It probably would not surprise most parents to know that their high school athletes are not eating the right foods to ensure the proper growth of their bodies and stellar performance on the field.

What they might not realize is the important role their kids’ coaches play in getting them to drop their low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet in favor of one that can accommodate the hormonal changes and rapid physical growth that occurs during the teen years.

According to nutritionists, 65 percent of teen athletes daily nutritional intake should come from carbohydrates including a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. In addition, teen athletes should limit their intake of processed carbohydrates such as donuts.

Where do coaches come in? Researchers for the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism studied how much 47 high school coaches knew about nutrition and graded the quality of the nutritional practices they recommended to their teenage athletes.

Sixty percent of the coaches said they were smart when it comes to nutrition and over half of them said their major source for nutritional information was the Internet. The coaches who held a college degree were most likely to recommend a high-carb diet to their athletes when compared to the coaches who held a high school diploma.

The study also found less than half of the coaches recommended a high-carb diet. Instead, they encouraged a high-protein diet because they believe that improves athletic performance.

But that belief has no medical basis. Proteins are important for maintaining both lean body mass, muscle growth and recovery. They are also used to rebuild muscles, but not as an energy source for muscles. The body does not store proteins for energy and they are simply not needed for athletic performance. In contrast, carbohydrates optimize energy in teen athletes.

It boils down simply to this: In order to increase their performance, high school athletes need a diet that is rich in carbs. When they are on the field, they use carbohydrates their bodies have stored as a fuel source for their energy needs.

The study concluded that coaches themselves need more nutritional education and that sports teams should work with a registered dietician. Coaches should also be encouraged to get their nutritional information from reputable sources.
Other studies have also concluded that coaches push proteins as an energy source; buy into other food myths and recommend low-fat diets.