These days young athletes have increasingly heavy training loads, that can even be comparable to professional athletes. This requires careful nutrition planning to ensure they are not only meeting energy needs to fuel training and competition but on top of this, they need enough nutrients to support vital growth and development. Here are some practical suggestions to help fuel your budding athletes:
- Breakfast is important, it needs to be substantial and must include protein. Options include baked beans and eggs on toast, porridge (made with milk) or Weetbix with fruit and yoghurt. If your young one is partial to a sleep-in, plan ahead to have some grab and go options such as; bircher muesli (oats, seeds, milk or juice, yoghurt and fruit soaked overnight in the fridge), reheated frozen cheese toasties or smoothies. Browse some protein-packed recipe ideas here.
- Fruits and vegetables need to be included across every meal and snacks. Vitamins, minerals and fibre are key to healthy growth, energy and recovery. Aim to eat in season (as you will be needing plenty!) and remember canned, frozen and dried sources are all options.
- Eat every three hours to maintain energy levels for training and recovery. Poor planning often equates to poor food decisions so schedule time event week to involve your child/teen in planning and preparation so they are accountable for having the right meals and snacks with them. Put the snacks in zip-lock bags or small containers so that they can easily identify what to eat, and when. Examples might be home made baking, carrot sticks or crackers & hummus etc.
- Young athletes may need bigger portion sizes. It is important that young athletes understand that if they are training lots they are likely to require bigger meals then their peers or even adults. They need to grasp that a consequence of being really active are higher protein, carbohydrate and healthy fat requirements. This additional energy should come from smart food choices in the form of larger meals (this is a great way to avoid excess unhealthy snacking) again based around plenty of fruit and veg.
- Read the packet. Marketing is a powerful thing and many "sports foods" are targeting to the younger market and contain little more than sugar, artificial colours and flavours. Make it a habit to read the ingredients list so you and your child/teen get to know what is actually in the food you purchase and that the food is contributing positively to their daily requirements.
- Hydrate. Hydration is not only key to sports performance but also for general concentration and recovery from training/racing. Depending on size, daily water requirements for young athletes will be around 1.5 litres (additional is needed when training). So when does a young athlete require a sports drink? Water is usually suitable, however, there is a time and place where there is a need for a sports drink. As with adults if your young athlete is extremely active and is non-stop for over 60 mins per session they will require additional energy (carbohydrates). Also if conditions are hot (or they sweat a lot) they will also require electrolytes / mineral salts to replace those lost in sweat. Watch out for signs of dehydration such as dizziness, fatigue and headaches. If your child could benefit from a sports drink, PURE Electrolyte Hydration is a good choice (no artificial colours or flavours and available in convenient single serve sachets - perfect to pack into sports bags).
- Recover within 30 minutes. Plan to have a carbohydrate + protein-containing snack within 30 minutes of training or competition. Even if it's almost a meal time, if it's further than 30 minutes away have a snack straight after your session finishes. Ideas include; smoothies, crackers with hummus/bean dip or PURE Exercise Recovery (great chocolate recovery drink for on-the-go, as you only have to mix it in a bottle with water).
- Get professional advice. We only get one chance to grow and I can't stress enough the importance of establishing healthy eating patterns to support this vital phase (and of course fuelling training and competition). Unfortunately, young ones don't always want to take advice from parents so don't hesitate to see someone externally to help you through nutritional challenges. There are many great dietitians and sports nutritionists that can work with young athletes and put the framework in place for a lifetime of successful eating.
In summary, fuelling young athletes doesn't need to be over complicated. If you can base your young one's diet around plenty of fruits and vegetables, make sure they are eating plenty, staying hydrated and being smart around timings of meals/snacks you are already well on your way to success.