Posted on 2016-05-17
Practice and training are obviously very important factors in getting elite performance out of athletes of all ages. Just as important? Nutrition. Macronutrients, micronutrients, and fluids in the right amounts at the right times are the keys to energy, growth, and peak activity levels.
The importance of nutrition is even greater for YOUNG athletes in order to facilitate growth and optimal performance. There is a balance to strike - energy deficits can result in strunted growth and fatigue while energy surpluses can guide an athlete to being overweight or obese. Athlete size is a large factor in how much energy should be consumed - a girl weighing 66 pounds playing 60 minutes of soccer might expend 270 calories worth of energy while a boy weighing 130 pounds playing an hour's worth of hockey can burn nearly 1,000 calories.
It all starts with the big boys - macronutrients. Macronutrients consist of the Big Three - carbohydrates, protein, and fats, and provide the fuel for most activity.
So where do vitamins and minerals come in? These are considered Micronutrients. Of particular concern to athletes are calcium, Vitamin D, and Iron. Calcium is the king of bone health, optimum enzymatic activity, and muscle function. Excellent sources include milk, yogurt, cheese, broccoli, spinach, and fortified grain products.
Athletes need to drink fluids before, during, and after exercise and activity. As a general rule, athletes should start hydrating two to three hours prior to activity with about a 500mL of cold water. During activity, 150mL to 300mL should be consumed every 15 to 20 minutes. If activity lasts less than an hour, water alone should be all you need. For activity of longer duration and/or activity taking place in hot, humid conditions, sports drinks consisting of about 6% carbohydrates and some salt content are recommended to replace energy stores and electrolyte losses.
After activity, athletes should drink enough fluids to replace sweat losses - about 450mL for every pound of weight lost during the activity.
Recovery foods should be consumed within 30 minutes of exercise and once again about 1-to-2 hours after exercise to help replenish muscles with glycogen and allow for recovery. These foods should provide protein and carbs.
Full meals should be eaten no closer to an athletic event than 3 hours beforehand to allow for digestion and to minimize stomach upset during competition. During an event, sports drinks, fruit, or granola bars may be consumed to help refuel and maintain a high energy level.
A well-balanced diet is of the utmost importance for young athletes aiming for proper growth and optimal performance. Macronutrients in the right ratios, getting enough fluids, timing meals right, and eating the right amount of food will go a long way toward putting a growing athlete in the right position to succeed. Once a routine is established, it becomes second nature and all you'll have to think about is your training and your game.
Good Look! Article information sourced from National Institute of Health.