Food, dieting and sports


As someone employed in food service for most of my life, it is with much interest that I attend the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago each May. Though I am retired from the business, it is still fascinating to observe the latest trends and changes in the industry.

Lately, the focus has been on utilizing technology to offset labor shortages, being more environmentally conscious and offering healthier food and beverage options. In terms of sports performance, I began to wonder how trendier food choices fit in.

If healthier food is more readily available, why is there more obesity among young people and a higher incidence of injuries and ailments among these same athletes? Shouldn’t everyone’s physical condition be improving as better food choices become available?

It’s been a mystery and perhaps there are other factors offsetting the nutritional gains. Certainly, the fact that today’s youth are less active than previous generation is detrimental to overall well-being.

And, what about these new things that we put into our bodies? The food show displayed many so-called energy drinks, which have become a hot commodity among teenagers.

Loaded with caffeine and sugar, how can these be these be promoted as a plus compared to good old-fashioned tap water, which doesn’t cost anything? Well, they are marketed to gullible consumers as more flashy than water and something that will give you that extra oomph needed to get through the day.

Even sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, can be abused if the intake is too high. They do serve a purpose by replacing electrolytes, but should not be the sole source of liquid usage during workouts.

Water should be the primary means for avoiding dehydration. Additionally, it doesn’t give your stomach “gut bomb” like electrolyte drinks may and I speak from experience.

In doing 50 to 100 miles races in warm weather, I tried the electrolyte drinks. For many others and myself they created stomach distress.                 

Eventually, I transitioned back to water alone with varying amounts of salt, depending on how hot/humid it was. That simple formula has served me fine.

On the same token, I have discovered that simpler foods in my running diet do just as well as the upscale energy bars and gels. Give me a PBJ, salted potatoes and a banana instead.

There have been lots of fallacies regarding the best foods to eat for athletic performance. Generations ago, it was thought a big steak was best before going into competition. Then, it was carb-loading, such as eating a bunch of spaghetti the night before a marathon.

After a while, it can get confusing as what fuel is best for us. I have come to the conclusion that the latest and greatest in diets or food trends isn’t always the best for us.

A simple diet of wholesome fare will suffice. Let’s add home cooked to that equation. Perhaps all the eating out or buying pre-made fare is a negative to the health of young athletes.

Ironically, that flies in the face of what the National Restaurant Show is all about. It exists to grow the business of eating out, be it fast food or fine dining.

Here’s another dilemma:

Nationwide, efforts have made to make school food service more health conscious. The problem is that often, kids don’t want healthier options. Keep the chicken nuggets and pizza, they say.

I get it. As an older person, I enjoy foods that I would have not have touched as a youngster.

One more thought on my day spent at the food show and how it relates to school sports.

A vastly unrepresented component of the food delivery business is a concession stand. With a captive audience of consumers, there is more of potential than what schools may realize. For some, concession stands are an afterthought or even a nuisance to maintain.

I get that too, especially with the heavy loads school personnel must bear. However, the amount of increased revenue a concession stand can significantly impact one’s athletic budget.

Countless times, I’ve been at high-school sporting events only to see a concession stand run out of food items, forcing people to leave hungry and profits go down the drain.

Ideally, a school’s concessions would be run by a professional manager instead of by committee. Colleges and professional teams make loads of cash on concessions and of course, offer many more options of food and drink.

Could junior high and high schools do the same?

Andy Colbert is a longtime Ogle County resident with years of experience covering sports and more for multiple area publications.