Sep 5, 2017
Filling a Fueling Gap

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

With high school athletes spending more time in the weightroom than ever before, they need proper nutrition to stay healthy and make gains. But if lunchtime is early in the day, they rarely have a chance to refuel before strength training after school. That was a dilemma Philip Crutchfield looked to solve when he became Athletic Director at Eastside High School in Gainesville, Fla., in April 2016.

Lunchtime at Eastside is 11:15 a.m., and afterschool activities start at 3:15 p.m. In between, Crutchfield noticed that many athletes were eating only junk food. “There was nothing for them on campus, so many would go to a nearby gas station when school let out and eat candy or chips before their practices or training started,” he says. “We needed to fill that nutritional gap to keep them from being hungry and help them build muscle.”

Crutchfield turned to the school’s cafeteria manager, who suggested they apply for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program, which provides funds for healthy snacks for students participating in extra-curricular activities. The manager contacted the local USDA office and found out Eastside was eligible, as long as the snacks would be offered to all students.

“We implemented the program in January, and we’ve been serving between 90 and 120 kids a day,” Crutchfield says. “That includes students involved in sports, as well as other afterschool activities. The feedback has been very positive.”

Before going to practice or the weightroom, athletes receive a meal, such as a ham and cheese quesadilla and a fruit or vegetable. After practice, they are provided another snack. Meal options rotate daily, and students can choose to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead of the featured meal.

Eastside’s food services staff tracks the number of meals served and files a claim to the USDA, which reimburses the school. The staff also sets the menu, and Crutchfield works with them to make sure that the meals provide sufficient protein for his hardworking athletes.

“We’re trying to adjust our program to meet the demands on athletes by getting serious about nutrition,” Crutchfield says. “There has been a big increase in the emphasis on strength training at the high school level, so we wanted to boost our athletes’ nutrient intakes to meet it.

“Especially in public schools, it seems easy to say ‘No,’ to a new idea, but my motto is: ‘Let’s try to find a way,'” he continues. “I’m glad I asked questions and reached out to our partners in the school cafeteria. The program has enabled us to enhance our student-athletes’ experience, help their bodies recover more, reduce injuries, and teach them to be healthier in general.”

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