information will help you reach your academic and athletic goals. You can find a Registered Dietitian in your area by viewing the SCAN website, http://www.scandpg.org/mapsearch.php.




Lilah Al-Masri, MD, RD, LD and Simon Bartlett, PhD, CSCS, ATC are co-owners of Quest Sports Science Center located in Annapolis, MD. Quest Sports Science Center's mission is provide athletes of all levels and ages an opportunity to reach their optimal athletic performance by providing physiological testing, sports nutrition coaching and strength and conditioning program development. Lilah and Simon have also written a quick reference guide, Fundamentals of Sports Nutrition for Lacrosse. For more information on this book and about the services Quest Sports Science Center offers, please call 410-626-1566 or visit www.questssc.com.

Medical Disclaimer: When making serious decisions about exercise or dietary programs, please consult with a physician, dietition and/or coach, as well as with your parent/guardian if you are a minor.


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