Friday, May 13, 2016

Parenting Young Athletes - Part 2 - Feed Them Well

Children, pre-teens and teens all have the need for high quality nutrient dense food. Their growing bodies demand continual sources of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to support and sustain their growth. Being young usually gives them a bit of wiggle room to recover from less then perfect diets. For young athletes however, the wiggle room is tighter. The demands are greater and the consequences of sub-optimal nutrition are far reaching into their life long health. While it is important for all young and growing people to have good nutrition, young athletes and their parents should pay special attention to their diets to help provide them the nutrients needed for optimal development.

Required: Three meals a day, plus snacks!

Three meals plus snacks, actually translates into four, five or even six small but nutrition packed meals a day at our house. Consistently providing enough high quality nutrition takes a concerted effort, one that can be hard to stay on top of at times. Below are some basic ideas and credible resources that I have found useful for staying informed and motivated to supply the healthy food my family of young athletes needs.

An over flowing fruit bowl visibly reminds everyone of a
healthy snack option as well as some beauty while it lasts.

The basic nutritional components of high quality, nutritious meals include carbs, protein and fats.

After a workout, it is important to replenish with all three of the basics; carbs, protein, fat. According to Nancy Clark, MS, RD, it doesn't need to be a lot, but having something as soon as comfortable following an intense workout will enhance the building of and recovery of muscles. She writes in her excellent Sports Nutrition Guidebook, that even 100 calories post workout can make a big difference and suggests 8 grams of carbohydrates, 10 grams of protein (one ounce of hard cheese), and 3 grams of fat. As little as 10 grams of protein following exercise can stimulate muscle growth.

Don't avoid the carbs. 

I am learning the importance of carbs for my athletes. I've heard young (especially female) athletes discuss and seen them intentionally avoid carbs. The idea being that they will avoid weight gain. While certainly not exclusive to young women, I've not personally heard this concern among the young male athletes, I know. Young and growing female athletes need to understand the value of carbs for their overall development and specifically for their reproductive development. I've listed a resource for a description and discussion of "relative energy efficiency" below. The energy supplied by carbohydrates is crucial for the building of muscle mass. Carbs provide the energy needed for activity but also the energy required for building new muscles. They are good for both before and after workouts and competitions.

Athletes need carbs, protein and fat.
We eat lots of bananas! Why?
They are a great value, have prime nutrients and
31 grams of carbohydrates.

Eating something before training optimizes post workout recovery. 

My teens usually eat something several hours before an event and a lighter snack closer to event time. Despite my urging, none of my kids eat much if anything during games or competitions which are often long drawn out affairs. Seven innings of a high school baseball game can be lengthy or four events at a gymnastics meet takes about 2 1/2 - 3 hours plus an awards ceremony. So I try to be prepared prepared and have nutritious snacks at events and competitions. Fortunately, the appetite typically kicks in and many gymnasts are ready to eat at awards. When available, I break my limited spending at meets rule and buy a fruit smoothie for my gymnast. Smoothie vendors typically have fresh fruit to use to create a healthful, hydrating, yummy post competition reward. Encourage your young athlete to have at least a few bites during events to maintain energy needed for games and competitions.

One task I personally find difficult, is always having snacks ready to grab and go for busy training or competition days. Those grab and go snacks get snatched up and eaten frequently at any time - on the go or not. I have to hide some of the packaged snacks, like granola bars, to make sure there are easy to take snacks available for when they are really needed. We keep granola bars on hand, a bag of clementines in the fridge and there are always bananas available.

What to eat after training or a competitive event.                                                         I'm repeating myself here - carbs, protein, fat.

Easy to prepare and full of healthy flavor, a crock pot meal with a beef brisket surrounded by veggies can be ready for an after training meal.

More Nutrition facts about protein and beef can be found at the Cattlemen's Beef Association's website.

If an athlete finds that their appetite is diminished immediately following a workout try a liquid instead of a solid food. Chocolate milk or a fruit smoothie can be a good choice to begin replenishing. On the other hand an, if an athlete has an increased appetite there is nothing wrong with having meat such as lean beef following a workout. Dairy is also an excellent source of workout follow up nutrition for young athletes. Fortunately, the appetite typically kicks in and many gymnasts are ready to eat at awards. When available, I break my limited spending at meets rule and buy a fruit smoothie for my gymnast. Smoothie vendors typically have fresh fruit to use to create a healthful, hydrating, yummy post competition reward.

Drink water and stay hydrated. 

Recommendations vary regarding water consumption. Needs will depend on the athlete, the activity and weather. An outdoor run on a hot day will require more hydration than an indoor stretching routine. Mostly, encourage your young athlete to pay attention to their own body and drink to thirst.

Adequate rest and recovery time is essential.

Sleep is the the best way to get the rest required for health, growth, continued learning (both physical and academic) and athletic performance. Sleep is required for the hormonal cycles that encourage and stimulate physical growth and development, including building muscle. Without sufficient sleep, workouts can place an excessive demand on a growing athlete, translating into lower performance, injury or just plan grouchiness.

While most of this may seem obvious to anyone feeding a family, I find it useful to have reminders to help us stay on track. Providing ongoing nutritious meals and snacks can often be harder than it seems when assisting young athletes in accomplishing their goals. Well written published resources offer ideas and credible recommendations.

A few excellent resources below. Some are affiliate links to resources I have viewed, read and find valuable.

Sports Nutrition Guide from USADA U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

For important information regarding young women athletes and nutrition, check out the article at

Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook 

Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family by Ellyn Satter

Highly recommended by parents and dietitians alike, Jodie Shield's book is an excellent resource for every family.

No comments:

Post a Comment