By Madisen Carter
Eating healthy and nutritional meals are beneficial for young athletes as the right foods can give energy, help improve athletic performance and increase focus. For a young and growing athlete, it is important that they have a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of carbohydrates, proteins, the right amount of calories and good fats.
Nutrition and fitness coach, Nico Abaya, looks back on his high school football days and realized that if knew back then what he knows now, what he would put into his body would be drastically different. He spent a lot of time in the weight room and did not focus on his nutrition as much as he could have, and that is a problem with young athletes today.
“I think that it's definitely going to be beneficial for young athletes to make sure that when their bodies are in their prime, and they're able to train and have the time and energy to train as much as they can, they want to make sure they’re getting the most out of it,” Abaya said. “So much of [preparation,] recovery, and fuel is in nutrition, and it doesn't seem like kids have that knowledge.”
Abaya said it is important for an athlete to understand what a well-balanced meal is. A well-balanced meal is made up of carbs, fat and the most important, protein. Protein is important because it helps with muscle repair and recovery.
“Your body [uses] carbs as a primary source of fuel, but it's not helping the repair [and] recovery of training sessions,” Abaya said. “Whenever you go through a session, there are micro tears happening in your muscles, and then those micro tears have to repair and recover to come back stronger, denser, [and] more explosive the next time. With only carbs, [you are] only fueling, but then if you're not rebuilding, you're almost wasting your time.”
It is important for athletes to know the best way to fuel their body, and get the most of all the work they put into the game and workouts. We put together a list of some foods that are beneficial for young athletes that can help improve their overall performance!
Carbohydrates are a great source of energy. According to Samfordhealth.org, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose during digestion, and glucose is known as the body’s main preference of energy. Complex carbs are the main types of carbs that an athlete should put into their body. Complex carbs provide more nutrients than regular carbs and hold a greater amount of fiber and starch.
According to mercyhealthsystem.org, for a young athlete, it is recommended that they have 0.6-0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. The website also stated that if an athlete is in a critical growing period, they may need a higher protein intake. Protein is important because it helps build and repair muscle tissues in the body.
Active teenage girls should intake 2,400-3,000 calories while active teenage boys should intake 3,000-4,000 calories per day, according to eatright.com. An athlete can get their calorie intake from many different foods, but it is important that they are eating the quality calories rather than the bad calories that can cause an athlete to feel fatigue and could decrease performance productivity.
According to scottishriteforchildren.org, having a good source of healthy fats in a young athlete’s diet is crucial. The right types of fats can help with brain health and development and help meet a young athlete’s increased energy needs. There are many types of bad fats that are extremely accessible, but an athlete needs to focus on the fats that are beneficial to their health and performance.
Quick, easy, and nutritional on-the-go snacks:
Drinking water is one of the easiest and beneficial keys to a healthy and nutritional diet and to reach peak performance. According to truesport.org, a way athletes should measure how much water they need to intake is by dividing their body weight in half and then drink one ounce per pound. Abaya recommends that athletes drink an ounce of water per pound of body weight.
Game day meal:
Abaya gave a run down on his go-to game day meal that he had in college, and still stands by to this day. For breakfast he has egg whites or whole eggs with toast or oatmeal so he can get his protein and carbs. For lunch, he said it was an easy meal such as a turkey or chicken sandwich with fruit on the side for extra fuel. For dinner, athletes can eat a meal such as Chipotle, or similar to that, with the brown rice, protein, and the leaner options.
“If I could give one piece of advice, [it] is [that athletes] track stats and everything to the tee right? I really wish that people would take the time to track their nutrition more, you know, like how are you supposed to know what fuels you, what feels good, or what you're even putting in your body and how to change things unless you're tracking your food?” Abaya said. “Using My Fitness Pal, I think [that] would enhance almost every student athlete's ability to recover [and] train harder. [and] improve their numbers [to] show up better on game day.”