Aug 7, 2020
Feeding the Student-Athlete: 4 Tips to Follow

The student-athlete at any age needs to intake enough fuel to be able to perform at a high level over an extended period of time.

But staying adequately fueled for athletic competition is more than just eating three square meals a day and throwing in a granola bar here and there.

Photo: Mark Bonica / Creative Commons

Jackie Barcal, IMG Academy’s head of nutrition, knows this. Overseeing the Florida boarding school where elite middle and high school athletes reside before tearing up the NCAA Division 1 ranks, Barcal took to WUSF News to share some advice on how to keep student-athletes fueled.

“When you’re training day in and day out, it’s really a game of recovery,” Barcal told WUSF News.

Below is an excerpt from the article where Barcal shares her eight tips.

1. Aim for baby steps, not perfection. The ultimate “performance plate” for student-athletes includes one-third each of whole grains, lean protein, and colorful fruits and vegetables. Help students set realistic nutritional goals, such as eating one additional fruit or vegetable per week. Plan for 18 nutrient-dense meals and three cheat meals per week. Even for adults, small portions of potato chips are fine occasionally. “Never eat straight out of the bag,” Barcal advised.

2. Eat early and often. “It’s not only about how much you eat but also when you eat,” Barcal said. Many students — and adults — eat little or nothing in the morning, then load up at night. “We call that a backward fueling pattern,” Barcal said.

» ALSO SEE: Sports Medicine Professional’s Advice on Youth Sports Returning

For stamina to fuel workouts and academics, students should set their phone alarm so they remember to eat every three to four hours.

3. Choose the right carbs. High-quality carbs provide energy for workouts and brainpower for academics. Instead of chips, candy and soda, encourage students to choose whole-grain pasta, brown rice, and whole-grain bread.

4. Pump up the protein. “The more you train, the more muscle breakdown you have,” Barcal said. Student-athletes should aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein every three or four hours, preferable from natural food sources rather than protein powders. High-quality protein sources include grilled chicken breasts, lean turkey, and steak, whose iron is especially important for female athletes. A serving is about the size of your palm. Dairy, eggs, and beans are good non-meat protein sources.

To read the full story from WUSF News on IMG Academy’s Jackie Barcal and her nutritional tips, click here

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