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Basic Sports Nutrition Concepts for Young Athletes

Proper nutrition is an important part of any sports training program.

You can train to improve your fitness and your technique, but if you don’t have the energy to maintain a high level of effort, and recover afterwards, then you’re not likely to improve.

Some nutritional advice is specific to particular sports, but there are some basic concepts that apply to nearly every competitive athlete.

Sufficient Fuel and Hydration. One of the most important concepts is making sure that young athletes have diets that give them enough fuel and proper hydration to get them through their workouts and their competitions. Athletes who aren’t fueled and aren’t hydrated will perform poorly,and risk injury when their form breaks down.

Timing of Fueling. The timing of when a young athlete takes in food is also quite important. One aspect of timing is making sure not to eat immediately before a workout or competition (which can cause stomach or intestinal distress), but not eat so far before a workout or competition that the peak energy benefits of the food are lost. Eating somewhere between one and three hours before physical activity is usually the best plan.

Post-Workout Fueling and Hydration. An often overlooked element of sports nutrition is proper post-workout fueling and hydration. After long or strenuous workouts and competitions there is a relatively short window of time in which your body is most receptive to refueling. A good rule of thumb is that you should consume a small snack or meal of roughly 200-500 calories within the first 60 minutes of completing your activity.

Real Food Still Works. If it’s most convenient for you, feel free to explore any of the commercially available post workout and recovery drinks. But don’t forget about “real” foods for your post workout meals. Just about anything with protein and carbohydrates (but not high in fat) makes an ideal meal; a peanut butter sandwich or even a large glass of chocolate skim milk can do the trick.

Satisfy the Person First, Then the Athlete. It’s important to remember that young athletes are young and growing people. This means that regardless of whatever additional needs they may have in their capacity as athletes, they first need to make sure that their diet fulfills their needs as growing young people first.

Don’t Obsess About Weight. Many young athletes are involved in sports where their weight can have an impact on their performance. For example, gymnastics, cross-country and wrestling competitors often benefit from weighing less during competition. But being lighter must not come at the expense of the young athlete’s health. It’s vitally important to make sure that the nutrition plan for an athlete in these sports keeps them healthy as well as competitive.

Don’t Ignore Reality. Young athletes are going to face social pressures that can affect their ability to stick to a suitable diet and nutrition plan. For example, while friends might be going out for soda or fast food, the athlete must make sure to stick to their plan and avoid the foods and drinks that aren’t going to help them perform or train better. Athletes should anticipate these situations and figure out how they’re going to handle them.

Young athletes face enough challenges to maximizing their athletic potential and performance.

They can improve their chances of success by making sure to follow good nutritional habits.


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