Last year, I was presented with the opportunity to work as the Nutritionist for the NY Yankees Baseball Camp, sponsored by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council (ADADC). Before I explain the job, let me say that I like to write blog posts with practical applications or tips, rather than write about myself. However, I thought sharing an explanation of my work might be valuable because it includes practical advice for athletes of any age. These young athletes (ages 4-13) attend the NY Yankees baseball camp 4 days a week and spend 1 day a week at Yankee Stadium. The stadium visit is comprised of a stadium tour, pictures with the World Series Trophy, a Q&A with a Yankees player, and a sports nutrition presentation given by yours truly!
As the camp Nutritionist, I created a hands-on presentation that teaches the basics of sports nutrition with fun visuals and activities. Specifically, my presentation educates on healthy eating and the value of refueling with chocolate milk after athletic competition. Although this presentation was created with kids in mind, it translates to any age and provides useful lessons on the importance of properly fueling for exercise. Being able to create and give this presentation at Yankee Stadium has been a truly amazing experience. Writing this blog post has taken me much longer than any other post I’ve ever written because I want to do justice to the experience. Here’s my description of the presentation and the practical advice from each portion:
I begin the presentation by asking the kids why nutrition is important for athletes. There are two answers I am generally looking for: (1) eating the right foods helps athletes stay healthy and strong and (2) athletes need to eat the right foods in order to maintain their energy levels throughout competition.
Practical advice: What an athlete eats affects their energy levels during training and competition. An athlete will get the most out of their workout/athletic endeavors if they know how to fuel properly.
The next part of the presentation focuses on healthy eating, specifically different lunch options, and how the options will make the kids feel while playing sports. I have two examples of bagged lunch with me—one contains a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce and tomato and a chocolate milk and the other bag contains just chips and soda. (Don’t laugh- some kids would be thrilled to eat just chips and soda for lunch.) Two campers help me empty the bags, and I ask the kids if each lunch is healthy or unhealthy. This allows us to talk about incorporating whole grains, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables into a healthy lunch.
After the kids understand the difference between a healthy lunch and an unhealthy lunch, I show them how these two lunches will make them feel while playing sports . To do this, I use Mason jars and bouncy balls. I know this sounds random, so let me explain. Kids remind me of bouncy balls because they move really quickly and have a ton of energy. I have two Mason jars—one is filled with flour and one is empty. The two volunteers place the bouncy balls in the two separate jars and screw on the lids. My volunteers shake up the jars and all the kids watch the bouncy balls in the two respective jars. I tell them that the bouncy ball in the empty jar is like eating a healthy lunch; that ball moves around really quickly and keeps bouncing back and forth. The bouncy ball in the jar with flour is like eating an unhealthy lunch; the ball gets lost and doesn’t move around much. I relate the bouncy ball in the flour jar to running in sand, which is much more difficult than running normally and energy levels diminish very quickly.
Practical advice: Eating the right foods will provide long lasting energy during athletic endeavors, while eating unhealthy foods will cause energy to decline quickly. In other words, eating unhealthy foods will cause a person to feel like they are “running in sand” while working out, and eating healthy foods will allow an athlete to compete at their best.
The last part of the presentation discusses the benefits of chocolate milk as a “refueling” agent. Nutritionists always say that “food is fuel”. Like a car needs fuel to go, your body needs food to move. I wanted to explain this in terms that kids would understand (since kids don’t drive cars). I thought of something else that needs to be filled up and is a good visual for kids: a balloon. I tell them that their muscles are like a balloon, which needs to be full of good energy in order for them to do things. I blow up a balloon and tell them to assume we ate a healthy lunch and have a muscle full of long lasting energy.
Then I ask them to tell me ways they use that energy. They say things like “playing baseball”, “playing soccer”, “swimming”, or “riding my bike’”. As they say all of these things, I let a little air out of the balloon to demonstrate that they are using energy with each activity. When the balloon is empty and all their energy is used, we then discuss how to get energy back or “refuel”. I present a scenario in which they are done with their camp day, they come home feeling exhausted, and they look in their fridge. They find two things: soda and chocolate milk. These two drinks will do two very different things to their muscles. A volunteer helps demonstrate this by blowing up another balloon. The volunteer’s balloon represents drinking chocolate milk after a long camp day of athletic activity, and that balloon blows up normally. This represents “refueling” the muscle, or, in other words, giving the exhausted muscle the proper fuel so that it can repair and recover for future activities. In tandem to this, I attempt to blow up a balloon with a hole in it, which represents drinking soda after a long camp day. Drinking soda will not help the body recover from vigorous activity in any way.
Practical advice: After a long bout of strenuous activity, an athlete’s muscles need to recover properly, and a key part of that recovery is giving the muscle the fuel it needs. Chocolate milk has the perfect combination of 4:1 carbs to protein that is recommended for muscle recovery. During prolonged exercise, muscles rely primarily on sugar/carbs for fuel, which is depleted at the end of an activity. That sugar must be replenished in order for adequate recovery. In addition, a small amount of protein is required for muscle repair. Research has found that the best way to replenish the muscle is to ingest something that is 4:1 carbs to protein, and chocolate milk fits that bill exactly. Not to mention that chocolate milk is a much cheaper alternative to many protein drinks, and it’s easy to find anywhere. For those of you who still want to stick with your whey protein drinks, my question for you is…where do you think whey comes from? The answer is milk.