The Importance of Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes
Young athletes train long hours for their sport. In order to optimize that training, proper nutrition needs to be a regular component of their workout plan. A car needs fuel to run properly just as people (especially young athletes) need a healthful eating plan.
Meal and snack planning takes extra time and is often pushed to the side due to hectic family schedules, but healthy eating has to be a priority. The benefits of a healthy eating plan include:
- Injury prevention
- Strengthening of the immune system
- Decreased muscle tiredness and soreness
- Muscle healing and recovery
- Improved energy levels
- Increased focus and attention span
What and when should you eat before practice or competition?
Your body needs a well-balanced meal or high calorie snack 3-4 hours prior to practice or competition to allow for proper digestion. For early morning events, try to eat at least 2 hours beforehand. Since many athletes have practice after school, make sure you bring a small snack to eat 30-60 minutes beforehand for an extra boost of energy.
Some popular snack ideas I recommend for my young athletes include:
- Granola bar with nuts, grains, and dried fruit
- Crackers with peanut butter
- Applesauce squeeze pouch + nuts
- Yogurt with granola
- Fruit (banana, apple) and nuts
- Baggie of trail mix with nuts and dried fruit
- Cheese stick and pretzels
- Popcorn with peanuts or almonds
- Half of a turkey, ham, or peanut butter sandwich
What should you eat after practice or competition?
After exercise, your body is like a sponge ready to absorb and replenish nutrients lost during your training session. Ideally, have a snack or meal within 15-60 minutes of completing the activity and if you only have a snack during that time, try to have a meal within 1-2 hours. This might mean a snack after late night practices and games too. If you have a long drive to and from practice, make sure you plan ahead! Make your meal well-balanced with lean protein, grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy. If you are not able to eat solid food after exercising, try something liquid based like white milk, chocolate milk, or a fruit smoothie made with yogurt. Smoothies have a great balance of carbohydrates to protein, are cost efficient for teams, and portable for easy transport!
Don’t forget to hydrate.
Stick to water, milk, and 100% fruit juice as proper hydration methods
- Limit juice to 4-6 ounces per day
- Have 2-3 glasses of milk per day
- Aim for at least 64-80 ounces of water per day
- Sports drinks should be used when exercising longer than 60 minutes, especially for help in fueling during back to back games
For more meal and snack ideas check out, http://700childrens.nationwidechildrens.org/healthy-meals-athlete/ or listen to this PediaByte from our PediaCast podcast.