Good nutrition can enhance a young athlete's sporting performance. A well-planned, nutritious diet should meet all athletes’ vitamin and mineral needs. Providing enough protein to promote muscle growth and repair is important. A complex carbohydrate gives the young athlete the energy needed to perform. A young athlete needs to drink at least 8-10 cups of water every day.
Let first discuss why it’s important for a young athlete to consume the appropriate amount of vitamins and minerals. Calcium helps build strong bones so a growing athlete will resist breaking bones and having stress fractures. Milk, yogurts, and cheese are examples of Calcium-rich foods. Iron helps carry oxygen to all different parts of the body that needs it. Chicken, tuna, salmon, eggs, dried fruit, green vegetables and whole grains are examples of iron. Carbohydrates provide energy for the body. It’s a great source of fuel for a young athlete. If the athlete doesn’t consume carbs, they will be running empty. Whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-grain bread and cereal and lots of fruits and vegetables are great carbohydrates.
Young athletes must drink lots of water. Being dehydrated can zap a young athlete of their energy, strength, and coordination and can lead to heat-related illnesses. They should drink 2-3 cups of water before and after all practices, training and competitions. If a young athlete's practice, training session or competitions is over an hour, they should take water breaks every 15-20 minutes to hydrate.
Timing is everything on competition day. The young athlete's body needs 2 hours to fully digest a regular meal. So, the best time to feed your young athlete is 2 hours before competition. The best meal for them to compete consists of protein, veggies and a complex carb. Having a granola bar or a non-citrus fruit 30 minutes before competition is ideal. After the athletes’ competition, it is ideal for them to eat another healthy meal (protein, veggies, complex carbs) to restore their energy efficiently. So yes, what and when you feed your young athlete is very important.
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
AFFA Group Fitness Instructor