It’s that time of year again. Spring is in the air, days are getting longer, the local arenas are simmering down momentarily between playoffs and tryouts and the sports fields are ready to come alive with soccer, baseball and lacrosse. Spring and summer athletes are ready to take on their sports while Fall and winter athletes begin the official off-season in a quest to maximize learning, conditioning and development
These days athletes train hard year-round, perfect their skills through practice, and compete to win. But, how are they fueling their game? Are they doing all they can to help their body repair and recover from all their hard work? Think about athletes as high-performance automobiles and food as their fuel which drives their performance. Unfortunately, all too often the emphasis is placed on “quantity” or calories and not “quality” or nutrients, so the fuel of choice ends up being low grade instead of premium. Performance is compensated…nutrition is their limiting factor!
With having to juggle work, school, sports and other activities, we may feel that our schedules are just too hectic, so little thought is given to nutrition or it’s just not a priority. But it’s not complicated and actually quite manageable to maximize nutrition for athletes (or anyone for that matter!).
What is the best way to fuel performance? Do young athletes need to be consuming sports supplements and energy drinks?
What is sports nutrition?
Performance nutrition quite simply depends on sound principals of basic nutrition. The healthiest of diets are composed of real, whole, unprocessed foods which includes a variety of nutrient dense whole foods containing high-quality proteins, carbohydrates and fats, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants which will provide the body with the raw materials needed to support the body in order to enhance performance and optimize body composition and health.
An athlete’s diet should be sufficient to:
· provide adequate energy and nutrients to meet the demands of training and exercise
· enhance recovery and regeneration between training sessions (and competition)
· include a wide variety of nutrient dense whole-foods such as whole-grains, vegetables (particularly leafy green varieties), fruit, clean sources of animal protein (if consumed) such as lean meats, eggs and fatty fish, raw nuts and seeds, beans/legumes all of which will enhance long term nutrition habits and optimal health
· enable the athlete to achieve optimal body weight and body fat levels for performance
· provide adequate fluids to ensure maximum hydration before, during and after exercise
· promote the long-term health of athletes.
What is the best way to fuel performance?
Balance is key here…daily food intake should include whole “real” foods containing healthy carbohydrates, protein and fat. Never eliminate or greatly reduce any one of these nutrients (such as no carb/low fat, or high protein/high fat etc.) instead focus on the quality of the carbohydrate, protein and fat.
Carbohydrates = Energy
Protein = Building Blocks of cells (muscle)
(Healthy) Fats = Help with Energy, Cell and Nerve Function
Here are some healthy examples:
– vegetables (especially leafy greens)
– whole and sprouted grains
– quality eggs, meat and fish
– beans and legumes
– nuts and seeds
– raw nuts and seeds
– healthful oils
– salmon, avocado, coconut
Hydration is critical to performance, muscle function and, most importantly, brain function. Here are some guidelines:
– drink before you are thirsty – hydrate 24 hours before training/competition
– drink at least 500ml 2 hours before training/competition
– avoid sugar, added colour/flavour, and caffeine
– pure water is best or pure coconut water or homemade electrolyte beverage (recipe below)
Plan and prepare according to how much time you have to digest before competition.
– 3 hours = lean meat/eggs/legumes with a large mixed green salad with olive oil and lemon, sweet potato
– less time = smaller, lighter meals – whole grain or quinoa pasta topped with tomato sauce, mixed green salad
– ½ before = fruit
– water or homemade electrolyte beverage (SEE RECIPE BELOW)
– orange slices or dates in between periods
– within 30 minutes – fruit with some nuts/seeds
– within 2 hours – full balanced meal – salmon, green beans, brown rice, spinach salad
Do young athletes need to be consuming sport supplements and energy drinks?
No! What young athletes need to be consuming is a nutritious wholesome diet which includes an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, quality protein, healthful fats and plenty of pure water. Avoiding fast/junk food, and processed and refined packaged foods is the best way to ensure your athlete will stay healthy and strong and perform at their best!
Homemade Performance Drink – combine the following:
750 ml water
½ tsp sea salt
juice of lemon (fresh)
1 – 2 tbsp pure maple syrup or raw honey