In 1969 a Saturday morning cartoon series and it’s like named band, “The Archies” debuted a new single: Sugar Sugar. Incredibly it quickly vaulted past the Rolling Stones ‘Honky Tonk Women’ into #1 on the billboard charts and would stay there for 4 weeks.. It would go on to become the #1 song of the year and one of the all time most popular tunes of the bubblegum era.
Forty years later, that song is on my mind once again. Why? Well for starters there’s this; I was reading this week about Michelangelo and his famed sculpture of ‘David’ which has been on loan to the US for the past two years. Michelangelo’s sixteenth century work of the famed biblical hero ‘David’ has been proudly on display in Washington DC, but his US tour had come to an end.
And apparently ‘David’ returned to Florence this week accompanied by a note of thanks from the US federal government. The note went on to thank the corporate sponsors of ‘David’s’ tour of America: McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Coca Cola, Taco Bell, KFC, Quizno’s, Denny’s, Applebee’s and Pepsi.
Curators went on to say that “David” was a hit with local eateries and that he’d thoroughly enjoyed his time spent promoting these sponsors and their local outlets.
Now I know, like you I realized too late that I’d been had when I scanned down the page and saw the photo of how ‘David’ appeared following his wonderful two year stay here in the good ol’ USA. But it was a graphic reminder of a topic that has intrigued me this summer.
I have watched literally hundreds, if not thousands of college athletes train over my 4 decades long affiliation with college hockey. As we parents and former athletes now in our 50′s or 40′s know, a lot has changed. Highly skilled strength and conditioning coaches abound as do state of the art weight rooms and equipment. Slide boards, skating treadmills and dozens of other training devices are constantly being worked and reworked to the athletes advantage. New facilities are coming on line every year that offer specialized training instruction and access to fascinating development regimens and the newest ideas about how to make significant improvements. The end result is we are seeing the overall strength and fitness levels of our athletes improve.
However I continue to be amazed at how little attention is paid by todays athlete to one subject that can have the greatest performance impact: diet. Now the word ‘diet’ by itself is a word filled with mixed messages, conjuring up all sorts of imagined “ills” or negative thoughts.
So let’s make a better choice and use the word: fuel. It works because the auto analogy when it comes to athletics is perfect. Would it make a whole lot of sense to spend time ‘rebuilding’ the engine if you intended to dump some sludge into the fuel tank?
Yet despite the fact that most college athletes know a whole lot more about training methods than we could even dream of 40 years ago, we probably ‘fueled’ ourselves better simply because we weren’t bombarded by all the processed garbage that our kids are today. Amazingly, while the kids I meet today are well educated and often disciplined about how to train, the majority still know little to nothing about how to ‘fuel’ their bodies.
Why? Why in an era when so much is being written and available on line? Why when we absolutely know for certain that the fuel we consume plays an enormous role in how we feel, how we perform and how we recover? I don’t have the answer, but I’m intrigued why a ‘dietician’ would have to explain the meaning of complex carbs versus simple carbs, or the difference between cane sugar/sucrose and fructose or HFCS – high fructose corn syrup to a group of elite college athletes?
I say this not because I’m an expert, rather because I’ve watched the dramatic impact that ‘fuel’ has on my college athletes. If performance is critical to an athlete, then why would they only educate themselves on how to build a bigger engine? Wouldn’t an elite athlete want to understand which fuel generates the best performance? Which fuel makes them run lean and mean versus a fuel that makes them feel like they’ve got sand bags in their trunk?
Here’s 3 simple concepts that the majority of college athletes seem “NOT” to understand or grasp:
1. Sugar. Fast becoming the most abused substance in our culture; the average person consumes a cup a day or 175 pounds a year of sugar.
Recent studies have linked sugar to almost every imaginable illness, poor mental performance and poor physical recovery. Sugar is addictive and the effect it has on body chemistry, alarming.
I venture to say that most athletes have no idea how much sugar is in the food they eat under the illusion of eating ‘healthy’. Sugar is woven into almost every processed food product at the grocery store. You name it, it has sugar.
If you could change one thing about what you eat, I’d urge you to skip every aisle in your grocery store and only buy foods that are on the stores perimeter. Period.
2. Processed Foods & White Flour. The second most harmful performance altering ‘fuel’ source for an athlete who needs to perform is consuming anything processed and anything made from white flour. These are simple carb time bombs that your body converts instantly into, you guessed it, sugar.
Every athlete MUST be aware of WHY ‘complex carbs’ are critical to fueling their engine.
Vegetables, legumes, whole grain breads, brown rice, wheat pasta and other complex carbohydrate food sources are critical.
3. Learn to eat ‘live’ foods. If it wasn’t ever ‘alive’ then it probably isn’t a good fuel source. Fish, meat, beans, nuts, berries, vegetables, fruit and other live food sources need to become as important to you to eat as going to practice or working out.
Having watched our athletes for decades now I have to admit that while there is more ‘info’ out there about what constitutes ‘good fuel’, there is also a whole lot more lousy food substitutes being thrust into our kids faces than when we were growing up. Fuel is as important to a young athlete, if not more so, than any training program, training device or instructional series. Over time, an athlete that fuels intelligently and with discipline has an enormous advantage over their peers. I’ve seen this first hand with our student athletes at UNH and can’t overstate the role it plays in their development.