MINNEAPOLIS -- The crispness of the bell peppers muffled the noise coming from James Onwualu's mouth as he described the snack's purpose.
Red, yellow and green peppers, mixed with broccoli and spinach, are a vital part of living a purified life, the Cretin-Derham Hall High School senior said. It's the nourishment he sees as required to adequately prepare for goals that reach far beyond being the best wide receiver in Minnesota.
An emphasis on nutrition, carefully sculpted to match growing teenage athletes with their sport's demands, is an edge that Onwualu and others use to become the best in their sport.
These athletes form their detailed eating habits by heeding coaches, personal trainers and even parents.
"It's specific today with who you are and to the athlete," said Onwualu, a Notre Dame-bound football standout.
Other athletes are similarly disciplined and committed.
Minneapolis soccer player Zach Neiberger replaced chips with fruit. Cross-countryrunner Maria Hauger eats loads of spinach and red meat for the iron boost required for distance running. Wayzata swimmer Emma Paulson starts preparing for a meet five days in advance through her food. Volleyball player Anna Pioske gave up soda three years ago to help increase her vertical. Fellow volleyball player Samantha Seliger-Swenson says no to sweets. Football player Mitch Underhill stopped drinking Gatorade.
Each of these sacrifices has molded this group into the best and, in some cases, convinced fellow teammates to simply pay more attention to meals.
"(Performance) depends on what you eat. I don't eat candy. I don't drink pop. I keep my muscles hydrated and healthy," Onwualu said. "I feel my body is more pure. Food has kind of become not a pleasure. I don't love different kinds of food, but there are certain things I eat that are good for you."
Hopkins volleyball coach Vicki Seliger-Swenson empowers her team by handing out articles on nutrition. She said the awareness has created an overall healthy environment regardless of the athlete's commitment level.
An average week for Onwualu begins with a visit to the supermarket with a detailed grocery list, edited by nutrition and training coach Ted Johnson. Onwualu prepares his own meals. Along with peppers, his recent lunch included a couple of forms of fruit and three sandwiches turkey, chicken breast, ham.
This midday refueling is part of a 5,000- to 6,000-calorie diet engineered for Onwualu's needs as a football player, and more specifically, as a wide receiver.
"Pretty sophisticated stuff" is how Johnson categorized the lifestyle. Along with the rigorous no-supplement nutrition habits he instills in clients, he pushes them beyond traditionally accepted workouts.
Underhill, training alongside Johnson after missing all of last season because of a knee injury, gained 20 pounds while maintaining 8 percent body fat. In-depth analysis of the Wayzata running back's body type and its needs produced a diet of six to seven meals a day. At each meal he consumes a serving of vegetables and avoids sugars. The senior's attempts to gain weight allow for one sweet exception: His final meal of the day is often ice cream and waffles.
"I pretty much just eat the same thing. We don't have anything else (at home)," Underhill said. "It's more about performance and gaining weight. And outlasting everyone."
On Underhill's first carry this season, he ran 62 yards for a touchdown. He took no Gatorade to recharge. Johnson's methods discourage the sports drink. Water is enough.
He encourages athletes to keep a daily diary of what they've consumed. Each night his trainees send him pictures of their meals.
"I see it as necessary, because I want to be the best there is out there," he said. "I want to be the top athlete in Minnesota."
The Waconia volleyball team rules includes a section on nutrition. It's important to coach Jim Lee that his athletes are well-fed.
"If we eat healthy, we play healthy," Pioske said. "You can tell if you eat a bunch of junk food. You feel slower and don't feel as energized. You're more awake and alert."