Leading off with Youth Athletes

So it's been a year and a half since my last blog post. A lot of life can happen in that amount of time, and it did. I'm starting fresh, with a topic that has clearly become important to lots of you.

First, thank you to all my readers and followers who kept reminding me that I wasn't blogging. Secondly, the most highly requested topic is nutrition for youth athletes, their teams and their families. So that's where we are going to start.

Parents are very concerned about feeding their young athletes to fuel their performance in the classroom and on the field. The children are first and foremost students. But they have big demands on them, especially once they reach high school, to be high achievers. They are up early, go to school, go right to sports practice, arrive home late, and still have all their homework to complete. In my house my daughters still had to practice their instruments and usually some other responsibility to another extracurricular activity. Somewhere stuck in the late evening is dinner and a shower, and usually late to bed. Weekends are filled with games or meets, practices, rehearsals, more homework, and maybe a little free time.

So how do you feed a young growing athlete living this very active life? It takes planning, and an understanding that sometimes practical means a little compromise. And that when we are fueling athletic performance, the goal is to build bodies up with the right foods at the right times.

Your athlete has to buy into this. As a parent you can only be a guide, but especially by the teenage years you cannot control everything your child eats. Your job is to make healthy choices available for them, and limit unhealthy choices in your home. That's where you do have control, and hopefully where they actually do most of their eating. When they are outside the home you can provide snacks for them to pack. But if they won't eat them, that's their choice. All you can do is guide. Educate them with good resources to learn about nutrition and athletic performance, let them talk to the coach, and then they will choose to do what they will.

The easiest place to start is how to eat around exercise. Before, during and after exercise is all considered part of "recovery nutrition". The goal of recovery nutrition is to fuel, repair, recover and grow. What you eat before training will impact not only your immediate training, but how well you recover so that you can train hard again the next day. This is even more critical during two-a-day practice seasons. What you consume during exercise will impact your immediate performance. And what you have before and after exercise will determine what you get out of your training, that is, whether you get bigger, faster, stronger, and how well you train day in and day out. In other words, it can maximize the time that you spend training.

While whole foods are very important throughout the rest of the day, around exercise you should limit fiber intake because it will slow down digestion. The goal, of course, if for your stomach to empty as quickly as possible so you can train comfortably, and get the nutrients to your muscle cells where they work for you.

Here are some practical suggestions for youth athletes about 30-90 minutes before training or a game. Your goal is to combine 200-300 calories worth of protein plus carbohydrate with little fat or fiber (that slows digestion down). Of course, don't forget fluids! Nothing will stop you in your tracks faster than dehydration.

Pre-exercise/Pre-game Snack:

Yogurt+Fruit+Honey (or pre-sweetened yogurt)
Cereal+Fruit +Milk
Turkey Sandwich
Crackers/pretzels + Apple + Low fat mozzarella cheese
PB&J + milk
USANA Nutrimeal (Meal replacement that is a great snack - 4-5 scoops)
USANA Protein-energy bar

During an athletic event that is 1 hour or less, water is usually best. No extra carbohydrates or electrolytes are necessary. But if the athlete drinks more when the beverage is flavored, then use a good sports drink. Very intense exercise, and/or exercise in the heat, even if only an hour, may benefit from a sports drink.
During half time the goal is still mostly hydration, but a little refueling is also important. Athletes must determine how much is enough, and how much is too much to eat at half time. The first time they eat too much they'll know it in the second half, and probably won't do that again. Remember: keep it light.

During Half-time:

Fluids
Bananas (cut in half for younger kids so they can peel and eat more quickly)
Orange slices/Peeled Cuties, Clementines or Satsumas
Grapes
Small slices or chunks of melon

After training the goal is to refuel, repair, recover and grow. Because appetite is often diminished, liquids are taken more easily than solids. These are two very good options.

Post exercise & recovery

BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE, DRINK YOUR RECOVERY SHAKE!!
No shake?
Drink organic chocolate milk.
Then shower and eat a meal.

I'll keep on this topic for a while. There's so much to talk about!

Keep going healthy and strong!
Dr. Susan Kleiner

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