A Game Plan for Feeding Your Young Athlete

There’s a real connection between food and athletic performance. Even though your young athlete may only be playing for fun, it’s crucial they get the proper nutrition at the right time to perform at their optimal best. So how can you make sure you’re giving your kiddo the right nutrition to balance their physical activity levels?

Team of Nutrients

The right team of nutrients will provide the endurance, concentration, and energy to keep up with the game. It’s the playbook for on and off the field and will promote lifelong healthy, eating habits:

  • Carbohydrates: They create energy by quickly transforming into muscle glycogen (fuel for muscles). Good sources are whole grains, oatmeal, quinoa, and brown rice.
  • Protein: Proteins prompt cell growth and repair and regulate nutrient transport, water balancing, and muscle contraction. Get protein in eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, cheese, and beans.
  • Fats: They create energy too, but on a slower pace. Healthy fats are olive oil, nuts, seeds, nut butters, and avocados.
  • Vitamins: Their job is to keep the body processes working properly. They’re the key players in in transforming carbs into glycogen. Find them in dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, strawberries, and oranges.
  • Minerals: They provide a wide variety of functions for the body, including: Building tissue, regulating muscle contractions and body fluids, conducting nerve impulses, oxygen transport, and regulating normal heart rhythms. Sources include bananas, dark leafy greens, and dairy.
  • Fiber: Fiber moves food through the body while promoting a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Plus, it helps you feel fuller for a longer period of time. Eat whole grains, beans, fruits, and veggies.
  • Water: We’re made up of 55% to 65% water. Without proper hydration, all of our bodily functions suffer, including the brain and muscles.

Pre-Game Meal

Glycogen is stored in our muscle fibers to provide our muscles with fuel. However, it isn’t stored there like a convenience store for you to use whenever you want. You need to constantly replenish it by eating. If you go to practice or try to play a game without fuel in your tank, you’ll be weak, slow, have poor concentration, and be more prone to get injured – not a good game plan. 

Eat your pre-game meal 2-3 hours before a game. Consider pasta, brown rice, bread, or a potato. Add a veggie and a lean protein like chicken or turkey. The goal is to feel satisfied, but not stuffed. Make sure to drink at least a half-liter of water too.

If your child needs a little nosh an hour or so before the game, offer a light snack, like a piece of fruit, crackers, or an energy bar (equal amounts of carbs/sugars and less than 15 grams of protein).

Training Snack Camp

Encourage your star athlete to sip water. It’s always better to drink, even if you don’t think you’re thirsty. Remember, your pint-size athlete will perform better, and have more fun.

Another half-liter (more or less depending on the sport and factors like heat) should be consumed while training. If necessary, they can have some fruit with high water content, such as oranges, melon slices, pineapple rings, or grapes when the coach calls for a break.

If they can stomach it, okay, then you can try the same snack at their regular game during half time. Sipping water between plays is essential as well.

Post-Game Snack

It’s time to chill and rebuild. Your young athlete has given it all they had. The stored energy is gone. Micro-tears in the muscle tissues need to be repaired, and the waste and stress hormones produced during the game need to be flushed out.

A post-game snack should be eaten within one hour of the practice or game. The focus now is on recovery. When you consistently take the time to recover with a post-game snack, drinking fluids, and resting, your overall performance will be better. Some tasty options include: Raisin bread and a banana, pita bread and hummus, whole grain crackers with cheese and grapes, or a PB & J on whole wheat.

How do you feed your star athlete? Let us know in the comments below!

Tags : health   nutrition   exercise   

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