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  • Writer's pictureBaldMarauder

Nutrition & Recovery for Developing Athletes

I was lucky to speak with Saints LB Kiko Alonso this weekend on the Process 2 Perform podcast . Kiko made a point that we haven’t discussed here as of yet – but it really is the lowest hanging fruit out there regarding improved performance. If you want to be the best version of yourself, make sure you are doing your best to maximize these performance enhancers.

Natural Performance Enhancers

  1. Sleep

  2. Diet

  3. Hydration

  4. Stress Reduction

In some ways this is the absolute best time to create habits around the above. You have time to experiment with lights out schedules and sleep durations; most are cooking at home so ideal opportunity to try out new recipes. Your phone alarm going off reminding you to drink water won’t wake up your classmates. As we have discussed before; now is the best time to get on a routine, which will lead to reduced stress. Let’s visit each of these in a little more detail.


Here are the national guidelines from by age:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)

  • Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)

  • Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)

  • Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)

  • School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)

  • Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)

  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)

  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours

  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

Sleep is likely the most crucial aspect of your daily life as it pertains to development. Many body functions occur during sleep, but these two are of notable importance to athletes.

1) The physical recovery and advancement of muscle and bone, the oxidation of fats, and anti-inflammatory processes all occur during sleep.

2) There is a relationship between developing a skill and creating a lasting memory that is reinforced in the mind during sleep.

Sleep research is widely available online; the overarching message is that athletes who lose sleep are less coordinated, have lower VO2 max, and cannot recall skills at the same rate as athletes who are getting an optimal amount of sleep.

Anecdotally, I have experienced this first hand and seen it with dozens of athletes over the years. Sleep can manifest in different ways with different athletes; rate of injury increases with lack of sleep, inability to focus, lower explosive power and reduced cardio output.

I have worked with sleep experts to improve individual and team performance, and what they often cited with athletes is that a lack of schedule resulted in inconsistent sleep times. The good news is that we have the time now to create a great daily routine, including sleep expectations. There are a ton of sleep apps and monitors out there if you want to measure your 'sleep quality' or duration. Unless you feel the need to speak with an expert or are very curious, I would just create a routine based on the higher end of the age recommendations above and stick with it for a couple weeks. As players, parents, and coaches; we will see the results on a day to day basis and can make adjustments as necessary.

If you are more curious about sleep performance, the most valuable asset I have picked up over the years is the HRV4Training app. Heart Rate Variability (literally the difference in time between beats of your heart) is a good measure of your autonomous nervous systems sympathetic/parasympathetic states.

Those words sound intimidating, but they are essentially states of your body during rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) or a flight-or-fight response to a stimulus (sympathetic). Basically your body is either being used (stressed), or recovering; your HRV indicates which state you are in. Using the HRV4Training app allows you to monitor your HRV every morning as you wake up and record. A lower HRV suggests that your body is spending too much time in a stress induced environment with elevated stress hormone levels high during rest. If this pattern becomes chronic, it is a good way to start a discussion with an athlete about the potential for overtraining.

There is much more to sleep than the above. Many professional athletes as well as the sleep-deprived community are very specific about room temperature, sleep state monitoring, sheet and pillow type, etc. The important thing is that we are giving our athletes the chance to optimize their bodies and minds.


Because this can be a controversial subject, I will just state my experience as an athlete. I am not a certified nutritionist (although I have hired a couple in my day), but I have spent decades trying to optimize my eating habits. I understand many people have religious, cultural, and possibly moral reservations about food. Respect all of it.

I eat meat at least twice a day. Lean meat, vegetables, rice, and hot sauce (if I can). Pretty simple. When I was playing competitive sports, I ate very similarly but was much more apt to up my carb intake. I had my first experience with a nutritionist in 2002 with Dave Ellis, who has gone onto help many NFL franchises develop their nutritional plans and help hundreds of athletes with their personal programs. Dave made it very simple for me; try to eat lean meats, non-processed carbs, and tons of vegetables. This method has and does work for me, but has gone through subtle changes over the years.

When I was in my late twenties I started carb cycling during the offseason to get to a more 'optimized' version of my 295lb self. I did, and it felt great…but I couldn’t hold water or weight nearly as well when I was that lean. Holding carbohydrates in the system also adds water by a ratio of 2/1 or 3/1. Looking back, it probably affected my performance negatively to be that lean playing the position I did because my weight could easily fluctuate 10lbs in a session, regardless of how much water I consumed. This happens all the time; athletes have to remember when choosing a eating process that performance is the number one objective.

The most important rule I can offer around eating is that peri-workout carb consumption has always made sense scientifically and anecdotally. Eat the most around the time you are going to exert the most energy. One thing that we fall into as humans is allowing a unique situation or example guide our logic. Eating a ton of bad food the night before a game, for example, might not result in a bad game. But it is illogical to think that bad food is part of the ideal recipe for good performance.

Think about what your athlete needs to reach their ceiling. Are they playing an endurance sport, high-volume or high-intensity? Take these considerations and make a plan – a framework. If you need questions answered, hit me up at and I will answer best I can, or direct you to the right information.


This is important enough to be its own category. I can’t stress how much poor hydration can affect performance. Water is responsible for maintaining body temperature, aids in muscle contraction, and is responsible for maintaining blood volume. Reducing blood volume reduces blood pressure, which down the line affects your VO2 max, or your maximum oxygen uptake (ability to maintain a high work rate).

A 5% loss of water weight can lead to a 30% reduction in performance[1]! While many athletes experience losses of around 2% a session (enough to negatively affect performance); athletes in aerobic sports or those who do not replenish fluids are only a couple bad decisions from having a very negative affect on performance.

Easiest thing to do; take a water bottle everywhere. If you want to add electrolyte solution to the water on a hot day or difficult training session – perfect. But take the bottle everywhere and make sure it goes from full to empty to full again over and over. The most important thing is establishing the habit. Some wait until their mouth is dry to drink – too late! Especially as our seasons change to warmer weather; start the session fully hydrated and continue to hydrate for the duration.

Stress Reduction

Kiko talked about the stresses that come along with being a professional athlete; social media, family visiting, expectations…it’s really similar stressors for many aspiring athletes out there. The key is to find a schedule and stick with it. Routine is not only for the practice facility or gym; we maintain a routine so that we can be most present in the moment.

What is the best way to reduce stress? Learn how to say no. Young athletes especially have a hard time not being involved in every opportunity. Hopefully they can be part of most good opportunities that come their way; kids need to enjoy being young and socializing, having new experiences. As they become more serious in their sport, it will become necessary to say 'no' to some ‘fun’ opportunities.

It is a choice; we say 'yes' to giving ourselves the best chance to perform by saying 'no' to anything that might impede our performance.

Routine makes this easy. Consistently have early games Saturday morning? Make Saturday afternoon and night the time for socializing and have an earlier curfew/bedtime Friday night. Teaching young people how to develop routines and prioritize will make it easier for them to make their own decisions on these matters later on.

Anything we can do to improve outcome is worth exploring. These procedural items can and will have a lasting impact on your athlete. If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up @UnrivaledESS, or email me at

Keep training!


[1] Jeukendrup, Asker, and Michael Gleeson. “Dehydration and Its Effects on Performance.” Humankinetics. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2015.

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