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Vitamins and Supplements to Know

Vitamins and Supplements to Know

Now that you know all about supplements and whether they’re right for you and your athletes, here are four to consider for better health and performance:

B Vitamins: Provide energy for cellular function in active adults and athletes, who are often lacking the necessary reserves. Sleep deprivation and stress can be a culprit in depleting the body’s stores.

Zinc: An essential mineral that assists with proper function when it comes to digestion, metabolism and growth. For athletes, sub-par zinc levels in the body could impede recovery from injuries.

Vitamin D: Builds strong bones and assists with the body’s ability to absorb calcium, magnesium and zinc. Muscle aches and restless leg syndrome are often associated with Vitamin D deficiency.


Amino Acids: Considered the building blocks for muscles. Some amino acids (such as glutamine and glycine) are produced by the body naturally, but others (like leucine and lysine) must be obtained from food. Because amino acids are sourced from proteins like meat and eggs, strict vegetarians and vegans often require supplements.


The Wide World of Supplements

The Wide World of Supplements

In Morgantown, W. Va., all-star gym Champion Training Academy sells USANA nutritional supplements and weight loss products as part of its adult weight loss/group fitness program. Over in Katy, Texas, Xcel Athletics All-Stars hosted a Valentine’s Day shopping event earlier this year at which one of the vendors was Advocare (a company that markets energy, weight loss, nutrition and sports performance products). Some gyms are also selling Advocare on-site, such as Green Bay-based Tri County Gymnastics & Cheer, and many cheer professionals moonlight as Advocare reps in addition to their work at the gym, including Tori and Jason Cuevas (Legacy All-Star Cheer & Dance), Sherry Gomez (Ultimate Cheer & Dance) and James Whitaker (Cheer Time Revolution).

According to Whitaker, it’s not surprising that many in the cheer industry are embracing supplements. “Both coaches and athletes put a lot of stress on their bodies—heavy lifting, multiple repetitions, fatigue, muscle breakdown, dehydration,” says Whitaker. “And not only that, but our time is very limited. When you supplement, it allows you to overcome those obstacles.”

Whitaker isn’t alone in his penchant for supplements—in 2012, the nutritional supplement category hit $32 billion in revenue, and by 2021 it will be almost double that at $60 billion (according to the Nutrition Business Journal). While these numbers signal blockbuster business for the supplement industry, the surge also means consumers will need to work harder in order to sift through the barrage of advertising, studies and claims that are sure to follow.

So how can cheer professionals begin the tedious process of navigating the supplements market? Understanding supplements and what they do will assist in deciphering which ones make sensible, safe choices for you—and your athletes.

What are supplements? The definition of a supplement “is simple,” explains Dr. Jenny Abercrombie, an El Segundo, CA-based naturopathic doctor. She describes supplements as an “adjunct to nutrition,” meaning that supplements are not meant to replace the foods we eat, but rather “to fill in the gaps.”

Whitaker believes supplements also help him set a good health example. “I use Brad Habermel and Cheer Athletics as an analogy,” he shares. “He is in great shape, [so] his teams are in great shape. He coaches with high energy, [so] his teams perform with tons of energy. They are a direct reflection of him. His healthy lifestyle helps him not only coach at a high level but gives him credibility when he demands that same healthy lifestyle from his athletes.”

How powerful are they? Supplements support and even enhance body function, including offering remedies when certain issues arise (such as fatigue caused by stress, lack of sleep or over-training). “They help prevent burnout and improve recovery and performance,” says Dr. Abercrombie. The magic happens at the cellular level by improving the muscle’s utilization of sugar, “which is where we get energy from.”

But Dr. Abercrombie cautions that too often people—especially active adults and athletes—rely solely on supplements for nutrition. “It’s much easier to take a supplement,” she says, “and much harder to identify and eliminate poor food choices that cause poor performance, anxiety, mood swings and depression.”

Chris White, the Georgia-based owner of Spirit Supplements Nutrition, LLC, says he witnesses the effects of poor food choices on a daily basis. “All too often, I see kids show up for competition with empty fast food wrappers and an energy drink, and they wonder why they don’t feel good or perform well,” he says. Though White commiserates with families and the busy lives they lead, he believes there are alternatives to mainstream unhealthful grab-n-go foods—supplements that can be both fast and nutritious. “A protein shake is quick and easy, too,” he adds.

Which ones are worth it? Stephanie Beveridge, FDN, agrees. “I always recommend a whole, nutrient-dense lifestyle of food for everyone (including athletes), but supplements can assist in wellness,” says Beveridge, who is the executive director of programs for Copperas Cove, TX-based GymKix. Two supplements Beveridge often recommends for overall health: vitamins A and D. According to Beveridge, Vitamin A is essential because it supports healing, while Vitamin D reduces internal inflammation—both effects that can serve to cut an athlete’s downtime between a hard practice and a competition.

What to watch out for? Beveridge is quick to point out that quality varies between brands; she also makes the broad claim that almost all mainstream and heavily advertised supplements likely contain toxins. “Most have artificial food colorings and sweeteners,” explains Beveridge. “[These] have been linked to negatively impact the brain and the central nervous system.” Beveridge recommends reading labels and avoiding brands that list aspartame, sucralose or saccharin as ingredients. Instead, she advocates buying supplements that use natural sweeteners like stevia, honey and maple syrup.

Are there alternatives to relying on supplements that will get the same results? The answer is “yes,” says White. Before turning to taking supplements, White recommends getting back to nutrition basics with what he calls “clean eating.” He believes athletes and active adults can meet their dietary needs by consuming adequate amounts of hormone-free meat proteins, fruits and vegetables, as well as fats from foods like avocados.

“If kids still aren’t performing well, I give parents a checklist,” says White. The checklist includes questions regarding a child’s overall well-being, such as hydration, stress level, sleep patterns, social challenges and medications. The answers help White educate parents and develop a strategy to remedy issues with performance through a combination of good nutrition and supplementation.

-Cathleen Calkins

Visit our blog for a rundown of suggested supplements for you and your athletes!


Healthy Eating: Planting the Seed

Healthy Eating: Planting the Seed

Mo’ meat, mo’ problems? That’s the premise of documentaries like Forks Over Knives, which explore the theory that animal-based and processed foods lead to degenerative disease and other health issues. “Films such as Forks Over Knives, Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation have heightened awareness about our nation’s food system and persuaded viewers of benefits of a plant-based diet,” says Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RD, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

The popularity of such films—coupled with a mass movement toward healthier eating—points to an overall trend: plant-based diets are hot. A 2012 Vegetarian Resource Group survey found that 7.3 million Americans are vegetarian, while 22.8 million others follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. “More people are interested in meatless meals some of the time. They may not be complete vegetarians, but they are interested in moving in that direction,” says Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant-Powered Diet.

Why make the shift? Research has shown that bioactive compounds found in plant foods can reduce inflammation and damage to cells, cutting down the risk of chronic diseases like cancer. Plant-based diets have also been documented to keep you leaner and keep lifestyle diseases like diabetes at bay. And, along with long-term health benefits, it may also boost endurance—a welcome development for any all-star athlete.

Of course, plant-based diets are nothing new among performance-centered athletes. Just ask legends Joe Namath, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, Desmond Howard and Carl Lewis—all of whom don’t eat meat. And while many school-aged athletes might consider fast food to be one of the major food groups, others might be intrigued by the idea of going flexitarian, vegetarian or full vegan. We asked the experts for their tips on making this lifestyle change work for all-star cheerleaders:

Keep the energy flowing: Long practices and intense competitions call for a high energy level, and athletes who rely too much on vegetables might develop an energy lag. To prevent sluggishness, McDaniel suggests incorporating foods like legumes, soy products, grains and healthy fats like nuts, avocados, seeds and olive oil into the daily diet. “[Athletes] need to make sure they are getting adequate calories, and not just veggies and fruits,” advises McDaniel.

Pacify the palate: Transitioning to a plant-based diet can be tough. “Those in transition can try some of the alternative meats or plenty of tofu, all of which are high in protein and fat,” says Jack Norris, RD, and author of Vegan for Life.

Get your fill of nutrients: People on plant-based diets can miss out on some nutrients, such as iron and vitamins. “Because the plant-based form of iron is not absorbed as easily as iron from meat, vegetarians need to eat plenty of iron-rich foods,” says McDaniel. To remedy this issue, McDaniel suggests eating lots of beans, greens and fortified foods every day. Also, Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron, make sure the refrigerator is stocked with strawberries, oranges and tomatoes.

Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D can also present a challenge. The human body can synthesize Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but to get enough Vitamin B12, it’s all about eating more fortified foods. As for calcium, those who don’t eat dairy products will have to obtain their necessary calcium quota from calcium-rich soy products and dark leafy greens.

Keep the focus: Hungry athletes will have to avoid snacking on junk food when they don’t have easy access to plant foods. “Snacking on whole foods and snacks made with whole foods is key,” says Kate Geagan, author of Go Green, Get Lean. She suggests keeping Justin’s Nut Butter packs handy for high protein nourishment on the go. Other healthy snacks include peanuts, walnuts, kale chips, fruit smoothies and granola bars.

Most importantly, remember that this diet isn’t for everyone. Put your athletes in touch with a dietician who can chart out a diet program tailoring to their individual needs before they embark on any diet. 

Other Plant-Based Diets

Not ready to go totally vegetarian just yet? Try these diets:

Semi-vegetarian (or Flexitarian): This is mostly a plant-based diet with meat meals thrown in once in a while. Go for Meatless Mondays!

Pescetarian: Fish are the only animal product consumed on this diet. This is a great way to get your protein and omega fatty acid retirements fulfilled—but keep an eye on mercury exposure.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian: People on this diet eat no meat, but consume milk and eggs. (Translation: no calcium and vitamin B12 worries.)

-Dinsa Sachan

Guest Blog from AmeriCheer: Meal Planner for Cheer Coaches

As college cheerleaders, we had long days of classes on top of tough practices and workouts. People always asked, “Where do you get that kind of energy?” And as a coach, the pace doesn’t slow—practices, games and events take up a lot of time and energy. (Plus, you may have a family and career!) No matter what stage you’re at in your cheer career, eating healthy—and measuring the proper amounts—is the number-one way to keep your energy all day.

My sister realized how stressed I was when it came to meals when I would stand in front of my fridge and pantry trying to come up with something. She suggested a meal plan, but I told her I didn’t have time. She said all it took was five minutes on a Sunday before heading to the grocery store. I decided to try making a meal plan and it’s awesome!

All you need is a dry-erase board and a listing of your favorite foods. It’s fun…and organized! To get started, grab a notebook or type up the following:

× List 10 of your favorite fruits

× List 10 of your favorite veggies (fresh is better!)

× List 10 favorite lunches (such as a sandwich or soup)

× List 5 favorite lunch sides (as simple as a pickle, some crackers or fruit)

× List 10 favorite dinners (Yes, it is okay to choose pizza and takeout once a week.)

× List 10 favorite dinner sides (mainly starches and grains)

× List 5 breakfasts (eggs, toast, muffins, pancakes, waffles—and yes, I do buy the frozen waffles!)

For each day, choose your meals based on your list:

Breakfast Example: Add a fruit and a breakfast item (could be cereal/poptart/muffin/anything)

Lunch Example: Grilled cheese and some tortilla chips. If you pack your kids lunches, add variety every day! They will love it.

Dinner Example: Choose a meat/fish/poultry and 2 sides (veggie and starch)

Once your weekly list is complete, head to the grocery store; this will help save costs and keep your portions reasonable. This is also GREAT for families, as you are not scrambling to decide what to make for dinner. With a meal planner that takes less than five minutes to create, you will be organized, less stressed and have lots of energy for coaching your team!