The Importance of Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes
Apr 21, 2016
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:
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
Jessica Buschmann, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with Nationwide Children’s Sports Medicine. As part of her role at Nationwide Children’s, she provides nutrition services to Ohio Dominican University’s athletic teams and the general student population.
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