Nutrition tips for young athletes at the beginning of the school year

Is your youth athlete eating like a winner?

When it comes to nutrition, many of us focus on food’s relationship to weight loss or weight management rather than its powerful health-promoting properties. A balanced diet is preventive medicine and is essential for better brain function, higher energy levels and a stronger immune system. And for the students in your family, proper nutrition is critical to improving not only their academic performance but their athletic ability as well.

The students have a busy school day. They get up early, have to study for hours, and expend a tremendous amount of physical energy when exercising. Combined with the school day, training, team trips and games, the typical youth athlete works a whopping 12-hour day. And that doesn’t take into account the hours of homework that follow. All too often, endurance-maintaining nutrition is sacrificed at the expense of those seriously stacked schedules.

For youth athletes to be successful, they need easily accessible, nutritious snacks to get them through their days. Here are the top three ways to ensure your kids stay fueled and healthy:

We know that we should drink water throughout the day. But why? Water regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, helps organs function properly, flushes toxins from the system, improves cognitive skills, and increases energy—all critical functions for student success.

Unfortunately, younger folks are more likely to opt for sodas or energy drinks that are loaded with sugar, artificial flavors, and other harmful chemicals. High-sugar drinks are also linked to such dangerous health conditions as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Although sugary drinks give you an instant boost of energy, they leave you feeling drained and lacking in energy.

Even Gatorade and other beverages marketed as “sports drinks,” designed to replenish electrolytes lost during intense exercise, contain significant amounts of artificial colors and sugar. To create an all-star formula, fill a large water bottle half full with Gatorade and dilute the rest with water to ensure you stay well hydrated.

Don’t let pre-workout or pre-game snacks be an afterthought. The food an athlete eats can make all the difference in training and performance on game day. Students train for hours on end with exercises consisting of such strenuous tasks as sprint work, long-distance runs, strength training, and back-to-back exercises. When your body is fueled with the right foods, you will have more speed, strength, and endurance.

Choose healthy foods that promote and maintain energy levels and are high in carbohydrates and proteins. But be careful: not all carbohydrates are the same. Be sure to choose complex carbohydrate and lean protein combinations, like whole wheat bread with peanut butter or whole wheat crackers with cheese. These burn slowly to keep the body satisfied for longer. Athletes should ideally consume these snacks 30 to 60 minutes before training. This period usually falls right after the end of the school day. Foods that contain dairy, are high in fat, or are high in fiber are less than ideal. They can be difficult to digest before exercise and cause cramps or other uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms.

Ensuring your young athlete is stocked up on the right ingredients after training is just as important as it is before the game. Similarly, you want foods made up of complex carbohydrates and lean proteins to help the body recover after exertion. Homemade energy bars, Greek yogurt with berries, a banana with nut butter, or reduced-fat chocolate milk are good options. Try to refuel 30 to 45 minutes after your workout.

When it’s time to sit down for dinner, design a well-rounded plate that includes complex carbohydrates, proteins, and veggies. Wholemeal pasta with grilled chicken and veggies, or salmon with quinoa and veggies are just a few ideas that will help ensure your athlete is getting all the nutrients they need to regenerate muscle fibers that were broken down during exercise and replenish expended energy.

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