Foods for young athletes – Tips for Training Day
By Silvia Fonda (BSc Nutritional Therapy)
With the outdoor season coming to an end, the start of school, winter training and the indoor competition season soon approaching, it is important to make sure that you feed your body adequately. The purpose of nutrition in a young athlete is not only to achieve top performance but also to promote growth (both bones and muscles) and to support your immune system so that you don’t develop colds and coughs or other winter illnesses.
Before we talk about what to eat, let’s look at some general rules that you should consider on the days you attend training:
1. Make sure you have a healthy breakfast. Avoid sugary cereals and if at all possible try and include some protein in your breakfast (scrambled or boiled egg, nuts if you are not allergic to them). An easy breakfast could be porridge with fruit and seeds or nuts sprinkled on top.
2. Ensure that you have been drinking fluids throughout the day (a little sip every half hour). Bring a small bottle of water to school so you don’t have to rely on your lunchtime drink as your only source of fluid. Also remember to bring a small bottle of water to your training session.
3. While in school try your best to make healthy choices for your lunch. Eat lots of vegetables and choose a meat based or fish based meal. If you want to have pasta or rice also, that is fine as long as you don’t make this the main part of your meal.
4. If you start training at 6.45pm, make sure that you have something to eat not later than 2 hours before, that is eat before 4.45pm (see below for ideas of after-school snacks which will provide energy for training). Eating anything heavy just before training may cause indigestion and other problems such as nausea and stomach pains.
5. Resist the temptation to eat sweets and fatty carbohydrates such as crisps. Remember that your body is a temple and eating unhealthy types of foods will result in increased fat mass, decreased muscle mass and poor recovery. All these factors will eventually have a negative impact on your performance.
6. Eat more food after training! This is because during exercise your body breaks down proteins and carbohydrates stores and so these nutrients must be replaced. Have your dinner after training and make sure that your meal includes proteins (i.e. fish/chicken/beef/eggs), plenty of vegetables (broccoli, peppers, lettuce, green beans, spinach, carrots, onions, avocadoes etc...) and some carbohydrates (rice/pasta/potatoes/couscous).
Examples of after-school snacks fit for athletes:
- Plain low fat yogurt with 2-3 tablespoons granola and 2 tablespoons of berries (raspberries, blueberries or strawberries)
- Small wholemeal bread or wholemeal Pita bread sandwich with ham or tuna and a piece of fruit (apple).
If you are still hungry you can have a banana at least an hour before training. Bananas are rich in magnesium and can help prevent cramps.
References: Nutrient Timing by Ivy, J., and Portman, R.; Clinical Sports Nutrition by Burke, L. and Deakin, V.; Nutrition for Speed Athletes by Kearney, G.