Besides training long hours for their sport, a youth athlete’s body also develops quickly. To get everything needed for proper body development and to optimize their training, a healthy eating plan must be a regular component of an athlete’s workout regimen.
Benefits of Nutrition to Youth Athletes
Snack and meal planning are often pushed to the side because of hectic schedules (it takes extra time), but it has to be a priority. The benefits of a proper nutrition plan include:
- Muscle healing and recovery
- Strengthening of the immune system
- Injury prevention
- Decreased muscle soreness and tiredness
- Increased focus and attention span
- Improved energy levels
Youth Athletes and Their Nutritional Needs
Children who eat well-balanced, healthy meals will get the nutrients required to perform at their best in sports. But child athletes have higher energy requirements. Children and teenagers involved in strenuous endurance sports or all-day competitions that can involve a few hours of activity at a time may need to consume more food and fluids due to their increased demands.
Besides getting enough calories, youth athletes need other nutrients to be at their peak form, such as:
- Protein. Thanks to protein, muscle tissue is able to build and repair. Protein-rich foods include lean meat, fish, poultry, soy products, nuts, beans, and dairy products. However, too much protein can lead to calcium loss and dehydration.
- Carbs. Carbohydrates provide energy for the body and are an important source of fuel for every young athlete. There is no need to eat a lot of carbs before a big game, but without them, children would be running on an “empty tank.” Carb-rich foods include brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-grain cereal and bread, and plenty of vegetables and fruits.
- Vitamins and minerals. For athletes, iron and calcium and the two most important minerals. Iron helps carry oxygen throughout the body, and iron-rich foods include chicken, lean meat, salmon, tuna, fortified whole grains, eggs, leafy green vegetables, and dried fruits. Calcium helps our bones be strong to resist stress fractures and breaking. Some of the calcium-rich foods are cheese, yogurt, milk as well as leafy green vegetables.
- Fluids. Dehydration can zap energy, coordination, and strength, so young athletes must drink enough fluids to prevent it. The feeling of thirst is not a reliable sign of one’s hydration status. Experts recommend that children should drink water (or other fluids) every 15-20 minutes during their physical activity.
On Game Day
On game days, it’s essential for young athletes to eat well. The game-day meal shouldn’t be much different from the one they would have eaten throughout their training. They can choose to eat healthy foods they believe will boost their performance and don’t cause stomach upset or other problems.
- Three hours before a game – the meal should have enough carbs and protein, but must be low in fat and fiber because it can cause digestion problems.
- If children eat less than three hours before practice or game, they should consume a snack or lighter carb-rich meal that includes easy-to-digest foods like bread, crackers, fruit, and vegetable or fruit juice.
- After the practice or game, kids should eat carbs within 30 minutes after activity and again two hours later. That’s when your kid’s body is replenishing energy stores and fluids as well as rebuilding muscle tissue, so it’s crucial that the post-event meal be a balance of protein, fat, and carbs.
When it comes to young athletes, eating for sports should be an extension of normal healthy eating for life. Young athletes should eat the right mix and amount of foods to support their increased level of activity. However, their nutrition regimen shouldn’t be too different from a regular, healthy diet.
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