What is the most important meal for a young athlete? Is it the meal before a game? The night before? I get asked these questions all the time when I give talks to teams, so I thought I would clarify things for everyone. We talked before about Getting Kids to Eat Like Athletes http://doctorjacq.com/eating-like-young-athlete-parents-must-know/, where we covered the basics aspects of sports nutrition for young athletes. In my mind, one of the most important points is to remember that Consistency is KEY! What exactly does this mean?
- Young athletes are NOT like regular kids. They need more calories. They need better quality foods. Their bodies are like expensive race cars. You only fill it up with the best quality fuel. And you NEVER let it run on empty. You can’t put in the cheap gas all week and expect one tank of premium to do the trick. The same applies to young athletes. They need to eat a lot, and they need to eat well. And they need to be CONSISTENT. Are we following so far?
- The reason consistency is SO important in sports nutrition can be summed up in one word: GLYCOGEN. Glycogen is the most important form of stored energy in our bodies. It is stored in the liver and muscle. It’s what prevents athletes from running out of gas or “hitting the wall.” Glycogen gives our bodies energy to last for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours of intense exercise. This means it must be replenished often!
- Glycogen stored today will be used by the body in 2-3 days! This is why having adequate glycogen stores at all times is essential. In real life, what this means is that the snack an athlete eats after practice today will help replenish glycogen to be used in the game 2 days from now. So there’s no “I can eat junk all week and then eat a healthy carb dinner the night before a game.” (This is what I used to get from kids before I explained how body energy sources actually work, sorry kiddos!).
- Don’t for get about the importance of the Post-Game Snack! We discussed the details in a previous Blog http://doctorjacq.com/game-dont-forget-snacks/. Immediately after exercise, the body can produce glycogen almost 2 times faster than at any other time, so take advantage of this “golden window!” Make sure your athlete has plenty of healthy post game snacks!
- Don’t Forget About the FLUIDS! It’s like running the expensive sports car with premium gas but no oil! Just doesn’t work! Young athletes must drink plenty of fluids, and drink consistently! For more information on Hydration go to http://doctorjacq.com/hydration-sports-much-keeping-kids-hydrated/
- The bottom line is this: THE TRAINING DIET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAT THE PRE-GAME MEAL! Say it again with me…THE TRAINING DIET IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE PRE-GAME MEAL! Because the food an athlete eats today will fuel their body in 2-3 days, it is important to watch what they eat the entire season. The “pre-game meal” will top off the tank.
So next time your young athlete says, “mom (or dad), my game is not for another 2-3 days,” make sure they understand fueling properly and consistently will lead them to success!