This post was created in partnership with the dairy farm families of New England. I was compensated for this post and all opinions are my own.
As the fall sport season begins, many young athletes will train, work hard and expect to see the results of their efforts. From new equipment to top notch coaching techniques, young athletes will be looking to gain an upper hand on the competition.
As a youth sports nutritionist and author, I know that getting the right food on board means a lot, but so does the timing of eating and a whole lot more. I cover the minutia in my book, Eat Like a Champion, and my corresponding nutrition class for athletes.
5 Youth Sports Nutrition Tips
A lot goes into having a great season! One area that helps all young athletes improve their athletic performance is nutrition. I’ve got 5 youth sports nutrition tips to help your young athlete gain the edge on his competition.
Tip #1: Eat Three Meals Each Day to Fuel the Athlete Well
Meals provide the foundation of nutrients that the body needs throughout the day to perform, both on and off the field. About 36% of kids and teens, respectively, skip breakfast. Almost 17% of kids and young teens skip lunch.
Young athletes shouldn’t skip breakfast, because they put their body behind in the important nutrients that fuel performance, especially calories, carbohydrates, and protein. Plus, meal skippers may be more prone to overeat later and increase the likelihood of making unhealthy food choices.
Make sure your athlete includes all three meals in his daily eating plan.
Tip #2: Eat Healthy Snacks (& Plan for Them) to Refuel and Recover after Exercise
Whether athletes have packed snacks in the gym bag, or eat a sit-down snack at home before practice, they should always have a healthy source of fuel. Unfortunately, studies show that kids and teens frequently snack on unhealthy foods.
Planning healthy snacks discourages the use of junk food, sweets, and other undesirable options during training and competition.
Just like a race car needs premium fuel to perform, so does the young athlete who is training or competing in his sport.
Low octane fuel – or unhealthy snacks like donuts, candy or chips – doesn’t draw out the best performance in young athletes.
Tip #3: Fuel the Recovery Phase with Protein and Carbs
After intensive or extended exercise, the body’s muscles are broken down and tired. They need to recover. This can be accomplished with food, particularly food sources that contain a mixture of protein and carbohydrate.
Protein provides the amino acids needed to repair the muscles and promote muscle gain. Carbohydrates allow the reloading of glycogen (an energy source) in muscle, preparing them for future exercise.
Research has highlighted chocolate milk as a good recovery option after intense exercise. Chocolate milk has a combination of about 10 grams of protein and roughly 27 grams of carbohydrate per cup, providing an ideal combination of nutrients to repair and ready muscles for subsequent exercise sessions.
Furthermore, the type of protein found in milk is ideal for recovery. Milk contains a combination of casein (the main protein that coagulates into curd when cheese is made) and whey (the watery part that separates from the curd).
Whey is recognized as a “fast protein” because it is quickly absorbed and available to muscles. Whey also supplies leucine, an amino acid that has been associated with reducing muscle soreness after exercise in adult athletes.
Any combination of protein and carbohydrate can help muscles recover after exercise. Chocolate milk happens to be convenient, easy to consume, and enjoyed by many young athletes.
Ideally, young athletes should consume chocolate milk or a protein-carbohydrate combined snack within 45 minutes of exercise completion.
Tip #4: Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate to Perform in Top Shape
When young athletes feel sluggish, are fatigued, or just don’t have the umph they usually count on, the issue may be dehydration.
One 2013 study of youth soccer players at summer camp showed most of them showed up to practice with some degree of dehydration (75% of them!), and progressively became more dehydrated on subsequent days of practice.
The study highlighted that young athletes may not drink enough during practice sessions, or throughout the day. One reason is they are often distracted and need reminders to make sure they are getting plenty of fluids.
Most young athletes need about 2-3 liters of fluid each day, depending on exercise demands and climate. Young athletes can get fluids from beverages, fruit, soups, veggies and yogurt.
Tip #5: Rest to Recover & Grow Properly
Sleep is critical to the young athlete’s growth, development and recovery. It’s the time when the body heals from the activities of the day and a time when growth hormone surges and allows growth to occur.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends children aged 6 to 13 years get 9 to 11 hours of sleep per day, and teens aged 14 to 18 years get at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep.#AD: Game On! 5 Youth Sports Nutrition Tips to Start the Season Strong Click To Tweet
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: September 6, 2017
Updated on: September 21, 2019