NUTRITION FOR YOUTH ATHLETES
By: Meggan Brunette, B.S., C.S.C.S, USA-W
During this past month of re-evaluations, many of our athletes have been asking what the best foods are for them to maximize their hard training. Many of our youth athletes are not eating enough to fuel their growth or achieve their ultimate potential. Pre-competition and post-competition meals are just as important as the weeks and years of hard training that your athletes are putting in on the field, in the pool, or on the court.
Pre-competition and Post-competition Meals. Meals should mainly include a healthy combination of carbohydrates and protein. Some examples include oatmeal, bran, or rice in combination with lean meats, nuts, or low-fat dairy products. A small amount of fat is also important for stabilizing energy throughout the day. Some examples include peanut butter, avocado, or reduced-fat cheeses. Although fruits and vegetables are great choices for snacks, it should be remembered that they should be limited in fiber right before workouts, as these digest slower and could cause your athlete some discomfort while training. Mid-competition snacks may be necessary for endurance athletes with events lasting longer than an hour.
Don’t Skip Meals. The most common two mistakes I see with many of our athletes is skipping breakfast and meals after school, prior to their training. A balanced breakfast of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fat is an important component of sports nutrition. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, as they cause a spike in sugar levels in the system, which then lead to crashes in energy throughout the day. Not only will this affect your athlete’s ability to concentrate in the classroom, but it will leave them unable to focus on the field as well. Healthy nutrition gives our athletes a head up on the competition, by increasing their ability to focus, build strength, develop to their maximum potential, as well as avoid illness and fatigue.
Hydration is Key. It is very important for endurance as well as preventing muscle cramping and fatigue. Young athletes especially are at an increased risk for dehydration and heat-related illnesses. Many of our athletes have been drinking high caffeinated energy drinks, which can be detrimental to their athletic performance. Multiple reasons for this increased consumption could be a more demanding school load, combined with increased volume of training, and in some cases, the social aspect that a trip to the local Starbucks may provide. It is important for these athletes to understand that caffeine acts a diuretic. This could leave the athlete dehydrated and unable to sleep through the night. Increased caffeine intake can even leave the athlete dizzy or with a heart racing affect during competition.
Getting enough protein and nutrients. This is also a critical factor for our athletes. For many female athletes, reduced protein diets may lead to anemia, or an insufficient amount of Iron in their system. The most prominent symptoms of this would be seen as extreme fatigue and/or irregular menstrual cycles. Dairy is an important source of protein and calcium to ensure that female athletes avoid calcium loss from bones. As female athletes are developing, it is also important to get enough calcium to prevent osteoporosis later in life. Especially for youth athletes, supplements should not be the first choice of receiving their vitamins and nutrients. Most generic supplements are not necessarily absorbed, in a high enough percentage, to benefit the athlete. They may even be hurtful to their development.
Keeping it Simple. Make sure your athlete eats four to five times a day, avoids sugary foods and drinks, eats their fruits and vegetables, consumes a balanced combination of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats at each meal, and gets enough sleep throughout the week to increase their athletic performance. Yes, it is important that we educate our athletes and encourage them to eat healthy. At the end of the day remember that you are the parent and the example you set for your young athletes will shape the decisions they make for their health, throughout their life.
For additional articles/questions contact Coach Meggan