Extra food for sports excellence
The great thing about fueling yourself for peak sports performance is that it doesn’t mean you have to follow a special diet or take supplements. It’s all about getting the right foods in the right amounts into your meal plan to stay fit and healthy.
Adolescent athletes have different nutritional needs than less active adolescents. Since athletes train much harder, they need more calories for fuel to perform in the sport and to continue to grow.
So what happens if a teenage athlete doesn’t eat enough? His body is much less likely to perform at its best and may even injure muscles instead of promoting their development. Athletes who eat too few calories each day will not be as fast or as strong as they could be and may not be able to maintain their body weight.
Athletes and going on a diet
Since teens who play sports need more fuel, it’s usually not a good idea for them to go on a diet. Teens who play sports that emphasize low body weight, such as wrestling , swimming , dancing, or artistic gymnastics , may feel pressured to lose weight. But drastically reducing the amount of calories you eat can lead to growth problems and an increased risk of fractures and other types of injuries.
If your coach, gym teacher, or a teammate says you need to go on a diet, talk to your doctor first or see a dietitian who specializes in teens and sports. If a health professional you trust deems it safe for you to go on a diet, they will work with you to come up with an eating plan that is healthy for you.
Eat a wide variety of foods
When it comes to gaining strength for long-term sports performance, it’s important to eat healthy meals and snacks to get all the nutrients your body needs. The My Plate Nutritional Guide can guide you on what kinds of foods and drinks to include in your diet.
Two fundamental elements: vitamins and minerals
- In addition to eating the right amount of calories, teen athletes need to get a variety of nutrients from the foods they eat to maintain optimal performance. Those nutrients include vitamins and minerals . Calcium and iron are two very important minerals for athletes:
- Calcium helps build the strong, resilient bones that athletes depend on. Calcium, essential to protect you from overload or stress bills, is found in dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese.
- Iron carries oxygen to the muscles. To get the iron you need, eat lean meat, fish, and poultry; green leafy vegetables; and iron-fortified cereals.
Athletes may need more protein than teens who lead less active lives, but most of them get enough protein through a healthy diet. The claim that athletes need to eat a significant amount of protein each day to build strong, resilient muscles is a myth. Muscle development is achieved with regular training and hard work. Fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, tree nuts, soy, and peanut butter are high-protein foods.
Carbohydrates are an excellent fuel for athletes. Reducing this food group or following a low-carbohydrate diet is not a good idea for an athlete. This is because reducing the consumption of carbohydrates can make a person feel tired and even exhausted, which will negatively affect their sports performance.
Among the foods rich in carbohydrates, are fruits, vegetables and vegetables and cereals. Choose whole grains (such as brown rice, whole oats, and bread made from whole grain flours) more than their processed or refined variants, such as white rice and white bread. Whole grains provide both the energy athletes need to perform and the fiber and other nutrients they need to stay healthy.
Sugary carbohydrates, such as chocolate bars or soft drinks, do not contain any of the nutrients that an athlete needs. In addition, if an athlete eats a chocolate bar or other sugary snack just before training or competition, they may experience a rapid (albeit brief) increase in their energy level, followed by a significant “crash,” leaving them exhausted and without energy before finishing training or competing.
The fatty fuel
Everyone needs to eat a certain amount of fat each day, and this is especially true for athletes. This is because the muscles, when they are active, burn carbohydrates quickly and need to burn fat to have energy for a longer period of time. Just like carbohydrates, not all fats are the same. Choose healthy fats, such as unsaturated fats, which are found in most vegetable oils, fish, nuts, and seeds. Limit trans fats (such as partially hydrogenated oils) and saturated fats, found in fatty meat and full-fat dairy, such as milk, butter, and cheese.
It is also important that you know how to choose the right time to eat fat. Fatty foods can slow digestion; therefore, it is a good idea to avoid eating these types of foods for a few hours before exercising.
- Sports supplements are sold with the promise of improving physical performance. But there are very few that are known to help, and some may even be harmful.
- Anabolic steroids can negatively affect a person’s hormones, causing unwanted side effects such as testicular shrinkage and baldness in boys and facial hair in girls. Steroids can cause mental health problems, such as depression and emotional highs and lows.
- Some supplements contain hormones related to testosterone, such as dehydroepiandrosterone (or DHEA). These supplements can have side effects similar to those of anabolic steroids. Other sports supplements (such as creatine) have not been tested in people under 18 years of age. Therefore, the risks involved in adolescents are unknown.
- Salt tablets are another type of supplement that we must be aware of. People take them to prevent dehydration, but salt tablets can actually promote dehydration and should be taken with plenty of water. When salt is taken in large amounts, it can cause nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, and upset the lining of the stomach. You’ll generally feel much better if you drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself well hydrated. You can usually replace all the salt that is lost through sweat by drinking sports drinks and food before, during and after physical exercise.
- When it comes to dehydration , water is just as important to an athlete’s peak performance as food. When you sweat while exercising, it’s easy to get overheated, get a headache, and feel exhausted, especially in hot and/or humid weather. Even mild dehydration can negatively impact an athlete’s physical and mental performance.
- There is no universal formula for how much water you should drink. The amount of fluid that each person needs to drink depends on their age, size, the intensity level of the physical activity they practice and the environmental temperature.
- Athletes drink before, during and after physical exercise. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, because thirst is a sign that your body has been needing to drink for some time.
- Sports drinks are no better than water to keep you well hydrated while playing sports. But if you exercise for more than 60-90 minutes at a time and/or in very hot weather, sports drinks may be a good option. The carbohydrates and electrolytes contained in sports drinks can improve performance in these types of conditions. But in other situations, your body will function just as well by drinking only water.
- Avoid drinking carbonated beverages or juices because they could give you a stomach ache while training or competing. Don’t drink energy drinks or other drinks that contain caffeine , such as soda, tea, and coffee to rehydrate. You could end up drinking large amounts of caffeine, which can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Too much caffeine can make an athlete anxious or restless. Caffeine can also cause headaches and trouble falling asleep at night. All of this can have a very negative influence on a person’s sports performance.
- Food for the day of the match or competition
Your performance on the day of the competition or the match will depend, in part, on the food you have eaten during the last days and weeks. However, you can enhance your performance even more by paying attention to the food you eat on match or competition day. Focus on a high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, low-fat diet.
Here are some more tips:
Have a meal 3 to 4 hours before the start of the match or competition. Include in it plenty of carbohydrates and some protein, but keep fat low. Fats take longer to digest, which can cause digestive discomfort. Carbohydrates include pasta, bread, fruit, and vegetables. Avoid sugary foods and drinks.
When you only have 3 hours or less before the game or competition to eat, have a lighter meal or snack that contains easy-to-digest carbohydrates, such as fruit, crackers or bread.
After a match or competition, experts recommend eating within 30 minutes of intense physical activity and again after 2 hours. Your body will be rebuilding your muscles and replenishing energy and fluid stores, so continue to hydrate well and eat plenty of carbohydrates and lean protein.
Everyone is different, so find out what works best for you. You may want to experiment with when you eat and the amount of food you eat when you train to be even better prepared come game or competition day.