Friday, October 30, 2015

Baseball Manager Bans Junk Food...

I just read an interesting article about a potential managerial candidate for the Los Angeles Dodgers and what he did back in Spring Training that raised quite a few eyebrows.

Baseball clubhouses are the ultimate spot for young guys. There are big screen TV's tuned to ESPN/MLB/NFL choose your favorite sports network. There are workout rooms, hot tubs, places to nap, get a massage and tons of convenience foods.

The athletes spend a lot of time in there so I guess they want them to feel as relaxed and comfortable as possible.

While in his current role as the Los Angeles Dodgers minor league farm director, Gabe Kapler (former Tiger) used his authority to get rid of junk food from the clubhouse during Spring Training.*

The move was meet with mild push-back from the veteran MLB players who thought it challenged their "freedom" to make their own choices.

Kapler's move provoked me to think what I would do if I were running a baseball developmental system.

For the sake of brevity I will focus my "solutions" strictly to the nutrition side of the performance equation.

First of all I wouldn't do anything drastic nor would I make any grand announcements that things were about to change in dramatic fashion. This would actually hinder my cause because the initial shock and awe from the athletes would most assuredly lead to a revolt at worst and at best a rolling of eyes with an under the breath "whatever you say dude." I don't want to deal with that!

So I wouldn't "ban" anything. If the athletes want to buy stuff on their own that's up to them.

My first move would be not to have any processed food on hand. When it comes to maximizing sports performance (concentration, mood, energy, recovery, body composition) this is the low-hanging fruit and the easiest way to improve performance immediately.

The following items would not be made available by the club:
Soda, Candy, Snack Foods (chips, crackers, cookies, muffins, etc.), Energy Drinks nor any other processed foods. I would love to include Gatorade and the like but this is to dramatic for now.

I would make the following items widely available:
Jerky, nuts, high quality protein bars, super shakes, fruit, water.

I would also hire a full-time chef to make pre and post game meals from scratch. Using high quality whole food ingredients, nothing from a box nor any highly processed oils.

The foundation of each meal would be some type of meat (all pasture raised and antibiotic free it possible):
Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, eggs.

Plenty of vegetable options:
Roasted root and cruciferous vegetables
Whole grain based dishes like quinoa, brown rice, even whole grain pasta occasionally
Super salads loaded with the following options:
Lettuce (spinach, arugula, kale, spring greens)
Sliced fruit/vegetables: peppers, tomatoes, avocado, apples, figs, cherries, peaches, berries
Nuts: Cashews, walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachio
Cheese: goat, cheddar, gouda
Dressing: Olive oil and dijon mustard base
Dessert: home made cookies and brownies ( hey these are big kids after all and if we don't give it to them they are more likely to get it somewhere else where the quality won't be as good). I would make sure the chef makes the treats with whole grain unrefined flours and other high quality whole food ingredients. I would not tell the players what they are made with. Here have a cookie rookie... "These taste awesome!" Your welcome.

I would also create some type of competition like the guy that logs the most hours with the trainer or therapy staff gets to pick their favorite meal to be made by the chef. Hamburgers, pizza, lasagna whatever they want but the chef makes it with whole food ingredients, just like mom used to!

I would love to see teams do this. It is a great investment in the long term health and performance of their athletes. And money should not be an issue. Teams routinely "eat" the contracts of athletes that are underperforming or pay players millions that no longer play for them (Prince Fielder by the Tigers to his current team the Rangers). There are a lot of savings to be had in sports with wise budgeting and I have no doubt investing in proper nutrition for their athletes would pay off in the long run.

Currently teams make available cheap, low-quality food for their athletes and that makes no sense! They invest millions in keeping these players on the field yet provide them the nutrition equivalent of fast food.

They should focus their attention on better scouting and development if they want to avoid wasteful expenditures, they shouldn't do it by skimping on the post game spread.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

What Youth Sports in America can learn from USA Hockey...

While it may seem a lot of my writing tends to be slanted toward a baseball theme I am developing a healthy respect for the hockey community. I have actually been “rubbing” elbows with the folks that run USA Hockey’s American Developmental Model (ADM) in hopes of applying some of the principles to my own practice while also convincing the baseball community that the ADM is just what that sport needs to ensure long-term viability.

Last week I had the pleasure to meet with USA Hockey’s Strength and Conditioning Coach to discuss the nuances of the ADM. I came away from my time with Darryl Nelson extremely excited about the future of USA Hockey and I also could hardly wait to share what I learned from my time with the folks at USA Arena in Plymouth.

Some of the highlights:

Minnesota high school hockey plays only 25 games. Minnesota does not have “travel” or “club” hockey. The result is their youth hockey players practice more than they play. While the Minnesotans may not be as competitive as the kids from states that play more games they are more skilled.  Interestingly if you look at a state-by-state breakdown of the top active point scorers in the NHL guess what state is disproportionately represented?  If you guessed Minnesota you are correct! *

And one more point that works in favor of the Minnesotan athletes because they only play hockey for the school they actually have an off-season. This leaves more time to play multiple sports. All around athletes have better long-term potential due to decreased risk of burnout and over-use injury and increased durability and athleticism.

In Michigan, with a few exceptions, the best hockey players don’t play for the school and play more games. They travel all the time leaving scant time for skill development. While the Michigan kids are more competitive due to more game experience they are not as skilled.

Another way to look at this …

Who owns and operates many of the top travel teams in Michigan? Businesses and corporations! What’s the main role of a business from a shareholder or CEO’s perspective?  They need to have their product on the market.

Lots of games is good business, practice and skill development doesn’t provide a quick return on investment. Wait a second... I thought youth sports was all about doing what’s in the best interest of the kids!

A Better Way Forward

In the United States, there has been more emphasis on competition starting at a young age. In many European countries, there is more of a patient approach to the game where coaches stress skill development at younger ages with a focus on ultimately developing players for national teams when they’re older.

I watched a seminar with Tommi Neimila, a coach with the Finnish national team, during which he provided a glimpse of his country’s patient approach to player development when he divided a group of local players into three groups and asked them to work on a specific skill for eight minutes. It was an abridged version of what the Finns do with young players over the course of the season. Every practice features 40 minutes dedicated to working on a specific skill twice a week for three months.

“When they’re finished we are 100 percent sure that they have mastered that skill before they move on to another skill,” said Neimila, who added that players typically work on three different skills over the course of a single season.

“If we try to do too many things in too short a time, we feel that our players won’t master that skill. It’s a very patient approach to skill development.”

Neimila understands that such an approach may not translate to the current state of affairs in youth hockey in the U.S., where a greater emphasis is placed on playing games at an early age. But as for a coach who is paid to develop players for the Finnish national teams and ultimately to play in the NHL, Neimila feels that his approach is the best way to accomplish these goals.

“As coaches, no matter if you’re an American, a Swede or a Finn, you want to make your kids better players,” he said. “We’re all human, and we all want to compete and we want to win. But winning a championship when our kids are 13 years old is not priority one for us. I can guarantee that winning a championship when you’re 13 won’t get you to the NHL.”

The point is to allow Americans to develop more like kids in Sweden's renowned youth system, which has produced stars such as Henrik Zetterberg. "The Swedes don't send over fourth-line NHLers," says Bob Mancini, a local ADM administrator based in Saginaw, MI. "They send over stars. And it starts at the youngest levels." ADM is inspired in part by this model. In Sweden, kids don't play full-ice games until age 10 or play on all-star travel teams until after most of them have hit puberty.

The patience has its rewards. Sweden's national team won Olympic gold in 2006 and the world championship in 2006 and 2013, not bad for a country with just 53,334 youth players (the U.S. has 305,453, Canada 455,806). The standard-bearer is Swedish league champion Skelleftea (population: 32,775), a town that is half the size of Waterford Township. Five current NHL players hail from Skelleftea, along with 21 members of Sweden's U17, U18 and U19 teams. All of them emerged from a club that cuts no kids until age 17 and plays only six months a year.

The chiefs running USA Hockey know all about Skelleftea. Every member of the U17 and U18 national teams in Ann Arbor played multiple sports growing up. It will clearly take time for the multisport message to trickle down. "At the youngest ages, we shouldn't try to develop hockey players," Mancini says. "We should develop athletes who love hockey."

"Deep down, most parents know something is wrong," Mancini says. "They come up and say things like, 'My older son quit hockey.' They're looking for something better."

Parents aren’t the only ones looking for something better… The United States Olympic Committee purchased the rights to provide all national teams with the ADM format.

USA Swimming and U.S. Tennis Association officials support kids playing other sports to reduce burnout and overuse injuries. Beyond those reasons they also need better overall athletes entering their sport or they risk becoming irrelevant on the international level… Sorry to say US men’s tennis is already there.

In the end we have to ask the question what is our goal for youth sport participation?

  • Is it about teaching kids how to compete and win?
  • Is it about using the sport to teach kids valuable life lessons/skills?
  • Is it about optimizing their development to ensure they have the best opportunity to reach their full potential?
  • Is it about socialization, creating an environment where kids can have fun and meet potential friends?
  • Is it about heath and fitness promotion?

I believe youth sport experiences should check all of the above boxes.  That said every kid has different goals and interests. Believe it or not all kids that play hockey don’t want to play in the NHL!

In an ideal world we would develop “tracks” that are tailored to each kids interest and commitment levels.

The biggest difference between youth sports in American and Europe isn’t the ideas we have or the humans around us. It's the technology, the civilization and the expectations in our infrastructure.

The US simply has not invested in athlete development. We have not created the infrastructure to support it. A strong determining factor of who gets “picked” has more to do with when and where they were born than their true ability.

We are to fractured. Every organization thinks they have the secret sauce and they want to hide it from everyone else for some sort of perceived competitive advantage.

Countries like Finland and Sweden have taken the time to invest in an infrastructure that supports athlete development and it works for them. Maybe they have to do it because they are relatively small compared to the US.

But imagine if we were to invest in an athletic development system like they have, how much it would benefit the American athlete... It's easy to take youth sports for granted. After all it seems to work for some kids. But when you see an organization or nation that doesn't have our resources accomplishing way more on the international stage with far less it should serve as a powerful wake up call.

Here's something that's unavoidably true: Investing in infrastructure always pays off. Always. Not just most of the time, but every single time. Sometimes the payoff takes longer than we'd like, sometimes there may be more efficient ways to get the same result, but every time we spend time and money, we're surprised at how much of a difference it makes.


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Random Thoughts on Nutrition and Food: October Edition

Over the years, my favorite posts to write have been my "Random Thoughts" pieces. Effectively, they are just "brain dumps" on a particular topic; they aren't really clearly constructed arguments. It occurred to me the other day that - after years of putting youth sports performance front and center- I've accumulated a lot of useful tips and information on nutrition. So, here's a brain dump on the subject!

Most folks associate doughnuts as a “poor’ food choice. But consider these 31 foods that have more sugar than a doughnut. 

Added sugars hide in 74 percent of processed foods under more than 60 different names.

Seemingly healthy smoothies, salads, oatmeal, and yogurt often have more sugar than a doughnut (or several).

Bottom line, if you eat processed foods, consuming significantly more than the recommended daily amount of sugar is far easier than you might think.

Consider this nutrient and flavor packed alternative for a quick and easy breakfast:

They took organic gluten free rolled oats and infused pea and rice proteins along with real dried fruit and nuts.  The result is amazing!

Simply add 8oz of unsweetened coconut, almond, or cashew milk and let sit overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning you have the perfect breakfast, Overnight Oats.

Only 5 grams of sugar, packed with protein, fiber and healthy fats for long-lasting energy for optimal concentration and performance in the classroom and on the field of play!

Potassium plays a vital role in heart health, digestive, and muscular function, bone health, and more.

Only 2 percent of US adults get the recommended daily amount of 4,700 milligrams of potassium.

Potassium needs to be kept in proper balance with sodium in your blood; if you consume too much sodium, which is common if you eat a lot of processed foods, you’ll have an increased need for potassium.

Increasing calcium intake through dietary sources or supplements is unlikely to improve bone health or prevent fractures, conclude two recent studies published this week. Collectively, these results suggest that increasing calcium intake, through supplements or dietary sources, should not be recommended for fracture prevention.

But we’ve always been told we need calcium for stronger bones? There is some true to this conventional wisdom however it sorely neglects this critical element:

As I'm certain you’ve heard by now, vitamin D is a critical nutrient for optimal health and is best obtained from smart sun exposure. However, many are taking oral vitamin D, which may become problematic unless you're also getting sufficient amounts of vitamin K2.

Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, a naturopathic physician with a keen interest in nutrition, has authored one of the most comprehensive books on this important topic, titled: Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life

"When you take vitamin D, your body creates more of these vitamin K2-dependent proteins, the proteins that will move the calcium around. They have a lot of potential health benefits. But until the K2 comes in to activate those proteins, those benefits aren't realized. So, really, if you're taking vitamin D, you're creating an increased demand for K2. And vitamin D and K2 work together to strengthen your bones and improve your heart health.

... For so long, we've been told to take calcium for osteoporosis... and vitamin D, which we know is helpful. But then, more studies are coming out showing that increased calcium intake is causing more heart attacks and strokes. That created a lot of confusion around whether calcium is safe or not. But that's the wrong question to be asking, because we'll never properly understand the health benefits of calcium or vitamin D, unless we take into consideration K2. That's what keeps the calcium in its right place."

As quick aside when ever possible I like to get my nutrients from food and the best food sources of K2 are natto (fermented soybeans) and Gouda cheese.

If those foods aren't an option due to any number of reasons (I hear natto is AWFUL!) make sure you select a supplement with vitamin D3 and K2 in a balanced formula.

Hamburgers from these restaurant chains could lead to serious health issues

Chipotle’s and Panera Bread were the only fast food chains that earned “A” ratings; they are the only two that transparently affirm the majority of the meats served come from antibiotic-free producers.

Most fast food restaurants are still serving meat and poultry raised on antibiotics, despite the known health risks. Of the 25 restaurant chains included in the report, 20 received a “Failing” score.

The US uses nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics each year to raise food animals. This accounts for about 80 percent of all antibiotics used; nearly 70 percent of which are medically important for humans.

The best option for a high quality burger is making your own with local pasture raised beef/turkey/lamb. But short of that I have discovered a very good and affordable option very close by, Moo Cluck Moo.

 As luck would have it you can get high quality meat and all natural gouda (and the vitamin K2 that comes with it) with their October specials.

If you stray from a diet, focus on your next meal, not the next day!

When it comes to "healthy" nutrition, I'll often hear of people "falling off the bandwagon" for a meal - and it leading to several days of poor food choices. For this reason, I always encourage folks to "right the ship" as quickly as possible.

If you go out with friends and indulge, break down and have a few cookies, or just aren’t prepared and have to settle for whatever’s on hand, don’t give up hope for the day and plan to start over tomorrow. Tomorrow may turn into the next day, and into the next day. So what do you do?

Gather your losses and do better on your next immediate meal, instead of restarting the next day. Don’t let a bad meal turn into a bad day of eating.

This is also one reason why I don't generally advocate full-on "free" days, where folks eat anything they want as a means of "de-stressing" from six days per week of quality nutrition adherence. It's a lot easier to get things back on track after a single bad meal (whether planned or unplanned) than from a full day. One "less than ideal" meal choice won't sabotage your results over the long-term but a series of them certainly will!

That does it for this round of random thoughts on nutrition. I will definitely do it again, as they really rolled off my fingertips!