August 24, 2010

Volleyball Diet and Weight

Hi Coach,

My daughter is a freshman in HS, but still in the pre-season. Hopefully you can answer this question since it's a general one that concerns all young female athletes.

How do you convince a young female athlete that HS (or college) Volleyball is not a "weight loss" or fitness program, and that they need to feed their body in order to be able to train and compete effectively?

This is a very difficult issue for young girls because the "media" tells them they have to have perfect bodies with ripped abs and zero body fat. Sometimes it seems to me that girls may think of sports as an opportunity to get rid of an extra pound or two and instead of eating more....they eat less?

I don't's difficult for me to understand since I'm a dad (aka a guy)...and exercise for me is ALWAYS an opportunity to eat more food. :) But teenage girls are dealing with all sorts of pressures that we boys don't really understand, and can struggle with eating disorders and such. Because of all this weird stuff, parents and coaches have to be very careful how they approach this subject.

Here's a couple examples that girls I know of are doing...

Breakfast: Granola Bar
Lunch: Turkey sandwich, yogurt cup, and gatorade.
Pre-practice snack: Energy Bar
Dinner: One plate of food (average family type sit-down meal)

Breakfast: Nothing
Lunch: Banana
(I don't know about the rest of the day)

The first example....I'm just not sure it's enough. It's enough to keep an inactive person alive.....but enough for an athlete that is in intense VB training 3+ hours a day 5-6 days a week?

The second a blaring warning sign to me. I don't know how they'd have any energy to get through practice (they do...and very well actually), even if they have a huge dinner in the evening.

Anyway....just was hoping for your professional opinion. :)

Concerned VB Dad

The weight of a player is a very sensitive issue for college athletics and especially for female Student-Athletes. I would like to think that in College Volleyball, we are starting to manage this situation a bit better than we have in the past.

When I was just transitioning into coaching, programs were very active in their management of the weights of players; some programs had "fat" tables and "skinny" tables where their players sat, others weighed their players daily and would restrict or reward diets accordingly, other programs would be the food police and dictate what and when players ate, and then punish their team when athletes broke the diet law. As you can imagine, this lead to some serious body image problems for student athletes.

The institutional reaction to this situation was to overcompensate and dictate that diet, body weight, eating habits were off limits to program oversight. While this eliminated (in theory) players being harped on or having their diets restricted, it opened the flood gates the other direction. Again, in my experience a bit later in my career, we saw a number of athletes getting heavy quickly. There were two specific things which I saw; 1) Players who were in programs during this philosophical transition realized that coaches were no longer able to dictate diets, so these players tended to cut loose (after coming from a restricted diet situation, not only in college but the same diet restrictions in Club/High school Volleyball) on their eating habits and it went so far as to have players complaining to the administrators that they were not going to nice restaurants with diverse menu choices; 2) Freshman 15 turned into Freshman 30. There were way too many instances of incoming players gaining massive amounts of weight - I can easily list a number of players which actually ate their way into a medical scholarship. When a player gains 20+ pounds in a short period of time, but is still pounding the body in the gym, it is just a matter of time until stress fractures, severe tendinitis, cartilage damage, etc., all come to fruition. Volleyball tends to be anaerobic in its physicality (short bursts of intensity with lots of jumping) as opposed to aerobic (like soccer with constant movement and running). Because of this, Volleyball teams will not tend to burn as many calories as a soccer or basketball team, unless a program allocates training time to just aerobic exercise and takes time away from touching a ball.

I believe we are now starting to find the middle ground with player diets and weight. Athletic Departments have allowed the trainers to manage the players a bit more closely and keep weight results from different times. Sports Nutritionists are available to confer with trainers and players about proper balance with calories, protein, carbohydrates, fats - Back when the "hands off" approach to diet was in place, the Nutritionists did not have an athletic background but rather were coming from the geriatric or eating disorder back ground, which was not really applicable to our environment. Coaches are allowed to dictate diets, to a degree (for instance, no french fries) and are able to go to a trainer to express concerns about a player putting on some weight. Coaches are allowed to talk about eating right and the importance of nutrition for successful team (in the past, we could not even address or mention diet).

My philosophy has always been to encourage proper eating habits by providing a variety of choices when we travel, to talk about the importance of using food as fuel to achieve our very best results as a team, and to NEVER restrict food or food choices. I tell my team that sometimes a cheeseburger and fries hits the spot, and sometimes I gotta have a cheeseburger and fries, but it is probably not the best idea to eat a cheeseburger and fries every meal. I have found that as I have opened up the options and de emphasized food issues, the better things have gone overall.

Your questions and observations bring up some valid concerns. In terms of Volleyball being a weight loss opportunity, that is more of a focus of the player. Are they playing Volleyball because they love the sport and enjoy being on a team, or is it just an opportunity to have someone/something guide them through a physical exercise which burns calories? If it is just a calorie burn, then there is not too much anyone can really do other than encourage a balanced diet.

I agree that the media portrays the female body in a very specific and unrealistic form. It is always a shocker to see paparazzi photos of female actresses who look not physically healthy, but on screen they look amazing. Again, if players at the high school level are just using Volleyball to be physically fitter, then we can only encourage healthy eating habits and I don't think we can condemn them for wanting to at least work out via playing the greatest sport on earth.

You had provided examples of two diets and obviously Diet 2 is not going to be a healthy one for any sports oriented activity. As for Diet 1, that really depends on the physical demands of practice and the metabolism/genetics of each player. In a perfect world, the calories consumed would equal the calories burned each day. The challenges occur when the equation does not zero out over time. A small setter who is not really burning a ton of calories just because of the segment of the training cycle could easily be OK with the Diet 1, but I don't think the team's stat person could get by on Diet 2!!!

Unfortunately, Volleyball can a tough sport to play 'heavy' from a health point of view. Because our sport demands so much jumping, if you are jumping with an extra 1o pounds on your body, it will eventually come to cause physical problems. When I need to cast an eye towards the physical presence of a current or potential player, my first and overriding concern is the health of the player. I am very conscious in my training regimens to create injury free environments, and guiding my players and recruiting efforts to minimize injuries via body mass is important. Of course this health will directly impact that player's ability to perform (hard to get kills when you are sitting next to me in an air cast), and the team's potential to win matches. I think this general philosophy of individual health, along with individual/team performance would be echoed by many (and I would hope all) coaches.

The challenge is providing guidance and education, so athletes are eating the proper caloric amount and healthy foods (I am no nutritionist but a 1,000 calories of McDonalds is probably not as healthy as a 1,000 calories of fruits and vegetables). We have had both sides of the body mass equation in my programs; athletes burning too many calories versus what they were consuming and this led to being physically weak and not having stamina in long matches, along with athletes consuming too many calories versus what they were burning which led to stress fractures.

To this end, I believe a coach must be aware (within reality) of what an athlete is eating, how is their energy levels, how is their body mass. I know how sensitive a subject this is, and how we must tread very carefully to find that middle ground of healthy eating and healthy body. What we can't do is go back to the first two early examples of weight management employed by college programs/athletic departments - Micromanaging the issue or just letting everything go.

I guess there is no single correct answer because of all the questions of genetics, metabolism, family diet education, coach's education about nutrition, etc. More than anything, I believe just trying to use and express common sense might make the most sense.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please stay positive or at the minimum present constructive criticism - Negative comments or attacks upon other reader's opinions will not be posted.