Rethinking youth fitness (part 4)

Posted on January 11, 2016

(Last Updated On: April 6, 2016)

This is a seven part series.

The habits you’re not thinking about

What happens when sports aren’t there anymore? What happens when for many of us, at 14, we can’t get on the field anymore? When nearly none of us can get on the field after 18? 22? Transitioning to life without sports is harder than many realize. The better the athlete, the more true this is. 

Let’s say 18 is when you stop. For at least a decade, you’ve gotten the benefits of learning teamwork from sports, helped yourself stay in shape, made a bunch of lifelong friends. What now?

Eating habits

During games

You’re running around a ton, sweating a ton,


“Oh shit. I better get my gatorade. Coach is gonna rip me a new asshole if I say I’m thirsty. I need those electrolytes in my life. Can’t be crampin’ when I’m dropping the hammer out there.”

For every youth sporting activity, kids are regularly pounding gatorade. Kids have enough issues with sugar already (as do the parents). There is no need for gatorade, or juice boxes. This is a common issue for many who need to lose weight. They exercise, and either while, or immediately after, they’re pounding the workout shakes. The hydration stuff. Wheat-grass-I-can’t-feel-my-ass smoothies. All the while many of them are not only offsetting what they burned from exercise with what they’re ingesting, many are drinking more calories than they’re burning!

Kids aren’t going to collapse from only drinking water during a game. (If we’re concerned their performance is marginally less because they aren’t getting their nutrients in, you need to rethink how seriously you’re taking a 10 year old’s performance.) The point is to be active, fit, and in shape, right? The point is not to ingest more calories!

At some stage, this relationship of activity => ingest liquid calories starts. The earlier this relationship doesn’t begin, the better. For some, they won’t try this until the adult years. For those who play youth sports, it’s practically inevitable the moment the sport is started. For 99% of people’s activity, 99% of people where too many calories is the problem, it’s unnecessary, and counterproductive.

If you want potassium, give the kid a banana. Want more electrolytes? Serve them regular food. It’s got plenty of salt in it already.

After games

Because most practices were after school, by the time you got home it was dinner time. So you either went right home and ate dinner, or Mom didn’t feel like cooking, so if she loved you she stopped by Wendy’s before going home, or she stopped by Burger King and this is how you realized you were an accident. (Because Mom clearly didn’t love you if she took you to Burger King.)

You could also never eat before games, due to nervousness. By the time a game was over, you not only were feenin’ for Chipotle, you had the order down before anyone could ask.

“Hey there! What would you like..”

“Burrito (F a salad), black beans, white rice (that brown nonsense is so bland), yes yes non-GMO carnitas (what in the hell does GMO stand for?), medium sauce (I can put tomatillo on if it’s not hot enough), lettuce, cheese, sour cream (cause I just exercised!), guacamole”

“Guacamole is..”

“I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH YOU OVERCHARGE ME FOR GUACAMOLE!!! (I want that guac bursting through the tortilla like Jim Carrey coming out of a rhino’s ass)”

Plus, after a game, your parents often took you out for a celebratory meal. Or a consolation meal. After all, they were hungry too. Telling the refs how incompetent they are takes energy.

For 15 years you moved around a ton, then ate almost immediately afterwards. You probably ate a good amount too, since you were young, very active, and often stopping at calorically dense, albeit regurgiworthy (B.K.), places.

–> The last time I (reluctantly) went to Burger King, they ran out of burgers. I will use every synapse and myofibril to not go back. Five Guys FTW.

Fast forward to your 20s. You move around some, we know because of your status updates #FitBodyFitMind, but you still eat a ton afterwards, we know because you don’t look like your old Instagram photos #APictureShowsAThousandCalories. 10+ years has conditioned you. Now you’re the person saying, “I was so active as a kid, I did so many sports, but now I sit in a desk all day. I try to exercise, but I just can’t get the weight off sitting all day.”

You’re the person who now after possibly two decades, finally has to acknowledge you have to change your eating. You’ll probably never be able to be that active again, and the little activity you currently do, only initiates your appetite.

The longer you delay the gym, the harder it is

This may come as as surprise to many, but many doing athletic oriented activity do not have a relationship with the gym. Many do sports so they don’t have to go to the gym, maybe they find working out boring, or the sport takes up too much time. A good deal of the basketball team at my college had pretty much never lifted a weight until college. And getting them in there on a regular basis was pulling teeth for the strength coach.

  • Track
  • Golf
  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Hockey
  • Gymnastics
  • Soccer

All the above sports rarely get a relationship with the gym until college, and even in college that’s not a guarantee. Football is probably the only sport where the gym comes with the territory.

One of the more common things with new gym goers is a fear of the gym. Or a noticeable discomfort. The place is really foreign to them. They don’t know what any of the machines do. They don’t know anything about anything really. I’ve had many a clients who are 40 or older, who, when talking to me, it was their first time ever in a gym. That was crazy to me at first, but it’s quite common.

At some point, most transition to sports not being their primary mode of activity anymore. Whether it be reality of not being good enough, injuries preventing rec league participation, life preventing rec leagues, not enjoying sports to begin with. Few are above their 40s -only about halfway through life- where playing sports can still be how they stay in shape. Even if a person is doing a rec league, it’s likely only once or twice a week.

Like any habit in life, the sooner it begins, the better (or worse). The sooner people begin a relationship with fitness activities they can do forever -the gym, hiking, biking, swimming, bodyweight exercises at home- the better.

A common thing amongst athletes is once they stop playing, they gain a ton of weight. They simply don’t know how to reacquire the amount of activity they once did. The reality is, few can play or practice a sport for hours every day. Even if you had the time, how many others do? This is why most rec leagues are an hour or two once a week. Most can’t fit in much more than that once life gets going into the late 20s and beyond.

Even if you can, few can work a desk job 40+ hours a week, 8+ hours a day, and then go run around without having issues. It takes a ton of work to remain healthy when playing a lot of sports. Teams at all levels hire people whose sole job is to help with this. Yet people think they can do it as a full-time corporate worker.

Sitting all day and then playing intense basketball for two hours is going to cause issues eventually. This is why professional sport teams try to not travel the day of a game. It’s not ideal to fly somewhere for five hours, then go, “Alright, game time.” They often get there at least 24 hours prior. Part time athletes get part time results. (I believe Charlie Francis first said that.)

Something needs to bridge this gap. Hence, the fitness industry. The sooner someone knows how to do a push-up, how to squat, how much to exercise each week, how to get stronger, the better. The sooner they’re comfortable in the gym and or with gym equipment, know how to stay in shape regardless of whether they’re playing sports, begin to enjoy other activities, the better.

Enjoy being a key term here. While we all have moments of dreading working out, athletes often have this association to a greater extent. Practice, working out, these are the work before the fun. The fun is the game. The gym is often hellish for athletes. It’s a place the strength coach feels they need to kick everyone’s ass. When personal training someone, you can often spot the former athletes real quick: they will INSIST on getting their ass kicked. On feeling like they want to vomit. That if they’re not barely capable of walking the next day, it wasn’t hard enough. For them, that’s all they know “working out” to be. All or nothing. It took years for my girlfriend to be ok with only going to the gym a few days a week. In her mind, if she wasn’t working out five or six days a week, like an athlete, then it was pointless. Five or six days a week is hard to keep up with once you’re playing days are over. Especially with the mindset of “I’m not in the gym to talk to anybody. I’m there to work.” (Her words.)

In college, for football it’s customary to have “morning runs” during the off-season. They start at 6am, happen a couple days a week, and typically take place in the basketball arena. For our school, and I heard this was similar for many, when you got to the arena, the outside of the court would be lined with trash cans every 25 feet or so, due to all the vomiting that regularly happened. Often, many would start vomiting from the running / sled pushing / barrel rolling (on a hardwood floor (seriously)). The smell / sound would inevitably get to someone else, who’d go vomit…Many of us had trouble sleeping the night before. My roommate once told me I woke him up in the middle of the night because I was -in my sleep- cursing out one of the coaches (the barrel roll one), as if we were in the middle of the workout.

Plus, going to bed at 9:30pm in college, just to get eight hours of sleep, is practically impossible. So most would go to those runs on maybe five hours of sleep, then be zombies the rest of the day during class, before our two hour weight room session that afternoon.

It was during this time of year one of my teammates went, “Hey man, you wanna come to mall with us to see the dogs?” I had no idea what he was talking about. “Yeah, we go see the puppies to cheer up.” One guy sarcastically goes, “You know, so we don’t kill ourselves.” It’s not a coincidence it was the linemen who did this. The group where the morning runs sucked the most. ~300 pound guys having to run on hardwood floors and an indoor track.

Many of the linemen would say, “I can’t wait to take this weight off once I’m done playing. I feel so terrible.” Some of them gained weight in college specifically for playing. Planning to take it off once playing was over. Thing is, after years and years of being heavier, of getting involved in those types of habits, many have struggled to take the weight off since. Many gained even more! The only guy I know who successfully took the weight off went through about a year of bulimia to do it. Many started a habit -eating for sports, which involves extra consumption, often without second thought- which is a contraindicated habit for a healthy life. A very hard one to turn around.

Couple this with it not being hard to understand some wouldn’t mind if they never ran or worked out again. That it’s hard to keep yourself healthy longterm when every time you even try to workout you go balls to the wall, on a body with a longer than most past injury list, because that’s all you’ve known. And we can see some habits of being involved in sports are great, but some aren’t.

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