Have a budding athlete in the family? Proper nutrition is one of the main aspects of a successful athlete. As such, you need to know what their bodies require to keep up with the demands of the sport. Proper nutrition fuels the body and aids recovery. It also helps keep up with the needs of their growth.
Nutrition and fitness intertwine to aid optimal performance in your young athlete. This adequate nutrition is needed to build and repair muscle, improve fitness and to keep your young star safe from injury on the field. The key to providing the best nutrition for your child is to provide an optimum balanced diet.
The food needed to position your child for success on the field isn’t too different from a normal healthy diet.
The food we eat is made up of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats which provide the energy needed during physical activity), and micronutrients which are vitamins and minerals that contain calcium, vitamin D and iron to keep us healthy.
Including the right mix of macro and micronutrients coupled with lots of fluid intake in your child’s diet will set them up for assured success on the pitch.
Below, we discuss essential tips to provide the best nutrition for your young athlete to aid sustained growth and optimize performance on the field.
Despite eating macronutrients often, most people don’t know what macronutrients are. Macronutrients are essential food groups that your young player needs to consume in large amounts. Commonly, these macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Proteins form the building blocks for the building, and repair of muscle tissue, hair, nails, and skin.
For this reason, it is paramount that you provide your young athlete with an adequate supply of protein every day. Their active bodies need protein to build and repair their muscles. Ensure they have protein throughout the day, with each meal.
A steady supply of protein can be found in foods such as dairy products, lean meat, fish, eggs, beans, and nuts. Breakfasts can include eggs, whole-grain bread, and fruit. At lunch, you can serve a sandwich with meat on whole-grain bread, some veggies, and yogurt.
Most diets urge anyone looking to shed a few pounds to steer clear of carbs. However, carbs provide energy for the body. For young athletes, in particular, they are a vital source of energy.
They also help in digestion, assimilation, and elimination of other foods. For athletes, parents should focus on incorporating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains – oats, barley, millets, as well as vegetables, fruits that are rich in fiber, essential fatty acids, antioxidants and more.
Unlike macronutrients, micronutrients are needed in small quantities. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy. They are ideal for the growth and repair of body tissues and boosting immune functions.
Calcium – Calcium helps to build bones that are strong and resistant to breaks and fractures. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are a good source of calcium, as are fortified grain, broccoli, and spinach.
Iron – Iron is useful for adolescents that need it for healthy growth, muscle growth, and increased blood production, and transportation of oxygen around the body. It is found in foods such as eggs, green vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains and lean meat.
Vitamin D – is useful in helping the body absorb calcium. The sun is a good source of it, and so are foods such as milk. Other dairy products such as yogurt ARE NOT a source of vitamin D.
See to it that your young one gets enough calcium, vitamin D and iron for healthy growth.
Fluids are another incredibly important aspect of proper nutrition. Fluids, and water, in particular, are critical for athletes because they help regulate body temperature and keep the body hydrated.
Dehydration can deplete a player’s strength, agility, and coordination. For this reason, players should start hydrating long before the game begins and keep at it during the hours leading up to a contest.
The amount of fluid a player needs depends on several different factors such as age, player size, how physically demanding the sport is, and finally, the environment.
Here’s how to ensure your child is well hydrated:
Have them take between 400 to 600 mL of water about 2 to 3 hours before a game.
During the game, ensure your kid has between 150 to 300 mL of water every 15 to 20 minutes.
After a big game, your young athlete needs to drink enough fluids to replenish electrolytes lost from sweating.
Here is where sports drinks come in. What are sports drinks? Does your child need a sports drink? Well, it depends. Sports drinks help provide an energy boost and replace electrolytes lost through sweat.
They are the perfect choice for players who take part in rigorous sports like high school baseball that go on for an hour or more. Additionally, sports drinks are ideal for kids who play games but do not drink enough water.
Although there are plenty of sports drinks available in the market, plain water is often adequate in keeping young players well hydrated before, during and after a game.
It is paramount for your child to get adequate nutrition during game days.
Early meal planning ensures that your young athlete gets the nutrition they need before a big game. “If your daughter plays softball and is getting ready for a big game, for instance, eating right on gameday is her secret weapon,” says Andrew, a writer, and coach at The Bat Nerds.
Our bodies need about 3 hours to digest meals such as breakfast or lunch, so timing is everything. Don’t overeat, and have light snacks closer to the game. A light snack, e.g. A granola bar is perfect 30 minutes to an hour before the game.
Here’s a sample meal plan on game day:
Before the game: Breakfast is crucial for energy provision throughout the day. Have a meal together as a family before breakfast, typically about three hours before the event. Start the day with a carbohydrate-rich breakfast. Potatoes served with eggs, fruit and fat-free milk or calcium-fortified juice make for a healthy, nutritious pre-game meal.
Lunch: Since many students play their games after school, this is an essential source of fuel so don’t skip or skimp on lunch. Lunch should have as many food groups as possible, e.g. fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein.
During the game: Make sure your child is well hydrated with lots of water throughout the game to replace fluid lost through sweating. Additionally, use foods such as bananas, potatoes, milk or low-fat yogurt to replenish energy, as they are a good source of potassium and carbohydrates.
After the game: Have snacks ready for when your kids arrive home hungry after a game. These recovery foods should be consumed soon after the game, preferably within 30 minutes to 2 hours after. These will help replenish energy. Recovery foods include fresh fruit, smoothies, and low-fat yogurt.
As parents, we need to ensure that our young athletes are getting adequate nutrition to aid sports performance and growth.
A well balanced and healthy and balanced diet is the key to a fantastic performance on the field. Include a mix of cereals, legumes, lean meats, eggs, fish, poultry, and finally fruits and vegetables in their diet to set them up for success.