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How to Fuel as a Youth Athlete

How to Fuel as a Youth Athlete

Ever wondered how to fuel as a youth athlete or how to support your youth athlete? Check the article out below!

As always there is no “one size fits all’ for nutrition as this will vary depending on gender, body composition, training demands and competitive level, however, there are general areas to consider with regards to youth athletes.

The goal of sports nutrition is to help an athlete optimize performance potential and overall health. For adolescent athletes, the top priority is healthy growth, development, and maturation. In practice, this means assessing nutrition to ensure growth and development are not negatively affected when intense training is combined with poor nutrition.

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CARBS

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy in our bodies. Therefore, as an athlete’s activity level or intensity increases, they are likely to require more carbohydrates to meet that increased demand and replenish energy stores. The potential risks of insufficient carbohydrate intake are early onset of fatigue and potentially break down of muscles for energy, impacting muscle development. It is therefore important to consume sufficient carbohydrates at each meal and it is recommended to consume wholegrain varieties to support a gradual release of energy.

Carbohydrate sources include: Bread, rice, potatoes, pasta etc

PRO-TEIN in Teens 

Protein is required for the growth, repair and maintenance of muscles and is particularly important following exercise ideally within 2 hours of completing exercise. For all athletes, it is important to stress a ‘food first’ approach, which recommends the consumption of whole foods rather than the use of supplementation to meet an athlete’s requirements. As always requirements will vary however it is recommended to spread protein consumption throughout the day e.g. including a protein source at each meal.

Protein sources include: dairy products, eggs, meat, fish, beans.

FAT

A certain amount of fat is required within the diet to support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, menstruation, warmth and organ protection which is particularly important for those competing in contact sports. The main types are unsaturated fat and saturated fat. 

Unsaturated fat is also known as ‘good fats’ as it can support the lowering of cholesterol, ease inflammation and support brain function and development. Whereas saturated fats are known as ‘bad fats’ as these contribute to increased cholesterol and risk of heart disease and other clinical conditions in later life, therefore it is advised to keep these to a minimum. In practical terms, youth athletes are advised to minimise consumption of processed foods e.g. takeaways, cakes and biscuits as these are generally high in saturated fat and sugar and to substitute them with a healthier snack or meal options.

  • Unsaturated fat: Avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oils, oily fish
  • Saturated fat: Processed foods, cream, cakes, biscuits

EAT THE RAINBOW

Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables, ideally, at least 5 A DAY will help support overall body function, minimise the risk of deficiencies or requirement for multivitamin supplementation and support your immune system. As a result, minimising an athlete's ‘sick days’ supports them to be consistent with training. In addition to fresh fruit and vegetables other types of fruit and vegetables can count towards 1 of your 5 A DAY including tinned (ideally in natural juices/ water rather than syrup), frozen, juiced (up to 150ml a day) or 30g of dried fruit e.g. raisins, figs, currants.

Summary:

Nutrition is about getting the basics right first i.e managing a WELL-BALANCED diet. This will vary depending on various factors however a well-balanced diet should be based on the Eat Well Guide and consist of a variety of wholegrain carbohydrates, protein, fruit and veggies and healthy fats (unsaturated fats). If you as a youth athlete or parent/guardian have concerns please seek further support/ guidance from a health care professional or sports dietitian.

TAKE HOMES:

AIM- To support the overall growth and development of youth athletes

  1. Ensure consuming enough carbohydrates to meet energy demands
  2. Spread protein consumption throughout the day i.e at each meal
  3. Attempt to have protein source within approx. 2 hours post-exercise
  4. Reduce consumption of processed foods (high in saturated fat) e.g. reduce fast food consumption from 4x a week to 2x a week
  5. Aim for a least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day in various forms.
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