Feed the Need

September 5, 2017

Seeing that sports nutrition awareness was lacking among its high school clients, a Pittsburgh health system filled the gap with on-campus visits from dietitians and fueling stations.

This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of Training & Conditioning.

By Craig Castor

Craig Castor, LAT, ATC, is an Athletic Trainer and Sports Medicine Supervisor at Allegheny Health Network based in Pittsburgh. He can be reached at: Craig.Castor@ahn.org.

At Allegheny Health Network (AHN), our sports medicine staff works with athletes at all levels—we are the official medical provider for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the United States Soccer League’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds, NCAA Division II Gannon University, the Community College of Allegheny County, and 18 Pittsburgh-area high schools. For years, we observed how our collegiate and professional affiliates educated their athletes about nutrition to empower them to reach their potential. This got us wondering: What if we could do the same with our high school athletes?

To explore this possibility, we started looking for a partner. We found one in Come Ready™ Nutrition, a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer of sports nutrition products founded by former University of Pittsburgh basketball player Pat Cavanaugh, and solidified our collaboration in spring 2015. Together, we set a simple but ambitious goal: to provide thousands of high school athletes with a one-of-a-kind program that would develop their minds and bodies.

Before long, we came up with a comprehensive, multidisciplinary framework for the initiative, which became known as the AHN Mobile Training Table®. To target sports nutrition, we would utilize Come Ready’s staff of registered dietitians. And because we wanted the program to target overall athletic achievement, it would also include presentations on goal building and concussion education.

Today, the program is up and running in all of our high schools. It offers group talks throughout the year on nutrition, goal-setting, and concussions, and we provide fueling stations in each school where athletes can access nutritious snacks and targeted health information.

EARLY BEGINNINGS

The first step in getting the AHN Mobile Training Table started involved me meeting with Cavanaugh to discuss ways to make it comprehensive. He already had some of the goal-building pieces developed, so that’s what we started with. We added sports nutrition because we knew how important it was for high school athletes. For concussion education, we had just incorporated C3 Logix concussion management technology into our concussion care program, and we wanted to inform the public about it. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so.

Soon, we were ready to launch a pilot program of the AHN Mobile Training Table at four Pittsburgh-area school districts where we provide sports medicine coverage. To get the respective athletic directors on board, we invited them to the grand opening of a new AHN sports medicine facility. There, they met with all of the AHN athletic trainers, and we explained what the pilot would include. After that, I followed up with each of them individually to make sure they were all receptive to the idea. Fortunately, they were all excited to take part.

For the pilot, we decided to focus on goal achievement first because the materials for it had already been prepared. Come Ready developed a proprietary “Goals and Adversity Training Program,” which is an educational presentation that teaches athletes how to set personal goals and overcome challenges.

The pilot involved sharing this program with each of the participating schools’ athletic teams a few times in the spring of 2015. The sessions were extremely successful and garnered positive feedback from the schools and their athletic trainers, coaches, athletes, and athletic directors.

Encouraged by these results, we expanded the pilot program in the fall of 2015 to all 18 high schools to which AHN supplies sports medicine coverage. Because we included the pilot in our already contracted services, it was provided at no additional cost to the schools and continues to be provided at no cost today.

As part of the expanded pilot, we added nutritional presentations, led by Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, CSSD, LDN, Chief Nutritional Officer at Come Ready and a nationally renowned sports dietitian. One important lesson we learned from these sessions was that female athletes did not want to talk about nutrition in front of males. So we started breaking up the sessions and meeting with each team individually. As a result, we received better input and engagement from the girls’ teams. This was a lesson we carried with us going forward.

CURRENT MODEL

Today, the AHN Mobile Training Table consists of three-part programming that is presented at meetings throughout the year to our 18 affiliated high schools. Participants include athletes from fall, winter, and spring sports, as well as their families.

During the summer, we schedule meetings around teams’ conditioning schedules. Once school starts, we hold the sessions before or after practice. Whenever possible, we utilize each team’s preseason and offseason for the presentations. This often works better for the teams anyway, as the athletes are more relaxed, and the coaches are more willing to dedicate time for the seminars.

Each meeting features presentations on the Come Ready philosophy of sports nutrition, goal attainment, and AHN Sports Medicine’s proprietary concussion management protocol. Regarding sports nutrition, dietitians from Come Ready offer comprehensive counseling on diet and sports performance, ideal meal plans for athletes, and recipes for sports performance eating. There are a total of six Come Ready dietitians, and they each work with three high schools. This is important because when athletes see the same dietitian for their educational presentations, they get more comfortable with them over time and begin asking more insightful questions.

The primary message of the nutrition seminars is that athletes are more likely to perform well when they feel great and are fueled. The sessions have the following titles:

• Don’t Be Sweet on Sugar

• Hydrate to Be Great

• Go Green and Clean

• Energize Your Efforts—Eating to Win with Protein, Carbs, and Good Fats

• Making a Great Plate

• Don’t Snooze on Sleep

• Coming Ready—Tips on Training

• Training Day/Game Day/Recovery Day Nutrition Schedules.

“This was our opportunity to bring the sports nutrition expertise and knowledge that is so important to athletic performance directly to varsity and youth athletes,” says Cavanaugh, who now serves as President of Come Ready Nutrition. “We wanted to make them aware that they can fuel their bodies like professional athletes so they have a greater chance to achieve their athletic goals.”

In addition to the information provided at each meeting, in-depth nutrition programs tailored to the unique needs of varsity, junior varsity, middle school, and youth athletes are available from the Come Ready dietitians. One-on-one consultations are also offered for a fee.

For content related to setting goals and overcoming adversity, the Come Ready team gives presentations with these titles:

• The Importance of Goals

• Promoting a Goal Mentality

• Pursuing Dreams

• Preparing to Succeed

• Ignoring the Noise

• Adversity Training—Best Practices in Overcoming Adversity

• It’s About Attitude

• The Confidence Factor

• A Goal Game Plan Exercise.

Finally, for concussions, representatives from AHN Sports Medicine offer educational sessions on recognition, treatment, and management of concussions, including a description of the C3 Logix system. Specifically, they focus on informing athletes about the signs and symptoms of head injury. This is critical in properly identifying concussive events and protecting the health of athletes.

GET SNACKING

To complement the educational seminars, the AHN Mobile Training Table equips each of the 18 high schools we serve with a 5-foot-tall fueling station on wheels. These fueling stations are located in each school’s athletic training room and come stocked with a variety of Come Ready protein bars and gluten-free snacks.

The objective of the fueling stations is to fill in some of the nutritional gaps that can plague high school athletes. For example, many have an early lunch—sometimes as early as 10:30 a.m.—and are in need of an energy boost before afterschool practices and games. Instead of heading to a vending machine for a snack, athletes can get a healthier alternative at the fueling station.

The cost of stocking the fueling stations is built into the sports medicine contracts we have with each school. The schools receive a few hundred dollars’ worth of supplies each year, split into four deliveries. Athletic trainers at each school know they don’t have an endless supply of snacks, so they are responsible for rationing them out.

Each station also contains useful educational material, including injury prevention tips; advice on how athletes can care for their bodies before, during, and after workouts; and other topics that vary depending on the time of year. In the summer and fall, information relevant to heat exposure might be provided. But in the winter and spring, the instruction might focus on appropriate clothing for training in the cold or ways to effectively manage stress during exams.

The fueling stations have quickly become a prized resource at each high school. In fact, many schools make additions to the supply of Come Ready snacks because they recognize the value to their students. For instance, the lacrosse teams at Bethel Park (Pa.) High School have purchased extra bars to establish smart snacking practices on the way to and from games. Their booster club covers this additional expense. Looking ahead, we would like to eventually offer more options at the fueling stations, such as items for athletes with food allergies, protein puffs, protein waters, and dried fruits.

Eric Cardwell, MS, ATC, Senior Athletic Trainer at AHN and Head Athletic Trainer at North Hills High School in Pittsburgh, has witnessed the many benefits of the fueling stations firsthand. “I have observed that my student-athletes are making better snack choices,” he says. “For instance, they select a Come Ready bar over a candy bar. Plus, they have the education to know why something like a Come Ready bar is a better option for their athletic success. I’ve seen this knowledge extend beyond fueling stations to the lunch room and at dinner time as they have been choosing more nutritious food to fuel them.”

REFLECTIONS AND THE FUTURE

Overall, the feedback regarding the AHN Mobile Training Table has been extremely positive. We have had many compliments from athletic directors, athletic trainers, coaches, athletes, and parents.

This success certainly would not have come without our terrific team of athletic trainers at AHN. From the beginning, they were the ambassadors for the program. They sold it to their athletic directors and coaches, telling them how great an opportunity the AHN Mobile Training Table was for teaching athletes about proper fueling, goal building, and concussion education. Then once we got up and running, they continued to check in with coaches to see what they thought about the program.

In line with AHN Sports Medicine’s goal to continually improve our offerings to meet athletes’ changing needs, we look forward to evolving the AHN Mobile Training Table. We are discussing more opportunities to bring coaches, parents, athletic trainers, and athletes together for regional seminars about nutrition, concussions, safe training techniques, and any other topics they might be interested in.

For other athletic trainers who want to create a program similar to the AHN Mobile Training Table, I encourage them to be resourceful and adaptable. I have been fortunate to have the strong support of AHN, but if you don’t have access to a large health system, look for similar sources of support from local small businesses or members of the community. After all, it’s worth it to provide your athletes with every opportunity to be their best on and off the playing field.

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