HEALTH column by Jodi Cornelio: Young athletes need the right nutrition to gain a competitive edge

Nutrition can be challenging if you are a young athlete looking for peak performance. It’s true you are what you eat, and if you want to be a star player, look for star nutrition to help you along the way. Here are some basic principles for nutrition for peak performance for the young athlete.

HYDRATION: Hydration is key for peak performance. Our bodies are most dehydrated after an evening’s rest, so it is best to start the day with a tall glass of water. There is no substitution for water. It’s important to drink plenty of water during the day leading up to a game, especially in the two to three hours before game time. Continue to drink during the game (about a 1/2 cup every 15 minutes) and afterward to rehydrate after sweat loss.

The more active you are the more water you need. On average, we all should have at least eight glasses of water. Much of this depends on your activity level and body weight. Signs of dehydration are headaches, dizziness, weakness, shaking, dark yellow urine, dry lips and dry skin. Beware of these signs and stay hydrated by drinking water incrementally all day long.

POTASSIUM: Potassium is part of your electrolytes, which plays a role in hydration. Athletes lose potassium through sweat. Young male athletes are especially impacted by potassium loss. Foods high in potassium are bananas, potatoes, raisins, prunes and apricots, to name a few. The best way to keep potassium stores high is to regularly include potatoes in the evening meal and include one-half banana in the morning meal.
MORNING FOODS: Not all of us are breakfast people, but it is the most important meal of the day, whether you eat it at 6 a.m. or 10 a.m. The first meal of the day should have a balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats to sustain you till the next snack. A combination of whole grains, oatmeal with peanut butter, eggs, yogurt or milk are all good choices. Plain Greek yogurt and fresh fruit is a great first meal to the day for athletes on the go.

TIMING CAN MAKE YOU OR BREAK YOU: When you eat is just as important as what you eat. Your body needs two to three hours to digest a regular meal such as breakfast or lunch before competition; therefore, the bigger meals are eaten earlier in the day or after the event. Meals should get smaller the closer you get to game time. You can always grab a small snack like a protein or whole grain bar 30 to 60 minutes before the game if your stomach is rumbling for energy pick-me-up. The best time to gain your energy stores or carb load is the night before the event/game.

The best sources for carb-loading are pasta, whole-grain breads and cereals, and potatoes. Save your fruits and vegetables and a supply of protein foods for the day of the event for quick energy. Muscles need protein; eggs, chicken, cheese, fish and lean meats help muscles stay strong and recover from intense workouts. Spread these foods out throughout the day. Young athletes need a good protein source at every meal.

Never skip meals. You can go light on meals, but never skip meals. Your body needs constant fuel throughout the day and storage to get you through the night.

Pack foods that store well, and be aware of what you are eating. Meat, yogurt, cheese, dairy, some vegetables and foods containing mayonnaise need to be chilled. Don’t set yourself up for nausea or stomach cramps in the middle of a game. Carry a cooler or pack foods such as nuts, fruits and protein bars that do not need refrigeration.

Live Long, Live Well
athlete photo