Dietitian teaches Salem High School students about how diet affects health

By Sandra Ali - Anchor/Reporter, Dane Sager Kelly - Web Producer

SALEM, Mich. - Practice, practice, practice -- it's what we teach our young athletes to improve their skills, but how they fuel themselves could be a big key to their success.

Teenagers think they can eat anything -- and they do -- but when it comes to performing their best at the big game, they need to have a performance plan for their diet. 

Salem High School hockey players have a menu planned by a registered dietitian. When Local 4 spoke with the group, they were eating taco bowls. The dish had options of spinach, brown rice, grilled chicken, flank steak, grilled vegetables, black beans, tomatoes avocados, lime and more. 

Maureen Stoecklein is doing more than feeding these athletes; she is giving them a lesson in how to use food to improve their game.

"It's important for high school athletes, especially, to learn how to fuel themselves properly," Stoecklein said. "I think that so often. Natural talent only takes an athlete so far."

She believes eventually, any athlete will get to a point where they will need nutrition to help take it to the next level. Stoecklein would know. She's the dietitian working with the New York Mets. 

She wants players to focus on three principles:

  1. Less processed foods
  2. More fruits and vegetables
  3. Hydration

Stoecklein said a good rule of thumb for hydration is to take half of one's body weight in pounds. That number in ounces is how much that person should drink. A 180-pound athlete, using this rule, should drink 90 ounces of water a day -- although a body's water needs change with activity, temperature, humidity and more. She said athletes should be careful with energy drinks due to the sugar and caffeine.

When it comes to food, Stoecklein said people focus too much on getting protein and avoiding carbs, fat and sugar.

"What we really need to think about as athletes is getting more of the micronutrients," Stoecklein said. "Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals. Those are the things that keep your body healthy."

Micronutrients help the body recover, prevent long-term illness and encourage longevity in an athlete's career, Stoecklein said. She suggests eight different fruits and vegetables throughout the day.

She said student-athletes can make 80 percent of their food choices based on health, giving students leeway with 20 percent to use on ice cream, cake, cookies or whatever else someone's guilty pleasure might be.

One thing Stoecklein is adamant about is not skipping meals. 

What athletes eat two hours before a game or practice is the most important meal of that day. They also require to eat again 30 to 45 minutes after. She said a recovery meal can combat the micro tears that lead to inflammation. 

Stoecklein also taught the student athletes how to make their own protein bars, mixing peanut butter, oats, dates and dark chocolate chips. 

"It's a great way for them to see that they don't need to rely on some of the products that are available for protein bars and they can actually make their own," Stoecklein said. "I feel like when the athlete participates in the making process, it becomes a little bit more fun, and they are a little bit more engaged in wanting to eat what they have made."