Making smart food choices can be challenging for any of us, student-athletes face a particularly unique set of challenges. They're balancing the demands of classes, homework, study time, and friends and family, all while trying to perform at their highest potential at practice and in competition.
Here's a few nutrition strategies that can help fuel any athlete:
It takes a little planning, but it doesn't have to take much time.It is important to eat something within the first 30 minutes of waking and then meals or snacks every two to three hours after. Eating a good breakfast, first thing in the morning, allows your metabolism to start firing and gives your body the essential energy it needs to perform in both the classroom and on the playing field. Some of the most popular breakfasts and snacks among our student-athletes include whole-grain bagels with peanut butter and honey or sliced bananas, turkey and cheese rolled into a whole wheat tortilla, or microwave egg and cheese on an english muffin: (Just microwave the eggs in a mug and plop them onto an English muffin with a slice of cheese, and your out the door)
When fueling every few hours throughout the day, look to include a source of carbs. But be selective in your carb choices. Opting for carb-rich foods that are also good sources of nutrients like electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber will help keep your body fueled throughout the day.
Here is a quick list of go-to snack options
Hard boiled eggs
Cottage cheese with berries
Rice cakes with peanut butter
Banana with almond butter
Whole grain cereal and milk
Hummus with carrots
Raw or lightly salted nuts
Low sugar energy bars
One of the most important elements of effective sports nutrition is optimizing recovery. This process of rehydrating and refueling efficiently starts immediately post-workout; ideally within 20 to 30 minutes.
Chocolate milk is a huge favorite among athletes, as is (peanut butter and jelly) on a bagel with a carton of Greek yogurt — and they each provide that optimal ratio of carbs to protein.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Staying well hydrated is also essential for sustaining optimal energy levels. Hydration is an ongoing process you can't just slam back a bunch of water all at once and expect to properly hydrate. Instead, it's key to continually hydrate during the day and hours leading up to practice as well as events — and it's not just fluids; foods can be hydrating as well. Yogurt, soup, smoothies, fresh fruits and vegetables all have a high water content. Aim for half of your body weight in ounces of fluid as a baseline.
Ultimately we want athletes to eat foods that help to fuel their muscles, provide satisfying energy and also keep their immune system strong and healthy.
The chart below can help you determine how many calories young athletes needs based on their age and physical activity levels. You can see the difference between a sedentary and active might just be 400-600 calories, the equivalent to a few extra snacks throughout the day (not a free pass to eat whatever they want).