A Complete Nutrition Guide for High School Athletes

I’ve been a strength and conditioning coach for 20 years. I have seen a lot of trends, methods, etc. and have fielded thousands of questions from parents and athletes.  I would have to honestly say the majority of questions center around nutrition and supplements. People want to get bigger and stronger, now obviously this happens in the weight room – to a certain extent.  Early in each training cycle, I give our athletes the lecture on recovery. To me recovery is the key to getting bigger and stronger.  I tell this to my athletes in the weight room, and I tell it to the parents when they call, email, or stop me on the street. I put together this nutrition workout guide as a resource for teaching your students about recovery and nutrition.

For the most part, the athletes understand that if they come into the weight room and work hard they will see results, but they don’t always know why. It’s pretty easy to determine that if they are lifting more they are getting stronger, and probably a little bigger but again, that is only half the story. I love to see the look on their faces when I tell them that when they are in here working out they are actually getting weaker, and damaging their muscles. They look at me like I am standing on my head when I say this and begin to question me. I tell them that when they are in here they are breaking down their muscles and causing all kinds of microscopic damage to the muscles – and basically putting them through a meat grinder.


They ask “If we are getting weaker in here when are we getting stronger?”  This is where I set the hook.  I tell them that they are getting stronger at night in their beds when they are asleep.  This allows me to hit the two major aspects of recovery:  Sleep and nutrition. With proper nutrition and proper sleep, their bodies will repair the damage that has been done to the body. When sleep repairs it, it makes the body a little bit better and stronger each time.  However, I am quick to point out this only happens when they’re eating the right foods and getting enough sleep. The body cannot repair itself if it goes negative.

By going negative I mean working out and breaking tissue down.  So in order to get positive results, the athlete has to eat right and sleep right.  I tell them if they are not eating right and getting enough sleep they probably shouldn’t even be working out.  This freaks them out, “Not work out? Why?”  Three negatives: Lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and a workout can never equal a positive response.  This triad of sleep, nutrition, and training can start to paint a picture in their heads and get them thinking about these choices.

Choices Matter – Top Athletes are Committed to Diet/Sleep

The athletes that I work with are constantly making choices. I want to plant as many seeds in their heads. Hopeful that these seeds take hold and help them with these decisions. Commitment to training is easy. They show up, work with their team, and are pushed and pulled by their teammates throughout a session. Hopefully these kids are also helping each other stay out of trouble as well. However, lifestyle choices such as sleep and nutrition are a far more individual thing. Athletes have to be committed to improving their diet and getting sleep.

Sometimes this is something we need to share with the parents as well. This comes in the form of meal planning and having the athlete go shopping with parents to plan nutritional choices. We want to give our athletes and parents as much information as possible. Ultimately it comes down to them to work the plan.

Food – Eat Like your Grandparents Did

The best results are going to come from the best foods.  Home-cooked, prepared meals are the best for everyone.  I tell our people to avoid processed and packaged foods as much as possible, eat like your grandparents did.  This isn’t always possible but at least it gives the families something to shoot for or an idea of how to eat well.  There aren’t always the best foods readily available, but the athletes can make better choices of the foods that are available to them.  Avoid fried, fatty foods. I told this to a lineman one day, and he said that those are all the good ones!  I get it, it’s hard but it’s important.

If performance is what the kids are after then they need to see themselves as race cars and race cars require special fuel.

Nutrition workout guide will help your body run at top speed

Meals – Race Car Analogy

Eat Breakfast.  This is easy to say but far harder to do for our athletes.  The biggest reason I hear kids tell me they don’t eat breakfast is because they don’t have time.  I tell them to go to bed earlier and get the proper sleep so they can get up and eat.  Breakfast is the first fuel they are putting into the body, it also gets the metabolism going. I tell our athletes they should eat 6 smaller meals a day. Three of them coming before and after a school practice or a workout. Again, I use the race car analogy.  Race cars don’t have big fuel tanks. They don’t fill up 3 times a race – they have small fuel tanks and fill up multiple times a race.

Pre-Workout Nutrition

As a part of meal planning and eating, it is import to discuss what they need to put in. Carbs are not the enemy; bad carbs are the enemy. Carbs are the bodies preferred source of fuel, and it is important to eat the right ones. The athletes should try to substitute white breads for wheat and whole grain for example. Avoid refined sugar and other carbs that have a high glycemic index. These will spike energy levels and will follow with a deficit in energy. These meals prior to the workout are the fuel for the workout – eat smart and train hard! Make good choices throughout the day, nuts and fruits instead of chips and cookies. It is also important to drink a lot of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and recover better.

Post-Workout Nutrition

Following a workout, it is vital that athletes consume a post workout meal ASAP.  The sooner the better, I encourage my athletes to have their recovery shake or meal with them here at school.  I tell our athletes to get their recovery in as early as 30 minutes. This is because the window of recovery starts closing down and I don’t want them to miss out.  Before school is easy as many of them are quite hungry because they eat little to nothing before a workout. We have recovery shakes and bars available in our facility, our school lunch lines are also open.

It take planning and scheduling to wrap up workouts, get ready for classes, and get a recovery meal in. This goes for our after school athletes as well. Many of them head home after a workout. I still encourage them to get a recovery meal in prior to leaving as that one hour can go quickly. This is going to be more of a protein based meal/snack, as well as carbs.  Leaving a workout and heading to fast food is a very poor decision.  Eating foods that are not nutrient dense, especially right after a workout is a poor decision. Fast food or junk food in general are empty calories. They may fill an athlete up but there is little to no nutritional value in the food – thus empty.

Recovery Drink Options 

For programs that have recovery drinks on hand, there are a couple of great resources and products out there for you:

Critical Reload
  • Gatorade has a coach’s sideline pack that works pretty well. Coaches can order a variety of protein shakes and bars that keep well and the athletes love them.  They are a bit high in sugar – but if athletes are working out hard, they are burning carbs.
  • The other big player in High Schools across the country is Critical Reload. This product is fantastic, has lower sugar, and allows schools to set up a fundraising option.  We provide both of these as options at Wayzata.

For those that do not have the option of providing recovery drinks, you have a couple of options as well.  We worked with the schools’ vending company to stock a machine near the weight room with very healthy snacks. These included a lot of protein shakes as well as nuts and even beef jerky.  This has been good for our athletes.

A while back, I visited our high school cafeteria and recorded the nutritional information of a carton of chocolate milk and a single serving of a Smuckers Uncrustable peanut butter and jelly sandwich. One serving of fat free chocolate milk contained 140 cal, 27g Carb, and 8g Protein. One serving of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich contained 320 cal, 33g Carb, 9g of Protein, and 16g of Fat. The totals for this recovery meal are 460 cal, 60g Carb, 17g protein, 16g Fat. The cost is a grand total of $1.20. I see no interference on behalf of any national, state, or school administration policies recommending this nutritional meal as a recovery. Other than if you dairy or nut allergy,


Athletes could also eat this meal between classes or after a workout as a source of weight gain. An alternative, or just another option, may include substituting 3oz serving of tuna which contains approximately 150 calories and 25 grams protein. The other additional bonus is that our lunch room carries this food on its ala carte line so it is readily available any time the ala carte line is open. Our school day is over at [3:10], and our after-school training program runs from [3:10][4:30].  Many of our athletes stop by the ala carte line and buy 2 of each. This means they have a snack prior to training and then another immediately after our training session.  This provides 920 cal, 120g Carb, 34g Protein, and 32g Fat for $2.40. This money comes from their school lunch accounts.

Obviously, some recovery options work better than others depending on the situation you are in.  Athletes need to be educated about the importance of sleep and nutrition in general; but, I think with summer upon us and with all the camps and extra work being put in, this is a fantastic opportunity to spend some more time educating them as well as fueling them throughout the day.

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