by Russ Ebberts, DC
I was a first year coach, and our first outdoor meet was at Fitchburg State. I wasn’t exactly sure where Fitchburg was -- somewhere near Boston. I was never there before, and haven’t been since. We leave campus at 530 a.m., with no breakfast. I figured I’d let the team sleep, and we’d hit a restaurant along the way and arrive in plenty of time for the 9a.m. start.
The bus driver sees a Friendly’s. That will work. Some scrambled eggs, a little bacon, toast, maybe a cheese omelet or oatmeal, coffee, tea or OJ, quick and simple, and we would be off and running 40 minutes later.
The food arrives, and table after table gets quiet, a good sign. And then the quiet was shattered by shrieking laughter. Quickly I’m up. This was the era of Animal House, with the reality of a food fight looming and tater tots flying.
I rise to observe and quickly quell any rebellion, but it is no food fight, it is a banana split. It is 7:30 in the morning and my freshman sprinter has ordered a full on banana split. The perky little waitress announces that is the first one she’s made all day. She outdid herself. I stare in amazement.
The banana split is delivered in a banana boat half the size of the placemat. There are 3 generous scoops of vanilla ice cream surrounded by a surgically halved banana that is bathed in chocolate syrup. The second story is a teetering mound of whipped cream littered with brightly colored sprinkles. For a fleeting moment I was speechless.
I interrupted the giggles and pleas for “one scoop?” with an incredulously judgmental, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?”
The sprinter, momentarily silent, shrugged and justified his choice by: 1. stating that it did have a banana and 2. “It’s my meal money,” implying that he could do with it as he chose. This was a kid with 1400 SATs. Fourteen hundred points on the SAT and no mother present. He finished the concoction, banana and all, and ran badly that day, a victim of the Sugar Blues.
Athletic nutrition, for some, is pretty simple. If the limiting factor in athletic performance is nutrition, then pursuit of quality nutrients and nutrition in general necessarily must be a pre-eminent goal for the athlete. With all that being said, what to choose is not so simple.
Classically everyone gets taught that one’s diet should be roughly 60% carbohydrates, 30% proteins and 10% fats or some slight variation thereof. I’ve taught that in a mandated curriculum for years. When I stop to catch my breath, I follow up that statement with the question: “Who in here can break down yesterday’s meals and give me their percentages?” In a class of 30 somebody always raises his or her hand. That is 3% of the class understanding the point I’m trying to make, and I’m pretty sure that guy or gal is about to wing it.
This presents a very legitimate problem, especially if you don’t know the difference between a carbohydrate and a protein. Many, even most, are knowledgeable about the fact that nutrition is critical but given a blank sheet of paper and a pencil, descriptions of a good diet will literally range from soup to nuts.
Further complicating this whole problem is that the next article one reads on the subject may diametrically oppose any ideas set forth here. Keto, 3 squares a day, South Beach, Paleo, high this, low that, intermittent fasting all come with celebrity endorsements whose beltlines expand and contract like a sideways yo-yo. What is a coach, parent, athlete or 14-year-old to do? And with American obesity rates approaching 60%, the only certainty here is whatever we’re doing is not working.
The basics of good nutrition do not change. One needs carbohydrates, fats and proteins along with minerals, vitamins and water. Few would argue with these facts, but it is the combinations that create confusion. What one needs is something that offers a general direction, allows for choice and is easy to implement for a 14-year-old or one boasting 1400 SATs. Cue the 100-Point Scale.
Long ago I found the 100-Point Scale in a physiology book. The authors credit H.A. DeVries for this idea. The premise is pretty simple. There are 10 categories of things to eat over the course of a day. If you eat the recommended amounts in each category you get 10 points. If you hit all the markers you score 100 points. Pretty much the only two things necessary to make this system work are some food and the ability to add.
If one takes a minute to scan the chart (and break it down) you’ll quickly see that the major food groups are addressed with desired quantities along with three admonitions of “foods” or habits to be avoided.
In truth I have long advocated for my athletes to score 80 points on a regular or daily basis. This allows some “wiggle room” for an occasional treat or variance from the plan that may result from work, travel or some other life issue. A second, equally important, reason is that athletes tend to be highly motivated, goal oriented people. If the daily goal of 100 points is strictly adhered to the “compulsion for completion” may drive the motivated to consume the final 20 points of whatever at 8 p.m., which can present its own set of sleep and digestive upsets.
I did make one change to the 100-Point Scale. For #1 I substituted water for milk. Proper hydration is a problem for many people. It has been postulated that most people spend their lives in a state of chronic dehydration. One must remember that water is the body’s solvent; all processes in the body need water. Humans are the only mammals to drink milk on a regular basis past infancy. We are also the only mammals to watch TV. Got – it?
You will note that there is no mention of vitamins and minerals. My recommendation for competitive athletes is that one consider a multi-vitamin, extra Vitamin C and B6, fish oil and an iron supplement. For some this is a controversial issue, while for others it is a no-brainer. Competitive athletics puts stresses on the body that are over and above those that the regular person faces. The mass-produced fresh produce of today can be depleted of some valuable nutrients. Remember that vitamins and minerals are meant to supplement one’s diet, not replace anything. Together they represent a margin of error.
Does the 100-Point Scale work? It works very well for several reasons. It is easy to understand, offers general direction and will accommodate even varied dietary interests (vegan, no-carb, Keto, etc.). It also offers variety and even promotes responsible choice, which can directly influence a competition, daily recovery time, growth and development and sport and lifetime longevity.
You may click on and download the above image of the 100-Point Scale
#1. – Water – As noted, this is the only change I made to the 100-Point Scale. Lactose intolerance tends to increase with age, with dairy products leading to excess gas and digestive problems. This will insure proper hydration, which is critical for athletic performance.
#2. - Protein Source – There are a number of choices here. Pick something that works, or one can cycle through different protein sources on a regular basis.
#3, 4.- Fruits and Vegetables – the common denominator here is “things that were once alive.” I strive for the “5-a-day Rule.” There is no penalty for extras. These are your natural fiber sources.
#5, 6. – Starches – some may chafe at this selection but here are your complex carbohydrates that are slower to digest, create a more even insulin response and another possible dietary fiber source.
#7. – Fats – note that these are natural, not synthetic or man-made (like margarine). Those liquid at room temperature are most desired.
#8-10.- The NOTS – an occasional foray here is not the end of the world. This is your “wiggle room.” There are no dietary staples here, just fillers, junk food and useless calories. These are the fundamental drivers of America’s obesity crisis.
15 Random Thoughts on Nutrition
I’ve lost count of the number of courses and seminars I’ve taken on diet and nutrition. Some were simple and most were complicated and left me thinking – who can follow this? Pretty close to no one. That is the beauty of the 100-Point Scale. It is easy to “get,” safe to do and hard to do wrong. It takes about a week to get used to it and then from that point on all one needs to have is a monthly reminder. Monastic denial is not required.
None of us arrives with an instruction manual, but there comes a time when we, individually are responsible for making our decisions and living with the consequences. The 100-Point Scale offers direction, choice and options that are easy to follow, healthful and prudent.
Off the Road Archive
Russ Ebbets, DC is a USATF Level 3 Coach and lectures nationally on sport and health related topics. He serves as editor of Track Coach, the technical journal for USATF. He is author of the novel Supernova on the famed running program at Villanova University and the sequel Time and Chance. His most recent book, A Runner’s Guide, a collection of training and running tips has been nominated for the Track and Field Writers of America Book of the Year 2019. He can be contacted at email@example.com.