Proper eating habits can help young athletes on and off the field

August 8, 2017

How can parents help their student-athletes gain a competitive edge? By boning up on nutrition basics.

According to Chris Ina, M.A., A.T.C., athletic training coordinator in sports medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, one healthy meal before a competition cannot make up for inadequate daily nutrition.

“Parents, young athletes and coaches should know that one of the most important elements of proper nutrition for sports is timing,” Ina said. “In addition to eating balanced meals, young athletes need to know when to eat what types of food so they allow enough time for proper digestion and absorption of the nutrients needed for performance ‘fuel’.”

Ina suggests the following tips for top performance:

  • Eat more carbohydrates than normal for several days prior to competition. Sporting events are endurance activities lasting hours and requiring a lot of energy. The body uses carbohydrates as energy so storing them up a few days before an event is helpful. Good choices include whole-grain pasta, peanut butter, whole-grain bread and cereal (not sugar-coated), and plain, baked potatoes.
  • To avoid cramping, just eat a small snack (200 calories or less) that is low in fat, protein and fiber about an hour before the game. A large meal of more than 400 calories may require up to four hours for complete digestion.
  • Eat within two hours following exercise. Choose easy and inexpensive high protein options, such as a glass of chocolate milk, yoghurt or a smoothie to help repair muscles.
  • Choose a smart option for a pre-workout snack such as a granola bar, high carbohydrate sports bar or sports drink.
  • Make it a habit to wake up and eat right away to kick start your metabolism and produce energy throughout the day.
  • Avoid eating fried or greasy foods, such as cheeseburgers and french fries, which can result in feeling tired and sluggish because the body has to work so hard to break down and digest the fat.

“Although proper nutrition is important for all growing kids, it is especially important for children playing organized sports,” Ina said. “The energy requirements needed for the sustained physical activity involved in practice and competitive sports are much higher than for normal, day-to-day activities.”

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