When it comes to food and choices of what to eat before and after competition the views are varied across the board depending on who you speak with. When it comes to the proper nutrition of young athletes I urge parents to think simple. Young athletes are still growing and need a variety of nutritional foods from their daily intake. Ideally staying away from foods containing high preservatives and fast food meals are the obvious starting points. The problem with many young athletes is they don’t exactly have a high tolerance for trying new foods.
The best tips for parents when it comes to nutrition is to make sure first and foremost that their young athletes are properly hydrated prior to competition. In addition, it is wise to make sure athletes start the day by eating a good breakfast and depending on the time of the event a snack may be necessary. The body digests food at different rates depending on the type of nutrients in the meal and portion size. I always encourage smaller meals on days of the events with quality-portioned snacks. For example, foods high in carbohydrates are easily digested in about three to four hours where as, foods high in fat and protein can take five to seven hours to properly digest depending on the size of the meal. Therefore, pregame meals should be eaten at least three to four hours prior to competition and should consist of a higher concentration of carbohydrates and some protein with a lower inclusion of fats. Since our bodies utilized carbohydrates first as a source of fuel its important to eat foods that are high in carbohydrates and simple sugars especially for post or pre competition days. These types of foods will allow for easy digestion and provide ready to use energy. Unless an athlete is competing in an endurance activity for more than 90 min where the body will then use fat as fuel; its ideal to remember carbohydrates will be utilized first. Every athlete tolerates meals and certain types of foods better than others, therefore its important to try out pre game meals for practice in order to see what will allow the best performance and tolerance.
The most common complaints from athletes after consuming certain foods are the adverse effect of stomach discomfort, nausea, diarrhea, and intestinal cramps. These symptoms can be prevented with some forethought to what athletes are eating prior to games or practices. Often staying away from spicy foods, or ones that contain a high degree of fiber will lessen the opportunity for gastric issues or bloating.
Here are some examples of good eats prior and post competition
- 24-48 hours prior to competition: examples for dinner include good complex Carbohydrates whole wheat pasta with a simple red sauce, and for protein ground turkey or low fat ground beef
- Breakfast foods can include pancakes or waffles with some syrup and a banana– this includes refined grains or level 2 quick energy carbs with easy to digest fuel and some sugar for quick use energy
- Lunch can be a simple turkey sandwich light on the condiments and cheese or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of pretzels, apples, oranges, and bananas
- Snacks will be necessary during a tournament type situation where an athlete needs to refuel for subsequent competitions. Some options include: pretzels, homemade trail mix which can contain some dried fruit and nuts, applesauce, peanut butter with honey or jam on toast, raisin granola cookies, or jello cups
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