Young Athletes: How to feed them

young athletesExcellent nutrition improves recovery of young athletes after a workout and increases energy and alertness during the game. Feed your young athletes well and watch them succeed!

by Judith G. Cobb, MH, CI, NCP – as well as an Olympic-distance triathlon age-group placer and mom of 7

Note: More information about the products mentioned can be found at the end of the article.

Two of my children have done the Sports Med program in high school, and we have a third child in the program now. This program teaches how to assess medical and emergency situations that arise with athletes on the school teams. Sports Med students learn preventive taping, triage, and first aid, and volunteer hundreds of hours at school games over the three-year program. One thing that has come back to me repeatedly over the last 6 years of hearing ‘field stories’ from my kids is that the athletes are not coached on nutrition. They are simply told, “Bring a water bottle.” I’ve heard the same story from ‘hockey parents’ and ’soccer parents.’ This is frightening. These young athletes often work out for hours at time, in all kinds of weather, and put their bodies into very stressful situations. They are taught how to run, skate, kick, throw, tackle, and pass the puck, but they are not taught how to nourish their bodies to aid in recovery and reduce the risk of injury.

It really doesn’t matter how young the athlete is, nutrition is important to maximize performance and recovery. Certainly the longer, harder, and more frequent the workouts/games, the more vigilant one needs to be when feeding these young, active bodies.

People under the age of 20 have higher levels of naturally-occurring growth hormone – the hormone that is needed for normal growth and tissue repair. This usually means that young athletes appear to recover pretty well after an intensely physical session. Even so, repeated wear and tear without proper rebuilding can increase susceptibility to injury and/or slow recovery. There is almost always room for improvement, things that can be done with day-to-day nutrition, with pre- and during-the-workout fuel, and with post-workout recovery nutrition.

General nutrition tips for feeding young athletes

Skip the fast food.

I know time is tight. The time between getting home from school and getting to the rink, field, pool, or studio is stressful. Don’t succumb to the fast food temptation – frozen pizzas and drive-through boxes do not contain the nutrients your child athlete needs. These are perfect days to start the crockpot with a soup or stew or pilaf in the morning, or to make wraps in advance with a small tub of veggies and dip, cut-up fruit (no caramel sauce allowed), and a bottle of plain water.

It’s no secret that fast food is high in fat and sugar and low in nutrients. It’s also no secret that that the combination of poor-quality fats and sugars increases susceptibility to inflammation. During an intense workout, muscle tissue is torn down. Growth hormone helps to repair the tissue, but the more inflamed the tissue is, the slower it repairs.

Increase the fruits and veggies …

… to increase the anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants help to prevent and reduce tissue damage. Include produce of all colors. I’ve never seen anyone who ate too much good produce. Fresh is good, if it really is fresh and not grocery-store, 3-weeks-old, held-in-storage fresh. Many antioxidants, and most especially vitamin C, are quite fragile. Vitamin C in fresh produce has a half-life of 24 hours from when the produce was picked, so by the 24-hour mark the vitamin C in an orange is down by one-half. Frozen is a good choice also. Do the best you can if you live in a climate that has a short growing season. This may mean using a good vitamin C and bioflavonoid supplement.

Ditch the junk food and the carbonated beverages.

Working hard does not justify eating low-nutrient junk food like chips, cookies, candy bars, etc. Instead, working hard increases the demand for nutrients in the body and increases the justification for avoiding junk food that sucks even more nutrients out of the body. Junk food, including carbonated beverages, generally increases the acid level of the body, thus also increasing the demand for alkalizing minerals (e.g. calcium and magnesium) and vitamins, and increasing susceptibility to inflammation.

Drink enough water …

… to properly hydrate the body. The rule of thumb is ½ ounce of water for every pound of body weight on a sedentary day. Increase the amount of water on active days.

Get enough protein.

Include a variety of animal and vegetarian proteins in the diet every day. The basic rule is six servings of protein each day, spaced at approximately 2 – 3 hour intervals, each portion being about the size of ½ of the athlete’s palm. Muscles that have been torn down in workouts need adequate amino acids, primarily from proteins, to affect the repair job.

Take enough high-quality vitamin–mineral supplements …

… to make sure all the nutrient bases are covered. With soils being so depleted it is recognized that an average sedentary 150-pound person would need to eat 5000 calories of fresh, organic food to meet all the vitamin, mineral, fat, protein, and carbohydrate demands for one day. Add the increased demands of exercise to the equation and it becomes pretty much impossible to get all of our nutrients from food. Make the best food choices possible to act as the nutrient foundation, then work with a nutrition professional to put together a supplement program that meets the increased and specific needs of an active body.

Game Day

Before the workout/game.

Be sure to eat healthful foods that will digest easily and provide fuel. This is not a great time for raw veggies that take more effort to digest. Nor is it the time for a big roast beef dinner or fast food French fries. Steamed veggies, especially red-skinned or Yukon gold potatoes, followed by a smaller-than-usual serving of protein (could be in a homemade soup or stew), or a multigrain bagel (or two for a bigger teenager) with some almond butter, make great pre-game fuels.

Baby steamed red-skinned or Yukon gold potatoes with a little sea salt also work well for fuel and carb/electrolyte replacement. They taste great warm or cold and can be used before, during, and after the workout as desired. Potatoes have nearly twice the amount of potassium as bananas but lack sodium, so be sure to sprinkle a bit of sea salt on them to balance out the sodium for the electrolytes.

During the game/practice.

Carbs need replenishing if energy is going to be expended for more than 30 minutes non-stop. Energy gels and drinks are fine and even helpful – if they are free of caffeine and artificial colorings and flavourings. Electrolytes also need replacing over long workouts and when the athlete is perspiring consistently. Organic energy and electrolyte products usually have far fewer questionable ingredients than their non-organic counterparts.  Make sure an appropriate amount of water is consumed if gels are being used.

After the game – the recovery phase.

The first hour after the workout provides some unique demands. If the demands aren’t filled when the body presents the opportunity, it is difficult to fill them at a later time.

First 30 minutes: the muscles are hungry for glycogen, a complex glucose storage molecule. This is the best time to load in the healthy carbs. Those baby steamed potatoes with a dash of sea salt work really well here, as do multi-grain bagels.

Next 30 minutes: time to load up on protein. It is generally recognized that whey protein is one of the best for tissue repair after a workout. Most protein powders have questionable ingredients in them to make them taste better – sugar (high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids, and anything that ends in ‘ose’), artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavours. Look for one that is just plain filtered whey and mix it with pure juice to make a recovery juice. Black cherry juice helps to remove excess acid from the body, so four ounces of it is a good choice for a recovery drink. Whey protein is a dairy protein. So, for athletes who have dairy allergies, look for legume, hemp or brown rice protein powders.

Excellent nutrition not only improves recovery after a workout, it also increases energy and alertness during the game. Feed your young athletes well and watch them succeed!

Products mentioned in this article:

 Nature’s Sunshine Products CANADANature’s Sunshine Products USA
vitamin C and bioflavonoid supplementVitamin C 500 with Bioflavonoids
Vitamin C Citrus Bioflavonoids
Sunshine Heroes Vitamin C
legume protein powdersNature's HarvestNature's Harvestor
Love and Peas
vitamin-mineral supplementSuper TrioSuper Trio

If you have concerns about your health or that of your children, or just don’t know where to begin making improvements, please contact me, Judith Cobb, to book an appointment. Skype, phone, webinar, and face-to-face appointments are available.

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Copyright © 2015 by Judith Cobb, Cobblestone Health Ltd. All rights reserved. Please respect the time it takes to write and publish articles. If you will link to this article and give proper attribution, you are encouraged to quote sections (though not the entire article).

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