Step up your game

Updated: September 24, 2009, 2:40 PM ET
By Alan Stein | Special to

The Better Lunch

The Better Lunch

For high school athletes, breakfast isn't necessarily the most important meal of the day. That distinction belongs to pre-game and pre-training meals. With practices and games typically not starting until after school, quality lunches are critical to optimizing performance. Ironically, lunch is often the least-healthy meal for high school athletes. Luckily, a few tweaks will turn a high-fat fast-food meal that leaves you fatigued and too full into a vitamin-packed lunch that'll push you through the fourth quarter.

Lunch 1

GO FROM scarfing down a quarter-pound cheeseburger with special sauce, large fries and a large cola…
TO EATING two smaller-sized hamburgers, two oranges or apple-wedge packets, a medium milkshake and bottled water.

Axing a quarter-pounder saves 30 grams of fat (special sauce and mayo are particularly high in fat) while keeping iron-rich beef on the menu. Trading in fries for fruit decreases fat and increases vitamins, minerals and carbs to ensure you don't become lethargic midway through your game. Milkshakes, meanwhile, are an excellent source of calcium and protein to help your lifting sessions.

Lunch 2

GO FROM dipping chicken fingers in ranch dressing and complementing that with tater tots, fruit punch and M&M'S…
TO EATING a chicken patty sandwich with honey mustard or ketchup and baked chips or pretzels, Fig Newtons, orange juice and water.

Breaded chicken sandwiches typically have a lost less fat than chicken strips, reducing fat content from about 90 grams to 20. This will lead to a boost in quality, long-lasting carbs. It also reduces sugars that may weigh you down and adds fiber and antioxidants.

By Michelle Rockwell, who co-owns RK Team Nutrition, who is a registered dietician. The former director of sports nutrition at Florida, Rockwell has helped several pro teams maximize performance through improved diets.

After a long summer break (OK, a short one, but who's counting?), it's time to get back in shape. The question is, where to start? Don't automatically make a beeline for the bench press like everybody else. Ease into your back-to-school regimen with some modified pull-ups, which will work out your entire upper back -- the most important part of any athlete's body. Then add some shoulder, core and back workouts to strengthen your whole body.

The Workout

Modified Pull-Up
Strengthens the entire backside of the upper body as well as grip strength. It's a great alternative for anyone who has trouble doing normal pull-ups.

What to do?
Start by finding a secure and stable bar about waist high. A Smith machine works great, but you can also set up a standard barbell in a typical squat rack. Hold onto the bar with an overhand or underhand grip with your heels on the ground. Keeping your body rigid and aligned (ankles, knees, hips and shoulders in a straight line), pull your chest to the bar, pause and then lower until your arms are straight. Repeat for the desired number of reps. Perform this exercise slow and under control to maximize muscular tension. Try to do between 8-15 reps. If 15 reps are too easy, add resistance by wearing a weighted vest.

Overhead Press
Why? Strengthens the shoulders and core and involves many stabilizing muscles.

What To Do?
Start in a balanced, athletic position (slight knee bend with "chest over knees over feet"). Hold a pair of dumbbells at your shoulders and press them as high as possible. Then return them to the starting position. Repeat for the desired number of reps. You can press the weights explosively but always make sure to lower them under control. You can perform this exercise by pressing both dumbbells simultaneously, or you can alternate them with your palms facing either forward or each other. You can even mix it up for variety. You can perform this exercise twice a week, doing 8-15 reps.

Single Leg Romanian Deadlift
Strengthens the entire back side of the lower body, including hamstrings, lower back and glutes. It also works the stabilizing muscles of the ankle, knee and hip.

What To Do?
Start by standing on one leg with a pair of dumbbells at your sides. Keeping your back flat, shoulder blades together and a slight bend on the leg you're standing on, bend at the waist and lower the dumbbells to the floor. Then return to your starting position and repeat for the desired number of reps. Make sure you work both legs equally. You can perform this exercise twice a week (with other lower body movements) and work between 8-15 reps for each leg.

Want help elevating your game? Email your questions to and we'll try to cover those topics.

Alan Stein owns Stronger Team and serves as head strength & conditioning coach for the national power Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.) boys' basketball program.