Nutrition is a vital piece of young athletes’ training plan

September 25, 2012 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

When it comes to our young athletes, we tend to focus on the physical paces they put themselves through as they train for their favorite sports. Equally important is nutritional training – making sure their bodies have enough fuel to make it through a race or game, not to mention to support growth in their teen years.

While our children may have not yet reached the level of intensity required by daily practice for school sports teams, it’s never too early to start building knowledge about good nutrition around athletics.

Being adequately fueled is essential for peak game performance as well as to delay the onset of fatigue and to help recover from a workout or competition. Nutritionists generally take into account three basic principles regarding sports nutrition:

1. Hydration. Nutrition experts point to dehydration as the single largest contributor to fatigue for high school athletes. Sweat depletes the body of fluids and salts – needed to keep an athlete cool – as well as other electrolytes. It becomes harder to exercise when the body is depleted, as internal body temperature rises and heart rate increases. By starting exercise fully hydrated, and hydrating as needed during and after exercise, athletes can avoid dehydration.

Good choices for hydration: Water, sports drinks with glucose, fruits, vegetables

2. Fuel. Food is fuel for the human body. Carbohydrates and fat are primary fuels for muscle for athletes. Carbohydrate stores in particular can get depleted during strenuous, daily practices, so it’s important to start the day with adequate carbohydrates, refuel during the day – even during exercise, if necessary – and continue fueling after a workout or competition.

Some good choices for fuel: pasta, peanut butter and honey on toast; fruit and yogurt smoothies; low-fat granola; turkey and Swiss sandwich

3. Recovery. Recovery is the process of reloading depleted carbohydrate stores, rehydrating the body after exercise and repairing/building muscle tissue after a training session or game. Muscles rely on carbohydrates for fuel, so athletes should try to consume carbohydrates within 30 minutes of exercise. If your athlete has trouble stomaching food, liquid recovery foods such as chocolate milk or a fruit smoothie will do the trick.

Some good choices for recovery: pizza with thick crust; graham crackers with peanut butter; banana; low-fat chocolate milk; smoothie made with yogurt and frozen berries


The American College of Sports Medicine provides the following guidelines:

Hydration before exercise

Check your hydration status before exercise because there is a wide variability in fluid needs for each person.

  • Drink 16-20 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage at least four hours before exercise.
  • Drink 8-12 fluid ounces of water 10-15 minutes before exercise.
  • Consuming a beverage with sodium (salt) and/or small meal helps to stimulate thirst and retain fluids.

Hydration during exercise


  • Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of water every 15-20 minutes when exercising for less than 60 minutes.
  • Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of a sports beverage (5-8 percent carbohydrate with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes when exercising greater than 60 minutes.
  • Do not drink more than one quart/hour during exercise.


Hydration after exercise

Obtain your body weight before and after exercise; check your urine to estimate your fluid losses. The goal is to correct your losses within two hours after exercise.

  • Drink 20-24 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage for every one pound lost

Read more at the American College of Sports Medicine.

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