Many teen athletes look to their parents and coaches for guidance on food choices to maximize their game day performance. Just how does nutrition impact ability on the court, field and in the pool? Let’s take a look at some commonly asked questions.
“What should my teen athlete eat to ensure peak physical performance?”
Start with a well balanced breakfast that is rich in carbohydrate sources and protein. We’ve all heard it, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” It’s true that starting their day with a breakfast will help fuel their tank and replace glycogen stores (https://www.verywell.com/-what-is-glycogen-2242008) that have been depleted during the overnight fast.
Examples could be;
- whole grain cereal with fresh fruit and low fat milk
- a hard boiled egg, whole wheat toast and an orange
- a smoothie with fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and orange juice
- a bowl of oatmeal with raisins and low fat milk
Prior to the competitive event, keep in mind, your athlete will want to eat familiar foods. Nothing is worse than getting on the court and being doubled over with stomach cramps.
Timing of meals is essential for success. As your athlete gets closer to game time, fuel should be composed primarily of carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fiber and fat. This is no time for a slice of greasy pizza or a high fiber bar. These tend to slow digestion.
The following guidelines apply;
- Allow at 3-4 hours for digestion of a larger meal. At least half of your athlete’s plate should be carbohydrate sources. Lean protein should take up a quarter of the plate. Green vegetables should make up the remainder.
- If your teen has only 2-3 hours before competition, make the meal lighter
- If there is less than an hour before the event, stick with a smaller snack such as a banana, granola bar or crackers.
- Avoid sweets such as candy, cookies and sodas which can cause a “sugar crash”
“Is it necessary to ‘carb load’ the night before a big game?”
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that meals eaten in the days leading up to a game day event should provide adequate carbohydrate to achieve optimum glycogen stores. Your teen should eat well balanced meals throughout their training, not just before game night. A good game day meal won’t erase a week of fast food, skipped meals and energy drinks. Even on training days, adequate nutrition before exercise has been shown to improve performance, as compared to a fasting state.
“How do I help my athlete prevent dehydration?”
To stay hydrated, an athlete should drink plenty of water throughout the day. Start with a big glass even before breakfast. It will help with metabolism and digestion. Most athletes need well over 64 ounces of water per day. The amount of water they need is dependent on their size, the conditions in which they are exercising and the length of time they compete. A good rule of thumb is to encourage your athlete to make sure their urine is clear in color. Water and milk are great fluid choices. Sports drinks can be advantageous for events lasting more than one hour. Sports drinks should not exceed 6-8% carbohydrate (14-19 grams per ounce) Examples include; Gatorade, Aspire and Propel. Be cautious of energy drinks that are loaded with caffeine and sugar (http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/sports-drinks)
A cornerstone of peak performance is proper nutrition and hydration. Healthy lifestyle choices include; whole grains, at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day, lean protein sources, low fat dairy and healthy fats. These recommendations hold true not only for the competitive season but for a lifetime. For additional tips on healthy eating for the teen athlete, please visit http://www.eatright.org
– Melissa Horner
If you or your teen athlete have any questions about this topic or would like to schedule a FREE Nutrition Consultation with our dietician Melissa Horner, give us a call or email us to schedule.