Fuel for Performance

All athletes strive to compete at the top of their game. Competitive drive starts at a young age, and continues to grow throughout their athletic career. They will train for several hours a day, days in a row, until they beat their time, get a routine down, or reach their goal. Youth athletes do whatever it takes to compete at their optimal performance, unbeknownst to them, performance depends on their fuel consumption.

As a parent, you have many choices to make for your child every day, and that includes decisions about food. You might ask yourself: What groceries do I need to buy today? What food am I going to pack in my child’s lunch? Am I going to pack him/her a snack for before or after practice, and what should it be? When does he/she have practice today? All of these questions run through a parent’s head on a regular basis. It is important to ask: What snack would be best to optimize my child’s performance at practice today?

Parents have the most influence on their child’s nutrition. As a parent, it is important to be a knowledgeable about what your youth athlete(s) should be consuming before and after competition. Practicing for multiple hours a day does no good to the body, if it is not refueled properly. Adequate consumption of macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats) and fluids will optimize training, muscle growth, and recovery time, as well as decrease fatigue and risk of disease and injury (Purcell, 2013). Jenna A. Bell-Wilson, PhD, RD, CSSD, who is a certified specialist in sports dietetics in Arlington, Mass., says that “Young athletes with inadequate diets may have insufficient fuel for workouts, nutrient deficiencies that can lead to illness or fatigue, a decrement in bone growth and maintenance, and may not reach their potential for muscle growth” (Nisevich, 2008).

You might be asking yourself, what is an adequate diet for my child? An adequate diet for youth athletes involves balance and timing. Youth athletes, especially, should be consuming a balanced diet at every meal and every snack. For example, oatmeal with peanut butter and fruit, lean turkey and tomato on whole grain bread, yogurt with a handful of blueberries, raw almonds and raisins, banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter. Carbohydrates will improve your child’s energy. Protein will improve muscle building, and fat will provide satiety, as well as absorb fat soluble vitamins and protect vital organs necessary for bodily functions. Not only is it important for youth athletes to eat a balanced, nutritious diet, but the time food is consumed before and after practice and/or competition is crucial. Eating too much, too soon could result in bloating, nausea, and fatigue. A pre-workout snack should be easily digestible, like an apple, banana, or orange. This will keep your child full and improve their energy for performance. Meal time should be between two to three hours before competition, and a light snack should be consumed 30 minutes before competition. It is important that athletes do not skip a meal, especially lunch if they have afterschool practice.  

In future posts, we will expand on the most current information to help you create the best snacks pre and/or post practice to improve your athlete’s performance. Also, learn whether sports drinks and protein supplements are a valuable addition, and what times and situations they are best used.  Follow our Instagram account https://www.instagram.com/ironcityelite/ and Facebook accounthttps://www.facebook.com/ironcityelitesc for weekly updates. 

Nisevich, P. (2008). Sports nutrition for young athletes: Vital to victory. Today’s Dietition, 10(3), 44.

Purcell, L. (2013). Sports nutrition for young athletes. Paediatr Child Health, 18(4), 200-202.