Proper eating habits can help young athletes on and off the field
How can parents help their student-athletes gain a
competitive edge? By boning up on nutrition basics.
According to Chris Ina, M.A., A.T.C., athletic training
coordinator in sports medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical
Center, one healthy meal before a competition cannot make up for inadequate daily
“Parents, young athletes and coaches should know that one
of the most important elements of proper nutrition for sports is timing,” Ina
said. “In addition to eating balanced meals, young athletes need to know when
to eat what types of food so they allow enough time for proper digestion and
absorption of the nutrients needed for performance ‘fuel’.”
Ina suggests the following tips for top performance:
- Eat more carbohydrates than normal for several
days prior to competition. Sporting events are endurance activities lasting
hours and requiring a lot of energy. The body uses carbohydrates as energy so
storing them up a few days before an event is helpful. Good choices include whole-grain
pasta, peanut butter, whole-grain bread and cereal (not sugar-coated), and
plain, baked potatoes.
- To avoid cramping, just eat a small snack (200
calories or less) that is low in fat, protein and fiber about an hour before
the game. A large meal of more than 400 calories may require up to four hours
for complete digestion.
- Eat within two hours following exercise. Choose
easy and inexpensive high protein options, such as a glass of chocolate milk,
yoghurt or a smoothie to help repair muscles.
- Choose a smart option for a pre-workout snack
such as a granola bar, high carbohydrate sports bar or sports drink.
- Make it a habit to wake up and eat right away
to kick start your metabolism and produce energy throughout the day.
- Avoid eating fried or greasy foods, such as
cheeseburgers and french fries, which can result in feeling tired and sluggish
because the body has to work so hard to break down and digest the fat.
“Although proper nutrition is important for all growing
kids, it is especially important for children playing organized sports,” Ina
said. “The energy requirements needed for the sustained physical activity
involved in practice and competitive sports are much higher than for normal,
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