Nutrition tips from a pro at IMG Academy

Nutrition tips from a pro at IMG Academy

You hear it all the time — getting into shape and staying in shape requires more than just working out, it requires sustaining a healthy and balanced diet.

It may sounds easy, but for most young athletes accomplishing the task of eating healthy is extremely tough.  Jackie Barcal, Head of Nutrition at IMG Academy, has worked with a number of athletes through her years and knows what a good diet looks like inside and out. In order to help get you on track with your diet, we spoke with Barcal to find out more.

TT: Trent Tetzlaff, Training Writer.

JB: Jackie Barcal, Head of Nutrition at IMG Academy.

TT: Could you explain how important proper nutrition is for a young athlete?

JB: “Unlike adult athletes who have finished growing, elite youth athletes are unique in that their bodies are still growing and developing.  It is during this age in which bone remodeling and growth are occurring at an incredibly fast rate so it’s important they consume enough overall calories and the right nutrients from food, such as vitamin D and calcium, to support this process. Although many athletes don’t tend to value good nutrition until later on in life, it’s important the young athlete, especially at the high school level, learns the value of nutrition to support not only their performance, but long-term athlete development. With more collegiate and professional teams hiring sports dietitians, I have noticed that many athletes are looking to nutrition to assist them in reaching their athletic potential and that message is starting to trickle down to the youth population.”

TT: What are some of the best snack or meals for pre-game or pre-race?

JB: “We like tell our athletes, ‘Nothing new on game day’. This means making sure to eat foods you are used to eating to help avoid digestive issues before or during competition. This also means practicing this ahead of time, so you know what foods sit well in your stomach. Ideally your pre-game meal will occur about 3-4 hours before competition so your body has enough time to digest the food.”

“It is recommended that about a third to a half of your plate is carbs, that you choose lean protein, and include fruit and vegetables. The key is to make sure your meal is low in fat and fiber because they slow digestion. An athlete who eats a high fat, high protein, or high fiber meal too close to competition may experience an upset stomach because the body will still be working to digest that food.

“Good pre-game meals might be: 1) grilled chicken, sweet potatoes, and cooked vegetables, 2) grilled shrimp, brown rice with pineapple, and green beans or 3) eggs, chicken or turkey sausage, since that will be leaner than pork, with whole grain toast and avocado or fruit on the side.”

TT: What are some of the best snacks or meals for post-game or post-race?

JB: “I have found that after games many athletes don’t feel like eating. Physical activity can sometimes suppress hunger, so in that case I would recommend doing something like a fruit smoothie with protein powder to support muscle recovery. The main components of a post-game meal or snack include carbohydrates, protein, and fluid.”

“At IMG we have what are called the three R’s of recovery: refuel, rebuild, and rehydrate. The athlete should refuel with carbs, rebuild with protein, and rehydrate with fluids. An athlete could drink something like a fruit smoothie with 15-20g of protein, or eat something like a turkey sandwich with pretzels and a glass of milk and fruit, or have 6-8 oz. of Greek yogurt topped with granola. Other options might be protein shakes or protein bars which are portable items the athlete can keep in their sport bag.”

TT: For an athlete looking to get stronger, are daily protein shakes after workouts a good addition to a diet?

JB: “I think protein shakes after a workout can be a good addition for an athlete. A lot of research has shown that within that first 45-60 minutes after a workout the muscles are more sensitive to protein and carbohydrates — so getting a protein and carb combo after a workout can be really beneficial Something good about these shakes is they get digested and absorbed into muscles rapidly, so if the athlete has two training sessions or games in a day it can help speed up that recovery process.”

TT: How can you go about adding or cutting weight for your sport effectively?

JB: “In either case, adding or cutting weight, athletes really need to do it slowly over a period of time. Unfortunately, youth athletes aren’t always the best at thinking ahead. But coaches and parents can help them make small adjustments and encourage healthy behaviors that assist them reach their goals over time. Most athletes I’ve worked with who want to lose or gain weight quickly don’t realize that it takes time for your body to adjust to training and competing at that new weight. This is another reason slow losses and gains are important. A good rule of thumb is 1-2 pounds per week on average of either weight loss or gain. Assuming the athlete is training and using appropriate nutritional strategies, at this rate any added weight is likely a reflection of lean muscle gain, as opposed to fat, and any weight loss is likely reflecting a loss in fat, instead of lean muscle. Some athletes, who look to lose weight too quickly, decrease calories so much that they compromise lean muscle and their athletic performance. At times, when an athlete comes to me wanting to lose weight, we may actually increase calories around training to assist in improving energy levels. If their energy is up, odds are they will be able to train harder, and in the long run burn more calories throughout the day because they got more out of their training session.”

TT: What are some of the best diets a young athlete can easily stick to?

JB: “At this age, it’s important for athletes to focus on getting a variety of foods in their diet to help ensure they are meeting their nutrient needs. There seems to be a trend of cutting out certain food groups, like whole grains and dairy, but there are key vitamins and minerals in these foods that can be beneficial for health and performance. In my experience, when athletes build their plate, a lot of white, brown, and yellow colored foods are present. I encourage our athletes here at IMG to get at least 3-4 different and brightly colored foods on their plate at each meal. This gives the athlete a simple goal and often results in a much more balanced and healthier plate.

It’s important to remember that youth athletes are still going to want to eat things like fried food, candy, and soda that aren’t the best for their health or their performance, but that there is also a time and a place for these types of treats. It’s really about finding a balance and finding a time, preferably away from training and competition, when these foods can be incorporated into the athlete’s diet without sacrificing performance.

Lastly, but maybe the most important, an athlete should be fueling on a consistent basis. An athlete could be eating all of the right foods, lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit, but if they are skipping meals and snacks, they likely aren’t meeting their overall energy or nutrient needs. Youth athletes should aim to fuel their bodies every 3-4 hours. Typically, this breaks down to 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day. This will help the athlete fuel their mind and body for optimal performance both on the field and in the classroom.

Talking Nutrition with Travelle Gaines

Talking Nutrition with Travelle Gaines

Many of today’s young athletes work extremely hard when it comes to their cardio training, weight training, and skill training for their respective sports. However, a significant number of them look past the role a good diet plays, both on and off the field. This week we talked with athletic trainer Travelle Gaines on the topic of nutrition for young athletes — here is what he had to say.

Food Pyramid

TT: Trent Tetzlaff, Eastbay copywriter

TG: Travelle Gaines, athletic trainer


TT: For a young athlete looking to build up muscle and get bigger and stronger for an upcoming season, what are some of the best diets tips and tricks you could give?

TG: Muscles only develop properly if they’re getting the right amount of nutrients.  Getting an adequate amount of nutrition can be challenging — especially for a high school student who spends a vast majority of his/her time in school, at practice, or doing daughter/son duties. With all of these factors, proper meal planning and placement of each meal is essential. Eating breakfast is key — every morning should consist of eating breakfast — and after that at least two or three additional meals to supplement you throughout the remainder of each day. Nutrition provides fuel for the body to function at a high level, feeds your muscles, and stores what your body needs to help your muscles reproduce and grow, while getting rid of the bad things your body doesn’t need. Your muscles grow from what you eat, how hard you challenge them, and how well you rest your body.

TT: On the other side of things, for a young athlete looking to improve their diet in general, what are some of the best nutrition tips and tricks you could give?

TG: Going back to question one, breakfast should always be on the daily agenda and at least 2-3 more meals but in smaller doses. If you’re looking to improve your diet, you definitely should stay away from fried foods and food high in fat content, such as: candy, cookies, chips and any similar artificial snacks that only taste good but have no nutritional value. Soda, sport drinks, and juices with high fructose corn syrup and sugar are also products best to keep away from. These are all problem foods and drinks that you must stay away from in order to better your diet.

TT: When are the most ideal times for an athlete to be eating during the day for best performance?

TG: The best time to eat during the day is in the morning as soon you wake up, followed by Lunch 2-3 hours later, then 30 minutes prior to your training session, almost immediately after your training session or 30-45 minutes after, and 30-45 minutes before getting rest.

TT: As a trainer do you recommend protein shakes to athletes for after a workout? Or are their negatives that come with the drinks?

TG: Protein is a key part of post workout recovery, and I do think that protein shakes are a good idea. However, within 30 minutes of finishing your workout is when your body needs it most. But protein shakes are not all the same. Read the ingredient lists. Know what you’re drinking. I use and recommend Core Power because of the simple ingredient list and the fact that it’s not powders and water – it’s the real, natural whey and casein proteins found in milk — 26 grams of high quality protein from real fresh milk. You can’t beat that, and it tastes great.

TT: If you could plan out a breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner for an athlete looking to eat healthy and build muscle what would the meal plan look like?

TG: Here is an ideal meal plan for young athletes looking to put on lean muscle:

  • Breakfast: 3 scrambled egg whites, 1 cup of oatmeal, 12 almonds.
  • AM snack: Kind protein bar.
  • Lunch: Turkey sandwich with mustard, 2 slices of tomatoes, lettuce, on wheat bread, banana.
  • Afternoon snack: Core power protein shake.
  • Dinner: Grilled chicken breast, sweet potato, broccoli.
  • PM snack: One banana.

TT: How important is a good diet in a young athlete’s training regimen?

TG: A good diet is really important in a young athlete’s regimen as it creates good habits, helps in lean muscle growth, and aids in recovery from training or competition.

Learn more about Travelle Gaines and his fitness program at