When it comes to nutrition for young athletes, it is important to understand the importance of fuel and hydration. Eating regular, well-balanced meals will ensure that the body is working at its best. It is important to set the stage early that eating healthy and smart equals playing at a higher level.
Hydration for Athletes
Golden rule of sport nutrition: Stay Hydrated!!!!
It sounds basic, but it is an absolute must. Young athletes don’t yet have a mature system to sweat as efficiently as adults. Until the body has the experience and training, young athletes do not cool down as fast as adults and need more hydration. Also, younger athletes have a greater energy expenditure and radiate more heat.
Consistency is key for efficient nutrition for young athletes. Drinking 64 ounces of fluid should be a daily goal. As appealing as sports drinks like Gatorade are, plain water is still the best choice. According to The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), here are the guidelines for fluid intake: 16 – 20 ounces within the 2 hours prior to exercise and 4-6 ounces during exercise. After exercising, 24 ounces of fluid should be replenished per pound of weight lost during exercise.
How Do I Fuel My Body?
Young athletes need to treat their body like a high-performance sports car and their stomach like a fuel tank. If you want your sports car to run at peak performance, you aren’t going to fill it up with low-grade gasoline. The same goes for sport nutrition.
What Do I Eat?
It is important to keep nutrition for young athletes varied, easily transportable, and that tastes good. It is much easier to make good choices when you actually enjoy what you are eating. On game days, if the food choices are too restrictive or unappealing, young athletes will have a much harder time sticking to a nutritious routine or might develop unhealthy eating habits. On a regular basis, it is ideal for young athletes to have 3-6 mini meals (depending on level of exercise exertion) and to always have breakfast. Each meal should contain a protein and a complex carbohydrate. Eating healthy isn’t accidental; it takes planning. When building your meals it is important to keep a good balance of protein, carbs, and fat. Most athletes are told to carb load, which generally translates into a bowl full of pasta. This is not a wise choice. The pasta will sit in your stomach, and energy levels will drop. Instead try to center your meal around a healthy protein, then build from there. If you are going to eat pasta as a carb make sure your portions are controlled and you have included a healthy protein and fat with it.
What Time Should I Eat?
The timing of when you fuel your body is just as important as what you are fueling it with. Make sure that you are eating in advance, everything you put in your body affects how you play. It isn’t enough to not eat breakfast, then eat a healthy lunch. Missing out on that breakfast will affect your body and how it performs. It is best to include a protein, carb, and fat at every meal, and even snacks. Balance is key. The goal is to keep your metabolism revved up, supply you with energy, and get your body to perform at high levels. Pizza right before a game is not a good idea, and it doesn’t matter your age, or skill level you will experience a drop in your energy levels.
Why shouldn’t you eat a huge meal right before game play or exercise? Your body actually loses the ability to digest your food efficiently when your adrenaline rises. Eating any closer to exercise will slow the body down, as it does not break down food efficiently during exercise. If this cannot be avoided, a small snack of a protein or protein powder, with almonds and veggies or an apple is a good option. Post-exercise meals should be a good combination of protein (to repair muscle tissue), carbohydrates, and fat. This is the best time for sugar intake, such as fruit.
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