How Young Athletes Can Take Their Game to the Next Level
Guest post: By Jill Castle, MS, RDN
We all want our kids to do well in the sports they play. We even want to see them go the distance—the highest possible place they can attain in their sport. Whether it’s a spot on a travel team, a college team, or a professional career, the desire to make the most out of the sports experience is almost universal.
You might sign your young athlete up for extra skill-based coaching or purchase the latest technical gear, all in the name of better performance. You will spend money—and possibly lots of it—to help your young athlete get to the next level and edge out the competition.
What if I told you that there’s an inexpensive, easy way to enhance athletic performance? Nutrition—the food your athlete eats– is the answer! As one of the most under-utilized, possibly misunderstood, yet easiest ways to elevate your young athlete’s athletic performance, better nutrition may be the game changer your young athlete needs.
But don’t be misled. I’m not speaking of magical powders, potions, and special diets. I’m talking about real food. Although tempting, extra protein, other supplements, and special diets don’t always optimize performance. In fact, they may backfire in youth, causing extra weight gain, dehydration, and even weight loss when it’s not desirable, leading to poor performance.
What many young athletes miss out on is the big nutrition picture. They get lost in the details –a special food or nutrient, or a new diet approach—and fail to see the most important things about sports nutrition, which are really quite simple:
What Young Athletes Eat
Although food is everywhere and the options are endless, if your athlete wants to get to the next level, he or she must lean away from processed food, fast food, desserts, and sugar-sweetened beverages, and eat a diet that includes natural protein sources, whole grains, dairy foods (or non-dairy substitutes), fruits and vegetables most of the time. Real food matters because it is packed with the important nutrients a young athlete needs for his growth and development, and it’s satisfying.
Reliance on protein bars, a trendy diet, or other supplements may do more harm than good. If your athlete wants to change his or her game for the better, figure out which real foods work and stick with them rather than experimenting with the latest nutrition gimmick.
How Young Athletes Eat
Your young athlete needs to know how to change his food and eating for training as well as competition, because his nutritional needs will be different for both. For example, young athletes need complex carbohydrate-containing foods like potatoes or whole grain bread on training days, fast carbs like dried fruit, or a combination of both when it comes to competition, depending on its physical demands. Choosing the right type of carbohydrates for the situation can pay off with better performance.
When Young Athletes Eat
When young athletes eat can benefit their performance and recovery from exercise. For instance, pre-loading with a carb-based snack can help fuel and prepare muscles for exercise. Eating a protein source after a long bout of exercise can help muscles recover, making a difference in an athlete’s growth and overall performance. Having a routine with meals and snacks makes all the important nutrients available to your young athlete throughout the day. The alternative, like skipping meals, may leave the body under-fueled for sports and growth.
So you see, many aspects of sports nutrition can help the young athlete get to the next level. Focusing on the big nutrition picture: what to eat, how to eat, and when to eat, is the first step to successful sports performance.
Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a childhood nutrition expert and author of Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete. She lives with her husband and four children in New Canaan, CT. For more about Jill, go to www.JillCastle.com.