Most athletes use off-season training as the time for building skills and increasing strength. While this is a great time for athletes to focus on speed, strength, and endurance, there's no shortage of misinformation on how to achieve these goals... especially when it comes to growing athletes.
Which four myths do athletes ask about most often?
1. Increasing muscle strength requires increases in protein. Though there is some truth to this since athletes are spending more time in the gym, the crucial point that's often missed is that protein needs are still determined by age, weight, and activity. Choosing "high protein" shakes, drinks, snacks without knowing your individual needs could lead to- basically- really expensive pee.
And, if carbohydrate intake isn't sufficient, protein can't do its endless jobs... including muscle growth and repair.
Protein is important, but it still has- by percentage- the smallest macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, fat) requirement.
2. Athletes need to increase calories to gain weight. Sure, this is physiology, calorie surplus leads to weight gain. But, it doesn't mean it's the weight we're looking for. More ice cream and fried foods will give them calories, but it won't provide the right nutrients to facilitate strength, endurance, and growth.
Just as importantly, nutrient-dense foods support immunity and reduce risk of injury.
3. Supplements will provide the extra nutrients athletes need. Ugh. This is my hot topic. While supplements can absolutely have their place, keep in mind that this nearly $150 billion industry is unregulated.... which means not only is there risk for contamination (including banned substances), there's also a high risk for those with food allergies. But the biggest concern... nearly all of the products- and their ingredients- are rarely, if ever, tested on kids (essentially anyone under 21).
Nutritional needs definitely change as activity levels and goals change. But, meeting these nutrient changes through real foods not only provides key vitamins and minerals for strength, recovery, and endurance, they also prepare and facilitate the body's future growth.
4. Catching up on sleep over the weekend makes up for poor sleep during the week. Unfortunately, we can't really "make up" for poor quality sleep. But, the fact remains that during sleep is when the body rests, recovers, and grows; yet, most teenagers aren't getting their needed 8-10 hours of sleep.
The good news, though, is that recent studies show that growing teens receive the same benefits of sleeping 8-10 hours within a 24 hour period as they do sleeping 8-10 hours in a row.
So even if sleep hours are compromised due to sports, work, and school, adding a nap or two during the day can provide the rest needed to activate growth and strength.
If you're expecting to utilize off-season training to prepare for next season, then let's ensure their nutritional plan meets their needs and goal. Building their strength, improving focus, and increasing their endurance starts well before they walk into the gym or the rink.
*author note: portions of this piece were originally posted in my piece shown on Hockey Horizons.