Health & Fitness

Nutrition elevates high school athletes' game

DETROIT — It has been only a few weeks, but already Richard Hudson can see a difference. He can feel it, too.

A junior at West Bloomfield (Mich.) High School, Richard decided he needed to change his eating habits before football season next fall.

So he and his father dropped by a seminar last month at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield, to learn more about how making the right nutrition choices could improve his performance and help fuel his recovery after workouts.

The talk was geared to high school athletes, their parents and coaches, so Richard wasn't the only one hoping to be enlightened.

Right off the top, Richard, 17, knew he was consuming too much junk food. He gave up chips, salsa and pop.

Then he made sure he was starting his day with a healthier breakfast, like oatmeal or cereal and a piece a fruit.

He also began eating smaller meals throughout the day. Most important, though, he drank more fluids — specifically water.

"I just decided to make the transition, to eat more balanced meals," he said.

It wasn't long before he noticed a difference in himself, inside and out.

"Before, I didn't want to work out because I felt tired, almost like I was slowing down at the end of the day — and I wasn't gaining muscle," Richard said. "Now, I feel like I have more energy and I can lift more and run longer."

It's no surprise that many high school athletes don't take their nutrition needs as seriously as they should.

"I work with so many different athletes, and it seems like no matter what the sport, there are some common concerns amongst them — and a lot of things that could be remedied by eating healthier and paying closer attention to hydration," said Jeanne Stevenson, registered dietitian at the Center for Athletic Medicine at Henry Ford Health System.

Stevenson works with athletes from high school and college to Olympians and pros.

Stevenson was once a high school athlete herself — she played basketball in the early 1970s at Sacred Heart in Dearborn, Mich. —and when she looks back, she often remembers how tired she was in the fourth quarter.

"Now I know what I needed then was something to eat," she said. "There's been a lot of research done in this area and we know what can help, whereas before we didn't. We used to not drink (water) during practice. We had no idea, nobody did — it was kind of a thought that you were mentally tough if you didn't drink."

"That's old thinking.

"Drinking enough fluids is the most important thing you can do."

How do you know if you're drinking enough? Take a look at the color of your urine: The darker it is, the more you need to drink.

"You should drink before you feel thirsty," said Amy Gluck, supervisor of Clinical Nutrition Serves at Henry Ford Hospital. "Once you feel thirsty, you're 2 percent dehydrated."

Many high school athletes grew up playing sports such as soccer, and it was customary to head straight for the sliced oranges at halftime. Stevenson is glad that ritual is still going strong.

"I think it's great, for several reasons," she said. "It's fluid — there's quite a bit of water in an orange — and it's a good source of nutrients: vitamin C, potassium and fiber."