School is just around the corner… and so are Fall sports! Whether you have younger kids playing sports for fun, or more serious athletes on middle school or high school teams, nutrition is a key piece to building healthy and successful athletes. Even if the sport is recreational or for fun, it’s important to know the right foods to eat to keep up energy and stay hydrated.
Here are some basic tips that almost any athlete can keep in mind when gearing up for a new season:
#1: Be sure to “fuel up” within 1-2 hours before practice or a game.
Sometimes practice or games fall at odd times and are not in sync with when your child eats a meal. For instance, if practice is at 6PM and the child won’t be home until 7 or 8PM, what do you do for dinner? Holding off on dinner until after practice may not be ideal. Eating a big dinner just before practice may lead to stomach cramps and discomfort. In this scenario, if possible, try having dinner any time between 4-5PM. Keep it light and high in easily digestible carbohydrates for immediate energy. Examples could be 1 cup of pasta with veggies, tossed in olive oil and 1-2TBSP grated parmesan. Or 1/2 cup to 1 cup cooked rice tossed with veggies, grilled chicken, and some salsa for flavor.
If practice or a game is not near a mealtime, a snack is a must. For instance, if your child ate lunch at 11:30AM and has practice at 3PM, he should definitely have something to eat prior to practice. A snack at around 2PM would be a good call. Suggestions may be a small bowl of cereal with low fat milk, or an apple with a small amount of peanut butter, or one serving of pretzels plus 2 TBSP hummus.
#2: Stay hydrated.
Guidelines for hydration vary for each person based on their size, how vigorous the activity is, and factoring in the environment such as playing soccer for several hours in the hot sun vs. basketball in an climate-controlled, indoor area. The best hydration is water. For any vigorous activity over 90 minutes, a sports drink is a better choice to replace depleted glycogen stores (your body’s stored form of carbohydrates) as well as the electrolytes lost through sweat, potassium and sodium.
#3: Know the right snacks.
Snacking throughout the day can keep your energy levels up. If you choose the right types of snacks plus time them properly with your team practice and game times, snacks can be a positive game-changer. The right types include a higher carbohydrate-to-protein ratio. Pre-game snacks should not be excessively high in protein, fiber or fat as these nutrients are slow to digest and can cause tummy troubles if consumed to soon before high levels of activity. Ideas for a pre-game/pre-practice snack include a banana, small bag of pretzels, mini bagel with 1 slice of cheese or thin layer or peanut butter, or a small (approximately 6-8 oz.) smoothie made with mostly fruit and juice. When it comes to smoothies, watch out for large sizes, a lot of dairy (milk, frozen yogurt), and too much sugar in the form of honey, agave nectar, or syrups.
#4: Beware of dietary supplements.
For the older athletes in high school and college, dietary supplements can come into play as a perceived sport enhancer. Many dietary supplements can be dangerous or may interfere with medications. A registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition can help an athlete identify dietary supplements that have been well-studied and may provide a safe sport-enhancing result. On the flip side, a sports dietitian can also help to debunk any myths about dietary supplements that have little scientific evidence supporting claims that athletes may hear in the locker room. “Food first” is always a best approach – get the sport-enhancing nutrients you need from whole foods. If you feel your sport still falls short, then begin to consider what supplements are safe and may help as an aid.
Working with a registered dietitian who is a sports nutritionist can help an athlete to strategize the best eating plan for his or her sport. Check out the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists website to locate a sports dietitian in your area and make an appointment to work on a sports nutrition plan tailored to your individual needs.
Note: I am available for sports nutrition counseling and talks for teams in and around Nassau County on Long Island. Check out my website and contact information if you’d like to discuss sports nutrition for an individual athlete or team!