Sports in high school and college are American traditions and the backbone of many communities. They can be great for kids to learn to be healthy, be a team player, and stress the importance of education. A close friend of mine has a son who received a full four year scholarship based on football. He now will receive a free education that can take him anywhere.
However with all of the great benefits come some drawbacks. Fitness and health seem to go hand in hand with athletics. There are some questionable and even disturbing realities that exist with sports on the high school and college levels. This is not meant to diminish these athletic programs but rather to bring to light some important issues. I will discuss three that I feel are most important.
You are what you eat is one of the greatest truths ever conceived. Poor health, disease, and obesity can all be predicates of a poor diet. This goes back to what I mentioned about my friend and his son. The name of the school is unimportant, but I learned some interesting facts regarding the nutrition of these players. It seems that several restaurant establishments donate food to the football program. This is very commendable and shows a great sense of community. It's always nice to see big business giving back. However two particular foods provided to the players are fried chicken and pizza.
There is a lot of money and opportunity involved in college sports. So why would it be acceptable for the players to be eating foods like this? Coaches and athletic staff should be stressing the importance of proper nutrition to get the most out of their players and maintain their health. This is especially important at the college level. These players are likely putting in twelve to eighteen hour days between classes, practices, games, and employment. It is important that they maintain proper nutrition to be able to manage busy schedules and the physical demands put on them. This will not only optimize their health on and off the field, but give them a basis of good health and fitness for life. This is especially important for those who make it to the professional level.
Fried chicken, pizza, and all of the alike have their place. I am a big proponent of cheat days as long as they are kept as cheat days and not a base diet. The idea that these players "work it off" is wrong on so many levels. Sure they are establishing a caloric deficit due to their intense training, but "working it off" does not equal healthy. If you have kids playing sports, are a staff member for an athletic team, or even if you are a player, make a conscious effort to implement proper nutrition into the game. The right food/fuel will be your greatest asset in success on and off the field.
I am a big supporter of supplements and a self-professed supplement junkie. Supplements can do wonders for your health and gym performance. This however is only true if they are used the right way. The key here is the definition of SUPPLEMENT. These products supplement and/or support proper nutrition, healthy habits, and exercise.
Once upon a time I worked at a major supplement retailer. In that time I heard it all regarding people's health goals and supplement usage. I heard stuff as crazy as people going to foreign countries to buy banned and dangerous products just to achieve their goals. The thing that disturbed me most though was the parents coming in saying "my son's coach said he needs to use______." Go ahead and insert any of a half dozen performance supplements. Granted these were all safe supplements but two things are wrong here.
Certain supplements work in conjunction with the endocrine and central nervous system of the body. They provide safe and effective assistance to things like muscular hypertrophy (increase in size) and thermogenesis (the production of heat that affects metabolism and fat oxidation.) The human body is not fully developed until about the early twenties. Substances that influence developing systems of the body can be dangerous. There is a reason many workout supplements have disclaimers stating that they are intended for those over age eighteen. Your fifteen year old son or daughter does not need these supplements. I generally recommend only a multivitamin and a straight protein powder for those under eighteen.
Your son or daughter's coach has no right and possibly no ability to recommend supplements to them. Their job is to teach your kids the skills of their chosen sport. It is highly irresponsible for them to recommend kids take anything. Even if they are qualified to make such recommendations, they should not be making them to you or your kids, especially at the high school level or younger.
Sports are a very competitive endeavor by nature. However at the high school level kids should play for the love of the game and nothing more. A high school coach or athletic staff should not promote the use of any product to gain any type of edge. As stated, this can cause developmental issues and health issues. The coach does not do the testing that a certified trainer or licensed physician does, so they have no basis for recommendation. Finally this gives kids the wrong impressions. At such a young and impressionable age the idea of enhancing performance can easily be misinterpreted and skewed and lead to the use of unsafe and illegal performance enhancing drugs.
Over Doing It
As previously stated sports are competitive in nature. Of course the goal is to win, but it should not be at any cost. High school and college athletics come in conjunction with classes, home work, study, and even part or full time jobs. Exhaustion is a very real reality to these kids. It is vital that everyone get enough sleep each day, at least eight hours. Sleep is when your body is able to maintain itself and make necessary repairs. Lack of proper sleep can lead to anything from poor mental and physical performance to serious health ailments. And in our caffeinated world, coffee and energy drinks are no substitute for quality sleep.
Rest is also important in the healing of injury or the treatment of illness. If you've ever had the flu I'm sure you spent the better part of two to three days in bed mostly sleeping. The reason for this is your body is working hard to overcome the illness. The same goes for injury. There is no such thing as working through it. Winning should never come at the cost of aggravating an existing injury.
Think about your favorite professional athlete. They have possibly sustained injury and had to sit out one or more games. The team's staff is very conscious of this because the player is a commodity. If he is making 5 million dollars he is an investment. It's good business to let him sit out and heal as opposed to aggravating an injury and possibly not being able to play anymore. School sports don't have that financial demand but they have a responsibility to insure players enter and exit the field in the safest and most healthy manner possible. Don't win at all costs. Be well at all costs instead.