There is no better feeling than watching our children out on the field, playing a sport they love. And while genetics (thanks mum and dad), fitness and raw talent all come into play, let’s not forget about nutrition!
Good nutrition is essential to support a young athlete’s growth, strength and stamina. It is especially important that they eat well on game days as certain components of a proper pre-event meal can be important to performance.
(Keep in mind that this article can also be applied to us bigger athletes too!)
It is important to avoid feeling full or bloated during exercise and therefore timing can get a bit tricky! Pre-event meals should be consumed from two to four hours prior to exercise to give the body time to digest and absorb food. For Saturday morning sports, that means getting up early enough to eat two hours ahead of the activity. Sounds like some of us may be waving goodbye to our Saturday morning sleep-ins!
Composition of the meal
Carbohydrate foods clear the stomach and small intestines faster than high protein or high fat foods; so it is a good idea for pre-event meals to consist primarily of high carbohydrate-type foods. Good choices include bread, pasta, cereal, bagels and pancakes (for those extra special big games). A modest amount of low-fat protein is also a good idea; such as yoghurt, one egg or chicken breast. Foods like fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, nuts and bacon are a no-no as they are high in fat or protein and should be minimized in pre-game meals.
Yes, they don’t taste the best, but foods that are somewhat bland in taste are actually beneficial to our young athletes. Spicy foods with pepper or oily foods can aggravate the stomach lining, while foods such as cabbage, broccoli and beans should also be avoided as they produce gas which could be a problem on the field!
Normally, it would be good practice to include foods with ample dietary fibre in one’s diet. However, some types of fibre can stimulate bowel movements so I would advise staying away from too much bran or oatmeal to avoid regular trips to the bathroom during the game.
A HUGE part of pre-game nutrition comes down to liquids. Fluid replacement is a key part of a winning sports nutrition plan. Unlike adults, our young athletes have a harder time cooling their body during activity which often leads to a greater chance of becoming dehydrated.
Don’t wait for your young athlete to approach the bench for some water as thirst is an unreliable cue of how much water the body needs. By the time thirst is felt, the body is already becoming dehydrated affecting muscle strength, endurance, coordination and can lead to muscle cramps, exhaustion and heat stroke.
I generally recommend that fruit juices be consumed up to two hours before the event and water to be consumed within the two hours prior to the event. Avoid soda, juice and fruit drinks right before the event as their sugar content can cause stomach cramps and nausea during strenuous exercise.
You may also find it helpful to mark lines on the drink bottles as a guide to help them drink enough throughout the game or practice. Studies show that our bodies are not good at sensing how much fluid we need and we can easily “voluntarily dehydrate” by not drinking enough even when more fluid is available.
So the game is over and you’re standing on the side line hoping it’s not your turn to do the team laundry... But it’s not quite over yet - did you know these next 15 to 30 minutes are crucial to muscle recovery?
During this window of opportunity, the muscles are like sponges, waiting to refill the glycogen stores that have just been exhausted. This is why that little snack after a game can make such a big difference. It affects how your young athlete will feel for the rest of the day and their energy levels for the next event.
We all love a sweet-treat as a reward but rebuilding and refuelling on highly-refined, sugary foods, high fructose corn syrup and artificial colours can stress out our systems. Instead, give your young athlete a snack like a banana with yoghurt. Carbohydrate plus protein appears to be the most effective combination for restoring glycogen.
Many young athletes may not feel like eating directly after exercise. In such cases, drinking some diluted fruit juice is a good first step to refuelling. Remember to continue giving them plenty of fluids immediately following the game and throughout the day.
Eating and drinking right will help your athlete play his or her best and I have added a list of foods you may like to incorporate as a guideline.
List of Foods for Young Athletes – A Guideline
- Toast with spread
- Pancakes with syrup
- Low fiber cereals
- Baked potato
- English muffins
- Banana or other fresh or dried fruit
- Whole grain crackers
- Small bite sized muffins
- Trail mix
- Wheat crackers with cheese/peanut butter
- Fruit (orange slices, grapes, watermelon chunks)/dried fruit
- Trail mix
- Lean meat sandwich or wrap
- Hard-boiled eggs
On a side note, it is also important to remember that a daily well-balance diet goes a long way. For those of you wanting to give your young athlete an added advantage on the field, you may like to consider our Omega 3/DHA Children's which is high in essential fatty acids for enhanced cognitive function and physical development.
Good luck and I wish all your young athletes a great season!
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