Eat more for excellence
The good news about sports nutrition is that reaching your peak performance level doesn’t require any special diets or supplements. It’s about incorporating the right foods into your fitness program in the right amounts.
Teenage athletes have different nutritional needs than their less active peers. Athletes train more, so they need the extra calories to fuel both their athletic performance and growth.
So what if teenage athletes aren’t eating enough? Their bodies are less likely to perform at peak performance and may even break down muscle rather than build it. Athletes who don’t consume enough calories each day will not be as fast and strong as they could be and may not be maintaining their weight.
Athletes and diet
Teenage athletes need more fuel, so dieting is generally a bad idea. Athletes in sports where the emphasis is on weight – such as wrestling, swimming, dancing, or gymnastics – may feel pressure to lose weight. But sharply cutting calories can lead to growth problems and a higher risk of fractures and other injuries.
If a trainer, gym teacher, or teammate tells you that you need to diet, talk to your doctor first or see a dietitian who specializes in teenage athletes. If a healthcare professional you trust agrees that it is safe to diet, they can work with you to create a healthy diet.
Eat a variety of foods
When it comes to fueling your game for the long haul, it’s important to eat healthy, balanced meals and snacks to get the nutrients your body needs.
Essential vitamins and minerals
In addition to getting the right amount of calories, teenage athletes need a variety of nutrients from the foods they consume to continue to perform at their best. These include vitamins and minerals. Calcium and iron are two essential minerals for athletes:
- Calcium helps build the strong bones on which athletes depend. Calcium, essential for protecting against stress fractures, is found in dairy products, such as skim milk, yogurt and cheese.
- Iron carries oxygen to the muscles. To get the iron you need, eat fish, lean meat, and poultry; leafy green vegetables; and cereals fortified with iron.
Power of protein
Athletes may need more protein than less active teens, but most get a lot of it through healthy diets. It’s a myth that athletes need a huge daily intake of protein to build big, strong muscles. Muscle growth comes from hard work and regular training. Good sources of protein are fish, lean meats and poultry, eggs, dairy products, tree nuts, soybeans, and peanut butter.
Carbohydrates are a great source of fuel. Cutting back on carbs or following a low carb diet is not a good idea for athletes. This is because limiting carbohydrates can tire and exhaust you, which can affect your performance.
Good sources of carbohydrates include fruits, grains, and vegetables. Choose whole grains (like brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread) more often than processed options like white rice and white bread. Whole grains provide the energy athletes need as well as fiber and other nutrients to keep them healthy.
Sweet carbohydrates like candy bars or soda don’t contain any of the other nutrients you need. And eating treats or other sugary snacks right before training or competition can give athletes a quick burst of energy, but then leave them to “crash” or run out of energy before they’re done training.
Everyone needs fat every day, and it’s even truer for athletes. This is because active muscles burn carbohydrates quickly and need fat for lasting energy. Such as carbohydrates, not all fats are created equal. Choose healthier fats, such as the unsaturated fats found in most vegetable oils, fish, nuts, and seeds. Limit trans fats (like partially hydrogenated oils) and saturated fats, found in fatty meats and dairy products like whole milk, cheese, and butter.
Choosing when to eat fat is also essential for athletes. Fatty foods can slow digestion, so it’s a good idea to avoid eating them for a few hours before you exercise.
Skip the supplements
Sports supplements promise to improve athletic performance. But few have proven to be helpful, and some can hurt.
Anabolic steroids can seriously disrupt a person’s hormones, causing unwanted side effects like testicular shrinkage and baldness in men and facial hair growth in girls. Steroids can cause mental health problems, including depression and severe mood swings.
A few supplements contain hormones related to testosterone, such as DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). These can have side effects similar to anabolic steroids. Other sports supplements (like creatine) have not been tested in people under the age of 18. The risks of taking them are therefore not yet known.
Another supplement to watch out for is salt tablets. People take them to prevent dehydration, but salt tablets can actually cause dehydration and should be taken with plenty of water. Too much salt can cause nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea and can damage the lining of the stomach. In general, it’s best to drink fluids to stay hydrated. Usually, you can cover up the salt lost in sweat with sports drinks or foods that you eat before, during, and after exercise.
Speaking of dehydration, water is as essential to unlocking your playing power as food. When you sweat while exercising, it is easy to overheat, have a headache, and become exhausted, especially in hot or humid weather. Even mild dehydration can affect an athlete’s mental and physical performance.
There is no single guide to how much water to drink. How much fluid each person needs depends on their age, size, level of physical activity, and the temperature around them.
Athletes should drink before, during and after exercise. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty, because thirst is a sign that your body has needed fluids for some time.
Sports drinks are no better for you than water for keeping you hydrated while exercising. But if you are exercising for longer than 60 to 90 minutes or in very hot weather, sports drinks can be a good option. Additional carbohydrates and electrolytes can improve performance under these conditions.
Avoid drinking carbonated drinks or juices as they could make your stomach ache while you are training or competing. Don’t use energy drinks and other drinks that contain caffeine, such as soda, tea, and coffee, to rehydrate yourself. 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 nervous. Caffeine can also cause headaches and make it hard to sleep at night. All of this can slow down your athletic performance.