Skill and training are essential for every athlete. Another factor that has a massive impact on an athlete’s performance is optimal nutrition. No matter what sport they play, young athletes need the right fuel to train and perform well and meet their growth demands. Here are some game day nutrition tips for young athletes to help them deliver a top-notch performance.
Carbohydrates for Energy
Carbohydrates or carbs are a source of energy. Choosing foods like crackers, whole-grain bread, potatoes, pasta, and cereal can help to keep the energy levels high for longer periods of time.
Why Protein Rich Foods Are Important
Proteins are vital for the muscles as they keep them strong and recover from intensive exercise routines. Proteins also help to build muscle over time.
Ideally, young athletes should eat protein foods throughout the day and make them a part of every meal. Some examples are eggs with whole-wheat toast for breakfast or a deli meat sandwich for lunch. Plant-based protein foods like beans and tofu are great options too. (HealthySD)
Avoid Fatty Foods
Fatty foods should be avoided as they slow the digestion process and make an athlete feel slow and sluggish. It’s best to skip the fried, greasy foods, desserts, pizza, and french fries before the competition to keep the fat consumption on the low side.
Drink Plenty of Fluids
One of the biggest reasons for an athlete’s poor performance is dehydration. Athletes must drink plenty of water and keep themselves hydrated during the days leading up to the game. It is vital to get well hydrated 2 to 4 hours before the game. Athletes must continue drinking fluids during and even after the game to rehydrate and make up for sweat loss.
Eating at the Right Time
While eating right is essential, it is equally vital to eat at the right time. The body needs about 2 to 3 hours to digest a regular meal like breakfast or lunch before the game. A snack like a granola bar can be eaten 30 minutes to an hour before the competition. Athletes must keep in mind that they need to load up on meals without overeating and eat a light snack close to game time.
Keep Food Safety in Mind
Nothing is worse for an athlete than having to battle food poisoning before a game. Avoid stomach cramps, vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea, by storing food at the right temperature and preventing spoilage. Items like granola bars and fresh fruit can be stored at room temperature. Foods like cheese, yogurt, salads with mayonnaise, eggs, deli meats, etc., must be stored in a cooler or refrigerator.
Sample Nutrition Plan for Game Day
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It helps to refuel your body after a night’s sleep and jumpstart your day so that you can perform efficiently.
A pre-game breakfast can consist of scrambled eggs with fruit, lightly grilled potatoes, or whole-grain bread, along with orange juice or fat-free milk.
Athletes must never skip lunch. Lunch should be hearty and must include foods from diverse food groups. Some examples are whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy. Athletes must eat lunch 3 to 4 hours before the activity, so the body has enough time to digest the meal. (Khalaf)
During Practice or the Game
Athletes must remain well hydrated during the game as dehydration can impact their well-being and performance. In addition to drinking adequate water, foods containing carbohydrates and potassium, like potatoes, bananas, and low-fat milk, also help replenish the body.
After Practice or Afternoon Snack
Sometimes children may feel hungry when they get home after a demanding day on the field and may want to snack before dinner. Options like fresh fruit, fruit smoothies, or low-fat yogurt are good choices during this time.
Dinner After the Game
A challenging practice session or game calls for a tasty and filling family dinner. This meal must include the five major food groups like grains, protein, vegetables, fruit, and dairy.
Athletes could have whole-wheat pasta with cheese sauce, served with a side of vegetables, or a salad. For proteins, they could have baked or lean cuts of salmon, tuna, or chicken breast. Fruits with dessert can be included, such as baked pears or apples, along with a glass of fat-free or low-fat milk to complete the meal. (Castle)
Young athletes must understand the importance and timing of their meals to fuel up on the game day. These game-day nutrition tips will help them perform at their peak.
HealthySD. “8 Gameday Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes.” HealthySDgov, healthysd.gov/8-gameday-nutrition-tips-for-young-athletes/.
Khalaf, Joan. “6 Nutrition Tips for Youth Athletes.” ACTIVEkids, Active.com, 12 Sept. 2017, www.activekids.com/nutrition/articles/6-nutrition-tips-for-youth-athletes/slide-4.
Castle, Jill. “Game Day Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes.” EatRight, 2017, www.eatright.org/fitness/sports-and-performance/tips-for-athletes/gameday-nutrition-tips-for-young-athletes.