If you were to talk to the athletes on your team, you'd find that most of them want to increase lean muscle mass, strength and speed while decreasing body fat. Then, if you were to ask them what steps they are taking to reach these goals, a majority of them would say they are lifting weights and performing speed training. Unfortunately, few are taking the necessary nutritional steps to reach their goals.
The Missing Link
Many athletes are unaware that the missing link in developing a muscular, athletic physique is proper nutrition. They muscle out that last rep or push through every sprint—but it's all in vain if they grab takeout at a fast food joint on their way home. Your body is like a high performance vehicle. Without the proper fuel, it won't perform up to its potential, and it may even break down on the side of the road.
Proper nutrition makes all the pieces come together. Many athletes resist eating right, based on a common misconception that they'd have to cut out foods they like—which are generally not so healthy—in favor of tasteless "diet food." This isn't entirely true. Proper nutrition isn't as much about eliminating foods as it is about the timing of meals, the quality of the food and the size of the portions.
A great goal is to eat healthy about 85 to 90 percent of the time. For athletes, this means high quality lean meats, fish, whole grains, fibrous vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy and plenty of water. Organic foods are preferable; but if they are unavailable or too expensive, at least try to eat minimally-processed foods. The goal of proper nutrition is to deliver adequate nutrients to the body at the appropriate times to increase metabolism, fuel activity and aid in muscular growth and repair.
Three food type comprise a balanced meal: carbohydrates, fats and proteins. The first two are used primarily for energy, while protein is used mainly for muscular growth and repair. A healthy meal should consist of approximately 50 percent carbohydrates, 25 percent fats and 25 percent protein.
Meals should be spaced two to three hours apart, and portions should be kept small to moderate in size. The era of three square meals a day is over. Now it's five or six small meals a day. By eating in this manner, you will supply your body with only enough nutrients to fuel itself for a short duration. When the three-hour period is almost over, you should consume another small meal, providing sufficient nutrients to fuel another three-hour period. This process makes your metabolism speed up while you reduce excess calories. You never go into starvation mode. As a result, your body uses calories more efficiently, your energy levels are higher and you can lose weight.
Think of your metabolism as a fire. By eating small, frequent meals, the fire is continuously stoked and the flames always burn hot and even. If you miss a meal, the fire dies down. When you dump a pile of wood on the embers, it takes a long time to get the flames going again.
The body of an elite athlete is a high performance vehicle. Hit your training hard to increase your engine size and horsepower, keep your tank full, use high quality fuel and you will leave the competition in the rear view mirror!
Rich Stoner is the owner and operator of Elite Basketball Training, LLC and the director of college advancement for THR College Planning and Recruiting. As a USAW sports performance coach and basketball skill development trainer, he has worked with basketball players and athletes from all sports and at all levels. His goal is to provide athletes with the tools to take their game to the next level.