Nov 28, 2016
Group Effort
Susan Crowell

High school athletes need to build strength and conditioning for improved performance. Peak performance, however, cannot be obtained unless they also focus on getting proper nutrition and hydration before, during, and after training and competitions.

For several years, I have been working with athletes at Stillwater (Minn.) High School to help them achieve this latter goal through a program called “PowerUp.” A community-wide youth initiative sponsored by an area health system, PowerUp strives to make better eating and active living easy, fun, and popular.

Thanks to the school’s partnership with PowerUp, Stillwater student-athletes have access to the latest information on adequate intake, proper macronutrient consumption, and meal timing. Because they’ve bought into these guidelines, we’ve seen dramatic results — the athletes eat better, feel better, and perform better — and we look forward to where PowerUp will take us in the future.


PowerUp is the brainchild and key community health initiative of HealthPartners, an integrated health care system in Minnesota. PowerUp is a community-based initiative in partnership with six local school districts to help all kids eat better and move more. In Stillwater, student-athlete nutrition has become a top priority.

Stillwater has maintained a relationship with local HealthPartners Lakeview Hospital for almost 20 years, and Lakeview dietitians have been providing nutrition counseling services to Stillwater students since 1999. I’m at the high school several times a month to advise athletes on their nutritional practices.

Beyond one-on-one sessions, I offer regular team sports nutrition talks at Stillwater, as well. I meet with the sport coaches at the start of every fall, winter, and spring season to arrange these discussions with their squads. Although the talks aren’t mandatory, athlete attendance is highly encouraged by coaches.

The sports nutrition talks cover a variety of topics — everything from proper carbohydrate and protein intake to avoiding sugary beverages to meal timing. In addition, I often go over fueling guidelines for vegetarian athletes, since we usually have a couple each year. I tailor my information to the individual teams, too. For example, I met with the football players last January to discuss gaining and maintaining weight.

In 2013, the opportunity to improve fueling strategies for Stillwater student-athletes expanded when Head Football Coach Beau LaBore asked PowerUp to develop a detailed sports nutrition guide for his players. The result was the PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook.

To create the Playbook, I first spoke to Stillwater coaches and the school’s athletic trainer about what specific areas they thought it should address. Then, I conducted research and consulted with other PowerUp dietitians to create the final version.

We now provide the Playbook to all Stillwater athletes, coaches, and parents. It’s also available to the community at:


Most of my time with Stillwater athletes is spent educating them on optimal fueling choices. Covered in both my sports nutrition talks and the PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook is the importance of getting the right balance of foods to provide adequate energy for performance. This balance varies by sport and with different kinds of training.

Calories are an important factor for adolescent athletes, as their energy needs for growth and activity are much higher than the average adult’s. At Stillwater, I tell female athletes to aim for 2,400 to 2,800 calories a day, and the males should shoot for 2,800 to 3,500 calories a day.

Of course, getting the right number of calories is simply one element of proper fueling. The PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook also shows Stillwater athletes how to get the right balance of macronutrients to maximize their energy intake.

Carbohydrates provide fuel for power and endurance, while protein satisfies hunger and rebuilds and repairs muscles after a workout. Although the amount of carbohydrate and protein a high school athlete needs depends upon their weight and energy expenditure, carbohydrates should generally make up about 50 to 65 percent of their daily calories, and protein should take up another 15 to 20 percent.

To get more specific, the Playbook includes a formula for each type of sport that allows athletes to calculate the amount of carbohydrate and protein they need each day. Athletes in endurance sports like running, distance cycling, triathlon, Nordic skiing, and synchronized swimming require 3.6 to 4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight per day (grams/pound/day) and 0.5 to 0.6 grams/pound/day of protein. Those in high-intensity, power, and strength sports, such as baseball, basketball, football, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, volleyball, and wrestling, require 2.3 grams/pound/day of carbs and 0.6 to 0.8 grams/pound/day of protein. So using these guidelines, a 120-pound female lacrosse player at Stillwater would be able to calculate that she needs 276 grams of carbohydrate and between 72 and 96 grams of protein each day.

Two other key nutrients for high school athletes are fat and calcium. The PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook explains that fat is not something to be avoided. Rather, teen athletes should get 25 to 35 percent of their calories from fat. They also need about 1,200 to 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. Calcium is important for teen athletes because it strengthens their bones and lays the groundwork for osteoporosis prevention.

Knowing how much carbs, protein, fat, and calcium to consume is important, but it doesn’t help athletes if they can’t identify quality sources of these nutrients. The PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook outlines this.

Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grain bread, cereal, waffles, and pasta; brown/wild rice; quinoa; fruit; vegetables; milk; and yogurt. Quality protein sources include meat, poultry, fish, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds, nut butters, eggs, milk, yogurt, and cheese. Healthy fats can be found in olive or canola oil, olives, avocado, and nuts and seeds. And for calcium, milk, lactose-free milk, calcium-fortified soy or almond milk, calcium supplements, Greek or regular yogurt, cheese, almonds, and broccoli are all good options.


Hydration is just as important as nutrition for high school athletes because dehydration can hinder performance. The PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook recommends athletes get 90 to 100 ounces of water a day, much more than they think they need or are “thirsty” for. This may vary, as you may have an athlete who is smaller in size and who needs less water based on their body size.

One way to calculate an individual’s water needs is by dividing their weight in half and using that number as the amount of needed ounces per day. For example, a 120-pound athlete may need 60 ounces of water daily (120÷2=60).

I tell Stillwater athletes that the key to staying hydrated is drinking water throughout the day. In the Playbook and during our sports nutrition talks, I encourage them to drink eight to 16 ounces of water first thing in the morning or at breakfast. Then, I tell them to carry a 24- to 32-ounce water bottle in their backpack to enable water consumption at school. By lunchtime, they should finish the water in the bottle and refill it for the rest of the day.

Before after-school practices or games, high school athletes should drink another 16 to 24 ounces of water, and then take in 16 to 24 additional ounces per hour of physical activity — or four to six ounces every 15 minutes. If they have a heavy practice or are playing in hot weather, more fluids may be needed.

Besides water, the second-best hydration option is milk. Specifically, chocolate milk is a great recovery beverage because it includes protein, carbohydrate, and potassium. Drinking chocolate milk 30 to 45 minutes after a practice or game will help replenish athletes’ glycogen stores and provide protein for muscle recovery.

To maximize buy-in, I stay away from extreme food rules. Instead, I describe to athletes how their food selections will impact their performance and endurance… The bottom line is that student-athletes want to do well in their sport. If that means not drinking soda or cutting back on junk food, they’ll do it.

In working with the Stillwater athletes, I have learned that they really enjoy sports drinks. Although I don’t recommend them as a primary source of hydration, I emphasize moderation if athletes really love them. The PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook explains that sports drinks should not be consumed with meals or snacks, and they are only appropriate during or after athletic activity. Even then, athletes should drink no more than 12 to 16 ounces in a session and only when the activity lasts longer than 90 minutes or when outdoor temperatures are high.

I’ve also discovered that some Stillwater athletes are fond of energy drinks, caffeinated beverages, and soda. Unlike sports drinks, these should be avoided at all costs. I tell athletes that these drinks spike their blood sugar and cause an energy crash, which can affect their performance. In addition, caffeinated beverages can make athletes jittery or anxious and interfere with sleeping habits.

Although there was some resistance at first, the Stillwater student-athletes have been very receptive to alternatives to sports drinks and sodas. In fact, the high school has plans to install a milk machine in its athletic hallway due to their positive response.


Once Stillwater athletes are fully informed about proper calorie, macronutrient, and hydration needs, I educate them on how to put it all together into a daily eating plan. Spreading meals and snacks properly throughout the day is important, and the PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook advises athletes to aim for three meals and three snacks per day to maintain their energy levels and concentration.

This begins with breakfast, which should include sources of both carbohydrate and protein. A go-to breakfast option for many high school athletes is cereal and juice. However, the high amount of carbohydrate in this meal will spike their blood sugar, causing energy levels to crash about 45 minutes later. Adding protein with Greek yogurt, a hard-boiled egg, string cheese, cottage cheese, or peanut or nut butter will give breakfast the staying power athletes need.

To maintain energy between meals, I encourage Stillwater athletes to bring healthy snacks to school, such as fruit, peanut butter or nut butter sandwiches or crackers, healthy trail mix, string cheese, and protein bars. They can eat them between classes and before their after-school practices or games.

When it comes to meal timing before and after competitions, the Playbook encourages Stillwater athletes to start early. Timing of meals and snacks will vary depending upon the athlete’s toleration to food before the event and should be adjusted accordingly. Here is a sample pre- and post-competition fueling plan:

• Four to five hours before the event: The athlete has a big meal consisting of 100 to 200 grams of carbs and 20 to 30 grams of protein. A good option is two cups of whole grain pasta with one cup of marinara sauce with meat, one breadstick, one cup of vegetables, one apple or one cup of fruit, and 16 ounces of low fat or skim milk.

• Two to three hours before the event: The athlete eats a lighter meal of 30 to 40 grams of carbs and seven to 14 grams of protein. This could include a turkey, tuna, or chicken breast sandwich with fruit and water.

• Half-hour to an hour before the event: The athlete has a small snack of 15 to 30 grams of carbs and no protein or fat, as these nutrients take a long time to be digested. A good choice is a piece of fruit or pretzels with eight to 16 ounces of water.

• Fifteen to 60 minutes after the event: The athlete gets a recovery snack or meal to replace lost fuel, repair damaged muscle, and stimulate new muscle tissue. A snack could be crackers with nut butter, low fat chocolate milk, and a banana, while a meal could consist of a rice bowl with beans, chicken, salsa, and avocado, and milk.


Despite my efforts to educate the Stillwater student-athletes about ideal nutrition and hydration practices, I have to frequently remind myself that they are still teenagers. This means I have to be flexible with some things and realize athletes aren’t always going to follow my instructions to the letter.

To maximize buy-in, I stay away from extreme food rules. Instead, I describe to athletes how their food selections will impact their performance and endurance. Explaining what will happen to their blood sugar and energy levels if they choose a candy bar and soda before a game instead of a snack with complex carbohydrate and protein — such as a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread and a glass of milk — will get the message across more clearly than saying, “Avoid all candy and soda.” The bottom line is that student-athletes want to do well in their sport. If that means not drinking soda or cutting back on junk food, they’ll do it.

In that same vein, I encourage Stillwater athletes to follow the “80/20 rule.” They should strive to eat healthy, nutrient-packed foods from the major food groups 80 percent of the time and limit sweets and treats to 20 percent of their food consumed.

The 80/20 rule also applies to when athletes are eating on the run, which is often the most difficult time for teens to eat healthy. I encourage Stillwater athletes to avoid fried foods or high-fat fast foods and instead choose sandwiches with grilled or lean meats and vegetables on whole grain buns, light pasta dishes with added vegetables, baked potatoes, fruit, milk, and water. In addition, I suggest they avoid soft drinks and sweetened beverages, such as lemonade, sweet teas, and sports drinks. Again, sports drinks should only be consumed during athletic events, not during meals or snacks.


Now several years into the PowerUp program, we’ve had a great deal of success. For the most part, the student-athletes, parents, and coaches have all responded in a positive manner.

Sport coaches have probably been most receptive, since they were eager to bring in an expert to present nutrition information to their teams. Many coaches have changed what beverages are offered at team dinners to reflect the information provided in the PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook — switching from soda and sports drink to milk and water.

We’ve found the best way to get new athletes on board is to make sure they hear about PowerUp from their peers. The strongest influence is when a teammate gives a testimonial about how eating a healthier and more balanced diet helped them in their own lives.

For instance, during a recent presentation to the high school and junior high football teams, two senior players described how following the PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook’s guidelines changed their eating habits and had a positive impact on their performance. One explained how he used to consume expensive protein drinks but realized he could get the same amount of protein from food instead. He started eating cottage cheese and drinking more milk to meet his protein needs and said he actually felt better and had more energy following this strategy.

The partnership between PowerUp and Stillwater continues to grow, and I look forward to helping many more student-athletes in the future. It takes a team to drive home the importance of healthy eating and the positive impact it will have on the student-athlete. With the Stillwater coaches, parents, and athletes on board, PowerUp can ensure that good nutrition for student-athletes is no longer on the sidelines.

For more information on PowerUp or the PowerUp Sports Nutrition Playbook, please visit:

To view references for this article, go to:

This article first appeared in the November 2016 issue of Training & Conditioning.



My work with Stillwater (Minn.) High School has expanded beyond bringing nutrition and hydration information to its student-athletes. Concessions offered at athletic events are also changing.

I am involved in a Student Health Advisory Committee within the Stillwater School District, which puts together the district’s Wellness Policy. Part of the policy is encouraging healthier food selections at the concession stands. Fortunately, this is something we believe the community supports — a survey of Stillwater student-athletes found 77 percent were in favor of more nutritious options at the school’s concessions.

To make changes, the Student Health Advisory Committee worked with Stillwater Athletic Director Ricky Michel. Last year, we conducted a pilot program to add healthier food items to concession stand menus, such as string cheese, fruit and yogurt parfaits, veggie cups with peanut butter or low-calorie dip, and milk. In addition, we reduced the amount of candy, soft drinks, and sports drinks offered.

The pilot was a success. Concession profits were not compromised, and feedback on the healthier selections was positive from athletes, coaches, and parents. Based on these results, Michel and the school district’s food service staff will be working together to discuss the logistics of continuing with these nutritious food items. It’s a work-in-progress for the 2016-17 school year, but it’s very exciting for the school district and continues to support the message that health and wellness is at the forefront for students.

Susan Crowell, MS, RD, LD, CDE, is a Registered Dietitian for HealthPartners Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minn., and serves as an advisor to PowerUp, a community-wide youth health and wellness initiative. She has been working with the Stillwater School District's nutrition counseling program since 1999. Crowell can be reached at: [email protected].

Shop see all »

75 Applewood Drive, Suite A
P.O. Box 128
Sparta, MI 49345
website development by deyo designs
Interested in receiving the print or digital edition of Training & Conditioning?

Subscribe Today »

Be sure to check out our sister sites: