Our kids are crazy about their sports. They put lots of focus on practice and training to prepare for the big games; but do they place equal focus on the nutrition that will support their play? Optimal performance for a teenage athlete requires preparation—not just with practice output, but also dietary input.
This three part blog series will give you information and helpful tips on how to fuel your teenage athlete in ways that are healthy and promote optimal performance. If you haven’t already, take a look at our series on feeding healthy teens here – part one, part two, part three, part four. This information was very well received, but it resulted in more in-depth questions, specifically about your teenage athlete.
Sports nutrition for teenagers is a bit of a specialized area. Teenage athletes playing high level sports burn calories very quickly. If they don’t eat enough of the right types of nutrients, their performance can decrease and may even result in possible growth problems. Healthy eating allows a teen athlete to achieve peak performance without compromising overall health.
So how do you properly nourish the body pre and post game? Here some tips on how to guide your teenage athlete towards optimal sports performance:
- Eat a diet that is about 70% complex carbohydrates – including fruit, vegetables, brown rice, whole grain, organic pastas, quinoa, carrots – to achieve maximum carbohydrate storage. Lean proteins such as organic chicken, pastured eggs and small amounts of grass fed beef are critical. Stay away from the bad carbs: white pasta, white breads, junk cereals, and off the shelf fruit juice.
- Eat fat. It sounds crazy, but good quality, healthy fats are a source of fuel for your body and are strongly advised – smart choices are avocados, natural organic peanut / raw almond butter on an apple.
- Eat a good breakfast! Every day, but especially on game days. Oatmeal, a fruit smoothie with vegan protein, scrambled eggs.
- Eat a meal no less than three hours before exercising.
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!*** Drink 24 ounces of water two to three hours before the sporting event, during the event on breaks, and especially afterwards to replenish the body. Beware of sports drinks – they can be loaded with sugar, creepy preservatives and artificial food colorings (more about that in part 3).
- Pre-game, eat a meal containing complex carbohydrates such as whole wheat pasta, or brown rice with vegetables. Don’t weigh your teen down with heavy proteins or unhealthy fats. If they can’t eat a full meal because they have a nervous feeling in their stomach, a small snack such as a banana or oatmeal is still important.
- Avoid SUGAR before exercise – it can speed up dehydration. Your body will thank you later! I know it’s tempting because of the instant energy it provides, but the subsequent crash can be depleting.
- Stay away from fast food. It can make your teenage athlete sluggish and it seriously affects performance. Better “fast food” choices are places like Chipotle and Panera, who have healthier options PLUS they have eliminated unhealthy additives and preservatives across the board. Save the occasional Burger House for a post-game celebration.
- Multivitamins are essential! Teenage athletes just don’t get what they need from their food—even if they are perfect eaters. A daily multivitamin is key, along with high quality Fish Oil and a Probiotic. Look for organic ones, made from real food sources. New Chapter, Rainbow Light, Metagenics and Garden of Life are great brands.
And, be careful. There are always new ‘miracle’ foods and supplements surfacing. Many are expensive and even dangerous, which makes it confusing. Don’t be swayed. Keep keep it clean and simple.
***Post Note: Water
Water is one of the MOST important components to health and wellness there is. Dehydration is a very real risk if your teen doesn’t continually drink water throughout physical activity. Even dehydration of less than 2% can have measurable negative effects on performance. As a general rule, teenagers should drink 6-8 ounces of water 6 times a day for general health and 24 ounces of water two to three hours before a sporting event, as well as during and after playing.
Join us for parts 2 and 3 of this series for the whattup on teen athlete nutrition on-the-go and sports drinks. Until then … drink your juice.