The Performance Triangle by Mike Hays
(2003 article published in Gridiron Strategies. I know this is long for a blog post, but it contain some good information)
The Performance Triangle: Fueling Athletes for Peak Performance“Coach, I’m tired all the time. What can I take to help me get some energy?”
“Will supplements help my son get a college scholarship?”
“Coach, what do you think about this Rocket Boost Shake ad I found in my latest Tons of Muscle magazine?”
As coaches, we may hear these questions or similar question from our athletes or their parents. How do we answer these questions? What advice do we give to best insure the long-term health of the athletes, yet help them to an improved level of performance? Several years ago, we were faced with this dilemma when some of our top athletes asked questions like the ones above. Basically, they wanted to gain size and increase energy levels. We decided to have the players keep a journal to record their diets for a week. They would write down what they had eaten, drank and their daily amount of sleep, while I would do some research into supplements and performance nutrition. I sat down with the wealth of information I had found and the journals from the players, excited over the chance to apply cutting edge technologies to our situation. My bubble quickly burst upon reading the journals. Their diets were loaded with fast food, snack food, were basically without fruits and vegetables and soda appeared to be the primary fluid source. The realization quickly became evident: We didn’t need cutting edge technology, we needed to re-educate these kids about basic nutrition and try to make them understand the importance of good nutrition upon athletic performance. We developed a plan that focuses on our performance triangle: hydration, nutrition and rest. We present this plan during the summer conditioning period to all participants then try to preach and teach these three principles throughout the season. Now, when players or parents ask these questions or show interest in supplements, my advice is simple. Keep yourself hydrated, eat right and get enough rest. If the athlete is still having problems after following the performance triangle then maybe they should see their physician about supplementation. But, by spending the money on supplements without following the performance triangle, they are, literally, throwing their money down the toilet.
The Performance Triangle
The adult male body consists of about 60% water, the adult female about 55%. Plain and simple, we lose water constantly, even at rest, so water must be replaced. For example, hold your palm or a small mirror in front of your mouth and exhale. The water vapor you see or feel is water lost through normal respiration. We lose about 250 milliliters of water daily just through breathing. With normal activity levels, estimates are that the body loses about 2.5 liters per day. That is water that must be replaced. Water functions to maintain normal homeostasis, or steady state, by cleaning/removing toxins, moving all the nutrients and minerals required for metabolism and providing the proper aqueous environment for the body’s biochemical reactions. We need to have an optimal level of hydration for proper ionic balance, for proper muscle contraction/relaxation and for the myriad of neurochemical and physiochemical reactions taking place in our bodies every second. A recommended rule of thumb for general health suggests a minimum of 8 eight-ounce glasses of water per day. Athletes and other physically active individuals should aim for a minimum of 12-8ounce glasses of water daily. In games, scrimmages or physically strenuous prolonged periods of activity, it is a good idea to supplement water with a carbohydrate and electrolyte source, like a sport drinks. Do not rely on the thirst mechanism to monitor hydration levels. This reflex is not an efficient mechanism. By the time the thirst mechanism is triggered the body is already in a dehydrated state. Athletes should be taught to monitor their urination patterns, which is more effective than reliance on the thirst mechanism. Urination should be at regular, frequent intervals and be pale yellow in color. Deep yellow or long periods of time between bathroom visits are signs of dehydration.
We preach water consumption through the entire season, starting with summer conditioning. We try to instill the importance of keeping one’s self properly hydrated seven days a week, 24 hours a day, not just before practice or on game day. At checkout each fall, each athlete is given a new 20-ounce bottle of water. They label the bottle with their name and are held responsible for it the entire season. Starting with two-a-days, each player must weight-in before practice and weigh out after practice. They record their weights and the difference between pre and post practice weights on a wall chart. For each pound lost, we try to replace with 20-ounces of water. We are strict we our enforcement of this program and in the past, we have seen good habits forming usually 2-3 weeks into the season. Sprint penalties are given to those who do not record their weights. Players with a greater than 4 pound loss during a practice session must visit with a coach, supervised through their water replacement, assessed to current state of health (nauseous, weak, dizziness, etc.) and advised to eat a well balanced meal with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. This year, we are going to incorporate a new idea, the “Take 10” program. We are going to try and get the athletes to take 10 swallows of water each time they pass a water fountain during each school day.
The Performance Triangle
2. Performance Nutrition
In order for a body to perform at a peak level of performance, it must be properly fueled at an optimal level. An entire industry has been built around the athlete’s desire and need for the perfect performance diet. The products, advertisements and shoptalk touting the latest and greatest new discoveries constantly bombard us, creating confusion and the “magic pill” culture we deal with on a daily basis. Realistically, most of these products show positive effects only in a very small population of elite athletes, athletes who train at an extremely high intensity. Fortunately, amidst all the confusion, the path to effective performance nutrition is a relatively simple. A well-known path that is grounded in the principles of a balanced diet that follows the guidelines set by the USDA in the food pyramid. Most high school athletes have exposure and training into the basics of the food pyramid. With this great foundation already in place to build on, the trick is to get the athletes to follow the principles.
For performance and function, the human body requires both macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) and micronutrients (water, vitamins and minerals), each at appropriate levels to produce and store the energy molecules necessary for physical activity. Surpassingly and shocking, these macro- and micronutrients are not found exclusively in designer powders, pills, bars or shakes, but are found in the regular foods on the cupboard or on supermarket shelves. Let’s take a closer look at the macro and micronutrients and some of the recommended ratios for fueling athletic performance.
Carbohydrates should constitute about 65% of the diet. They are the primary source of energy in the body for short term, high intensity activity. Complex carbohydrates, found in foods from the bottom two layers of the food pyramid (breads, grains, pasta, fruits and vegetables), should make up the majority of the diet. After strenuous activity, carbohydrates should be consumed as soon as possible to help the body refuel and recover faster.
About 20% of the diet should come from fat. Fat is an important energy source for long term, low intensity activity. The majority of the fat in the diet should be from unsaturated fats, like those found in vegetable or fish oils. Check the labels on foods to insure that the fat content is around 20% and that it is unsaturated fat.
Protein should constitute about 15% of the diet. The average American diet contains ample amounts of protein. One of the important functions of protein in the body is to rebuild and repair muscle; it plays only a small part as an energy source in prolonged low intensity activity. Excess protein in the body in excreted as a waste product or converted to fat and stored. For the majority of athletes, taking protein shakes and supplements above the 15% level IS throwing money down the toilet.
Vitamins and minerals are important as they help in the chemical reactions of food metabolism and energy production. A balanced diet that follows the food pyramid guidelines, along with proper water intake, should provide sufficient amounts of essential micronutrients. Some vitamin supplementation, especially with Vitamin B12, may be necessary with the vegetarian athlete.
It is always a good idea to consult a physician or a registered dietician prior to make major changes in diet or training programs. The advice of a registered dietician, especially one with a sports nutrition background, can be of tremendous help is designing and implementing a healthy, balanced performance diet. Many hospitals employ a registered dietician on their staff that may be willing to assist with any nutritional questions or concerns. Also, a physician can suggest a registered dietician in your area.
When athletes are trying to gain weight by increasing total daily caloric intake or trying to lose weight by decreasing total daily caloric intake, it is extremely important that the 65% carbohydrate, 20% fat and 15% protein ratios still be followed or adjusted to reflect the total daily caloric intake. For example, an athlete wants to gain weight by increasing daily caloric intake 500 calories. The athlete should not add all 500 additional calories with carbohydrate sources alone, but should try to add about 325 (65%) of calories from carbohydrates, 100 (20%) of calories from fats and 75 (15%) of calories from protein to stay within the proper ratio of macronutrients.
The Performance Triangle
Rest is often the X factor in sports performance, especially with the high school athlete. It is during periods of rest that the body has a chance to adequately replenish its energy resources, recover and rebuild itself. The body must be allowed the time to recover from the physical stress and previous energy expenditure in order to be able to start the next physical activity at an optimal level. Mental and physical weariness can lead to injury or critical mistakes. The amount of rest needed as daily sleep, between activities or between sets in training varies from individual to individual. As a general rule of thumb, about eight hours of sleep per night, 48-72 hours between strenuous activities and 3-5 minutes between workout sets are good places to start. We try to stress that idea that rest guidelines, like hydration and nutrition, must be adhered to on a daily basis. Staying up until 2:00 AM all week can’t be balanced out with 30 hours of sleep over the weekend.
We feel that teaching our athletes the principles of the Performance Triangle: hydration, nutrition and rest gives them a basic education on the importance of properly fueling the body for peak athletic performance. At the same time, we feel that it presents skills that can help them develop excellent lifestyle habits. The program falls within our coaching philosophy to give our athletes the opportunity to grow and improve without doing any long-term harm. We believe the program allows athletes to build a solid physical foundation based on healthy principles and not upon the “magic potion” ideology they are bombarded with in our culture.
Asanovich, M.: 2002, Dietary Supplementation: Fact or Fallacy, www.coachsos.com, Training Section Article.
Stone, M.H.: 1994, Nutrition Factors in Performance and Health, In: Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, ed. Baechle, T., 1st edition, Human Kinetics.
Barnes, M.: 2002, Nutrition and Football, www.coachsos.com, Training Section Article.
Bonci, L.: Fluids: Drink Up or Drop Out, www.nflhs.com, Safety and Health Section Article.
Bonci, L.: 2001, Lingering Myths, Training and Conditioning, Vol. 11, No. 6.
Kleiner, S.M.: 1997, Eating for Peak Performance, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, Vol. 25, No. 10.
Kleiner, S.M.: 1999, Checking What Goes In the Tank, Training and Conditioning, Vol. 9, No. 3.
Riley, D., Wright, R: Houston Texans Strength and Conditioning Program Manual, www.houstontexans.com.
USDA Nutrition and Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 5th edition, 2000.