Keep Your Little Athlete Fueled

See if you can tell what’s wrong with this picture:

Patrick, a 14 year-old soccer player is looking for advice on how to improve his performance.  His 2-hour practices are in the afternoon and he feels tired even before his cleats hit the field.  This is essentially Patrick’s day of eating and drinking before practice: 

B- skips or “grabs a glass of orange juice on the way out the door”

L (11:25 am)- chips and a coke from the vending machine

S- “can’t eat before practice due to an upset stomach”

D- Some type of meat, veggie, and grain prepared at home- by this time, he states, “I’m starving and I usually eat 2-3 servings. 

Patrick is one of many athletes who are missing the importance of fueling with food when it comes to any type of sport or activity.  Just like you must fill up the tank of a car with gas in order to keep it moving, the same goes for our bodies.  You probably picked up on Patrick’s mistakes.

Some of the most common mistakes in a young athlete’s diet include:

1. Skipping breakfast

2. No snacks in between meals

3. Improper hydration

4. Skipping a meal/snack before and after a workout

5. School lunches full of junk

Three fueling must-haves:

Breakfast.  Don’t ever forget the old saying that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”.  When you sleep at night, you are already putting yourself into a fasting state by going 7-8 hours without eating.  Waking up and trying to start your day on an empty tank is only going to catch up with you later.

Start the day with at least 3-5 food groups consisting of a whole grain, protein source, and a fruit.  For example, 2 slices of whole grain toast with 2 Tbsp peanut butter, a yogurt, and a banana.

Snacks = Mini Meals

Think of your snacks as mini meals throughout the day.  In order to maintain energy, and consume all of the important nutrients and calories that your body needs, it can be very beneficial to consume snacks in between meals.

A snack should consist of at least 2 food groups, should be low in fat and sugar, and convenient enough to be stuffed into a backpack when needed.  Try a homemade trail mix consisting of dried fruit, mixed nuts, and a cereal or grain of choice.

Drink Up!

Just a 2% dehydration can create a decrease in overall performance throughout the day and during exercise or an event.  Consume liquids throughout the day, avoiding the kind that adds extra calories from sugar (ie. Soda).

To determine your hydration, the best indicator may be the color of your urine- pale lemonade means your drinking enough, if it is dark in color (unless changed by a multivitamin/ medication) you are not drinking enough.  Carry a water bottle with you at all times to ensure you will drink your liquids throughout the day.

Written by Lauren Scott, MS, RD, LD

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