SAGE Nutrition Director Leslie Vogel experienced an “aha” moment when delivering a presentation on sports nutrition to athletes, after which they responded, “That’s great, but what should we eat in the dining hall? What should I have on the bus as a snack when we’re going to a volleyball match three hours away?”
It was then that Vogel noticed a disconnect and the need for a game plan that allowed dining services at SAGE school accounts to huddle up with coaches and athletic departments to help guide athletes’ choices.
“We put together a program that included all the basics of game day and everyday nutrition for athletes,” Vogel says. “They learn about a lot of other things in school, why not nutrition?”
SAGE district managers and the rest of the nutrition team have spent the last year and a half developing new performance-focused menu items and a catering guide for coaches to order from (rather than the ever-popular chicken finger/pepperoni pizza pregame routine that happens before many high school football games).
One of Vogel’s first challenges was finding an alternative to the brightly colored, chemical-laden sports drinks favored by many coaches and student athletes to replace electrolytes.
“As a dietitian, I’m looking at a bright blue sports drink and it’s not filled with ingredients that are necessarily geared towards fueling the body well,” Vogel says. “But if you’re sweating profusely and you’ve lost electrolytes, a sports drink is appropriate.”
The newly developed sports drinks are made with nothing but filtered water, fruit juice, pure cane sugar and salt, providing hydration, energy and electrolytes for pre- or post-activity use. Since the SAGE nutrition team tested the drinks for both effectiveness and taste, student athletes have been happily chugging them.
“I was surprised…I didn’t know kids would be so attentive when we pointed out all the funky ingredients in commercial sports drinks,” Vogel says. “The idea of clean labels is really resonating especially with the younger athletes. They’re realizing that a sports drink doesn’t have to be neon to get the job done.”
The new housemade sports bar is made with just oats, sunflower seed butter, sunflower seeds, sweetened dried cranberries, orange zest, orange juice, coconut, cinnamon and salt. This combination of ingredients provides the recommended four-to-one carbohydrate-to-protein ratio for muscle recovery after training and performance.
The new sports menu items follow the nutritional recommendations of the International Olympic Committee, the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Dietetic Practice Group and the NCAA.
“We make sure we’re using research-based data, not random things you find on the internet,” Vogel says.
Caloric counts aren’t part of the program, as athletes in different sports with different body types can have vastly different needs.
“Michael Phelps may be eating 12,000 calories a day, but that’s not right for a high school athlete…there’s not a one-size-fits all category for calories,” Vogel explains.
Coaches and athletic directors at the SAGE school accounts where the program is growing “are happy to have this information to share with athletes and not only get better performance out of them, but to have this education piece that can help them if they go on to play college sports,” Vogel says.
“Overall, our coaches and athletic directors are really happy to have guidance so they’re not taking a stab in the dark on what’s going to be the best meal for the athletes,” she adds. “Now they can ask us, ‘What should the kids eat on the bus ride to the meet and what should they eat afterwards to replenish?’ With our new catering guide, we can make recommendations and give them options based on research.”
Next, SAGE is looking at an idea for “performance plates,” everyday offerings that incorporate necessary nutrients for student athletes, because, after all, the pizza and chicken fingers are still going to be there, so helping athletes choose wisely on their own is another part of the program.