By Steve Preston, Sports Performance Specialist
As a Sports Performance Specialist my job is to help youth athletes improve strength, speed, coordination and long-term athleticism.
Coaches and Parents of youth athletes spend so many countless hours on practices, resistance training, conditioning, and overall performance. Great:)
The kids become better at their respective sport as they get better learning the skills required of the sport. Makes sense, right? But there are other things your youth athletes can do in regard to their nutrition that will help them be ready for competition.
Here’s 10 things to consider nutritionally for all of your youth athletes:
- Timed Protein Intake… Anyone who has ever lifted weights knows the value of protein when it comes to building muscle and strength. Protein is made up of chains of amino-acids that are complex and take a lot of work to break down by the digestive system. Protein helps with repair and recuperation after practices and training. Protein is a must in any developing athletes daily meal plan because there is no substitute for protein. Have your kids get in to a regular pattern of consuming lean proteins… not fatty sources or fast-food. Another thing to consider is that protein isn’t stored in the body. Therefore, you should have your athletes try to consume it at least 4 times daily at separate meals. This will help the body maintain the recovery and tissue repair that they will need to improve as an athlete.
- Carb Up Before Competition… One of the most important things you can do to maximize sports performance is to be prepared for game day nutritionally. You can do this by increasing the volume of carbohydrates that are eaten before they compete. This will give them energy, allow them to stay alert and keep them feeling strong and fast. This process, which has been around for long time, is referred to as “carb-loading.” Carb loading can work… but most people misunderstand how to do it and don’t get to reap the benefits. Most people who try a carb-load try to do it the day before competition. They consume lots of carbohydrates in order to “prepare” for game day. The only problem is that carb-loading the day before a competition doesn’t give your body the chance to use them at that time. The key is to do a carb-load 2 days before competition. This means if they have a game on Saturday, they can carb load on Thursday.
- Increase Fruits and Veggies Daily… I simply don’t know anyone who eats too many fruits and vegetables. The US RDA for fruits and veggies is anywhere from 6-9 servings daily of them. This was no mistake. Fruits and vegetables are so important for the digestive system, loaded with vitamins and antioxidants for healthy body functioning and keep you high-energy without bloating or slowing you down. The other thing is that slightly higher amounts of fruits and vegetables will help reduce cravings for other sugar that kids love so much. I know what you’re thinking… “I’ll never get my athletes to eat more fruits and veggies.” You can though. You just have to get them to drink the fruits and veggies in a smoothie or shake. You can add broccoli and spinach and they will never even taste them. Combine this with a variety of fruit and it’s a great tasting, healthy blend.
- Increase H2O… Most people walking on this planet don’t consume enough water for sports performance. Your muscles are made up of 90% water. Keeping hydrated through regular water consumption will help keep the muscle bellies full and functioning. If your athletes consume more water they will perform better. A dehydrated muscle will never perform as well as it can. That means being slightly slower or weaker than they could be. How do you know if you’re drinking enough water? Your urine should be clear. If it is darker, then water intake should increase. Teach this to your athletes so they have their own constant reminder to hydrate.
- Increase Unsaturated Fats… Unsaturated fats are those that have molecular chains that are open and can bond to other chains of fat. These unsaturated fats are the “healthy fats.” These healthy fats are essential for hormone optimization, joint lubrication and a great source of water-soluble vitamins. When your youth athletes consume unsaturated fats they help prepare their body for not only their current performance but also for increased speed and athleticism down the road because optimizing hormones (especially as puberty hits and beyond) will allow for further strength and muscle increases.
- Daily Multi-Vitamin… Since hardly anyone eats perfectly and we live in a society where food can be questionable as far as quality sources, it is a really good idea to have your youth athletes supplement with a daily multi-vitamin/mineral. This is like your support system to help fill in the nutritional gaps that may not have been met through food alone. We want to make sure that your athletes are able to grow and mature optimally.
- Consider Creatine… Creatine Monohydrate is a mineral that is found in small traces in red meat. It is a muscle cell volumizer. This means that creatine will actually pull more water into the muscle cells and make them more full and stronger. Not to be confused with steroids, creatine is a natural supplement not a drug. Creatine monohydrate works best if you are training on a progressive and appropriate strength training program. It is one of the only supplements for athletes that actually works. Now, a young athlete who hasn’t hit puberty or isn’t doing any serious strength training shouldn’t bother taking it. But if your youth athletes have reached puberty and are training with compound strength exercises, it’s a nice little kick-start to their strength, speed and performance.
- Balance Meals… One of the best ways to teach your youth athletes to set up high-performance meals is to have them think visually. It’s hard to get kids to measure out food… even when they’re following a meal plan. One of my favorite teaching methods is to have them think about portions on their plate. An ideal plate will contain a lean protein, a complex carbohydrate and a vegetable. Each serving should be in visually equal portions. This means that the protein, complex carb and veggie should all be the same size on the plate. When you do this, your body will get a perfect ratio of each to ensure muscle repair, strength increase, high energy levels, and overall sports performance.
- Recover from Practice or Training… A post-recovery drink can do wonders for athletes who need to practice and/or train hard on a regular basis. Recovery drinks are basically simple carbohydrate (sugar) sources with a small amount of protein added. The sugars in the carbohydrates serve the purpose of delivering the protein to the muscle cells where the glucose is stored as glycogen in the muscle cells. This glycogen is “muscle energy.” Actually, when it comes to recovery the protein is great but not even mandatory. The simple carbohydrates are the more important nutrient… when consumed within 20 minutes of a hard practice or training session.
- If It Can Sit On A Shelf Don’t Eat It… If you walk into the grocery store and want to make the best choices as a parent for your young athlete you must stay on the perimeter. Foods that sit on the shelves in the aisles are generally processed, and contain preservatives. This isn’t food… it’s pure junk. While there may be a few things you can find on a shelf that are healthy for young athletes (like different types of nuts) for the most part stay away.
These 10 tips will really help your youth athletes make progress in sports performance. By eating nutritionally-dense foods on a regular basis they will set the stage for optimal growth and development, strength, speed and long-term athleticism.