How does your eating habits influence your performance as an athlete? Five Reasons Why Nutrition for High School Athletes is Important for Good Game Days. Download our FREE eBook about Sports Nutrition for Youth Athletes
5 Reasons High School Athletes Need to Focus on What They Eat
Young athletes spend a lot of time training on the field, in the gym, and on the courts. But how much time do we spend thinking about our young athlete’s nutrition? What if we told you much of the success and failure athletes see on game day depends on what they eat in the lunchroom. It is almost as significant as the hours they put into training and practice.
Young athletes: What if we told you that you can improve your performance, not by increasing the amount of work you are doing but by paying attention to what you are eating?
We know training makes athletes hungry, especially growing athletes. Parents know that trying to satisfy the hunger of their teenage athlete’s after practice can feel like feeding an army, rather than a couple of teenagers.
This article is a reminder that the quality of the food you eat is just as important as the quantity. The quality of the food you eat will determine whether feeling full also results in proper nutrition for young athletes.
We can also highly recommend our free eBook Sports Nutrition for Youth Athletes.
Here, we give you 5 reasons why young athletes need to focus on what they eat, in addition to spending time on their training – especially the right form of training like in the high-performance academies offered by Ertheo.
Five Reasons Why Nutrition for High School Athletes is Important
for Good Game Days
• Proper Nutrition Will Help Keep You Out of the Nurse’s Office
It can be frustrating for athletes to be in the nurse’s office or stuck at home due to a bug they caught from someone in class. For some, this is even more frustrating than being held in the nurse’s office due to an injury.
One of the reasons we get sick is a weakened immune system. Our immune system is the way our bodies fight off sickness and keep our cells working properly. Our immune system requires a wide range of components that are found in foods – especially in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and seafood.
Fruits and vegetables are packed with dozens of vitamins and minerals that our immune system needs to keep us healthy.
For example, vitamin C is needed for the regular function of t-cells and phagocytes, two crucial immune system cells. Vitamin C is especially essential for people who undergo physical strain, which young athlete’s experience all the time. When we talk about nutrition for young athletes, it’s important to remember that most people don’t need supplements – Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, spinach, kale, bell peppers, strawberries, and papaya.
Nuts and seeds are a good source of Vitamin E, an antioxidant vitamin that helps to fight off infection, and along with seafood, they are packed with minerals like zinc and selenium, which are essential for a functional immune system.
• Eating the Right Proteins Can Make or Break Your Muscles
To build and maintain muscle, we need to make sure we are eating the right amount of quality proteins.
Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids. Our muscles are made up of proteins that require essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are those that our body cannot make, so we need to eat them to ensure our bodies can build hormones, enzymes, and, of course, muscles.
All animal proteins provide essential amino acids. Contrary to popular belief, we can also get all the protein we need if we follow vegetarian or vegan diets, since we can get all of the essential amino acids by combining different vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes.
A potential risk for athletes is overeating protein. This could be a problem for athletes who take a protein supplement as well as consuming large amounts of protein throughout the day. Since protein consumption is associated with muscle building and strength, athletes can be tricked into overeating protein. This could be a severe problem for kidney health.
Remember that the quality of the protein is essential, but so is the quantity. The dietary reference intake (DRI) for protein is 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight, so if an athlete weighs 60 kg (132 lbs), then their protein requirement would be 48g of good quality protein a day. This may increase slightly in some cases, depending on the type of sport an athlete is involved in, the length of training, and other factors.
• Nutritious Carbohydrates Can Keep Your Energy Up for Longer
Keep the focus off empty calories – and not just before game day. We know how hard it can be to satisfy your hunger when you are putting in extra time training and at practice – but do your best to stay away from processed foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
For most athletes, especially in adolescence, getting enough carbohydrates is essential for fueling your cells.
The type of carbohydrates you choose, however, could influence how you feel. When we are hungry, we tend to crave foods high in sugar and snacks high in saturated and Trans fats. However, most of these foods offer little besides a rush of sugar to the body. That is why they are called “empty calories.”
Since the sugar in ultra-processed and refined foods is easily absorbed, it is also quickly used up (or stored as glycogen in the muscles), and we go back to feeling lethargic. Before games and practices, we want to make sure that nutrition for young athletes provides long-lasting energy that will give them what they need throughout the competition.
• Skipping Meals Is Not a Good Idea
Young athletes already have a high demand for energy and nutrients. Not only are they still growing and developing, but they also have the additional strain that training puts on their body.
This requires athletes to eat a wide variety of foods throughout the day, as well as the right quality and quantity of carbohydrates, fat, and proteins to stay alert, and keep their bodies from eating away at their reserves. (Note: this doesn’t necessarily just mean using fat – your body can turn to muscle for energy as well. This means that skipping meals could lead to muscle wasting).
Even for weight-based competitive athletes, coaches and parents should discourage young athletes from skipping meals to meet goals. Skipping meals could lead to disordered eating habits.
• What You Eat Can Influence Your Levels of Hydration
Most people don’t think of water as food. However, hydration, as all athletes know, is a critical part of feeling good and doing well on the field or court. While drinking enough liquids is essential for athlete’s overall health, there are a few factors regarding what we eat that could influence hydration levels as well.
Some foods are high in water content and contribute to hydration while also providing essential nutrients. Most of the foods in this category are fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cantaloupe, orange, cucumber, strawberries, and more.
Certain drinks, like soft drinks, can actually draw water from your tissues, dehydrating you, even though soft drinks are a liquid. Because they are cold and fizzy, they can make you feel like they are quenching your thirst, but are actually robbing your organs of water.
You should also generally stay away from fruit juice, coffee, and tea if you aim to stay hydrated, since these can cause dehydration and have a diuretic effect on your body. This means it may cause your body to lose more liquid than it took in afterward.
Stick to drinking water to stay hydrated, and occasionally use sports drinks when you need to recuperate lost electrolytes during training or competitions.
Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes
Here are some general tips for young athletes who are looking to make the best of their training in the kitchen, in the lunchroom and on the field.
• Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. During rest periods, choose to drink water as your primary source of hydration over any other drink. During training and competitions, young athletes may benefit from using sports drinks.
• Eat high-quality proteins at every meal: While meat and dairy provide complete sources of protein, you can also have a variety of vegetable proteins to help meet your needs, including nuts, beans, lentils, quinoa, and tofu. Vegetable proteins also provide fiber and several other vital nutrients.
• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables for every meal and snack: Fruits and vegetables provide young athletes with fiber, long-lasting energy, and vital vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy and active.
• Eat whole grains: Unlike refined grains, whole grains provide a steady source of energy long after they are consumed. Make sure at least 50% of the grains young athletes eat are whole grain.
• Eat healthy fats: Oils like olive oil, canola oil, and avocado oil help to fight inflammation. They are also found in nuts and seeds.
There is no doubt that what you eat can significantly influence your success as a young athlete. Nutrition is just as important as the time and effort put into practice and training. Without proper nutrition, your immune system and muscles are weak, you are dehydrated, and your cells don’t have what they need to coordinate and function properly.
For more specific guidelines and follow-up based on the specific needs of a young athlete, we encourage you to meet with a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. A specialist will be able to make critical recommendations based on the length of training, age of the young athlete, current diet, and other elements that could influence general recommendations.
Send this article on to your athlete kids, parents of athletes, and coaches. Getting a group of athletes to eat to meet their body’s needs is a team effort.