Carbs have been getting a bad rap the last few years. Foods containing carbs can provide quick energy and can be stored in the muscle as glycogen and used as a longer term source of energy. In reality, carbs can make a huge difference in game-time performance. This is true for kids, adolescents and adult athletes. The deal is, you have to eat the right kind of carbs to benefit from them.
There are two forms of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple sugars are in fruit, candy, cookies, sweet drinks, etc. and may provide quick energy. Have noticed a young athlete half way through a game who looks like they just “hit the wall” or completely ran out of energy? It could be poor conditioning or very possibly a kid coming off of a sugar rush! Simple carbohdrates before an athletic event does not usually bode well for the athlete or the team.
On the other hand, complex carbs, aka starches (bread, pasta, rice), take longer to digest and allow athletes to sustain higher level of activity without muscle fatigue and decreased energy. Complex carbs also contain minerals and vitamins required for for optimal energy and recovery. (You’ve probably heard the term, Carb Loading. It is referring to the intake of complex carbs before a swim meet, half- or full-marathon or other extended athletic event. Please note, carb loading is not proven to be beneficial for young athletes or some women since they do not have the muscle mass to store glycogen. )
I have not forgotten about protein. It is also important, even though it should not be the main source of energy. Depending on the type and extent of workout, your muscles work hard and breakdown. Protein helps repair the muscle while helping to achieve muscle growth. The sooner protein is consumed after an athletic event, the better for to help repair muscle damage. Thus, the recommendation to drink chocolate milk!
Keep in mind, a large, large, large majority of people can eat an adequate amount of protein without eating or drinking supplements. In fact, most athletes (kids and adults) eat about twice as much protien as they really need for muscle repair. Excessive protein intake is not beneficial and may stress the kidneys, result in dehydration and weight gain. (Protein that is not required by the body is either broken down and wasted in urine or stored as fat.)
So, what does a young athlete really need? Depending on intensity and activity level, most adolescent athletes should eat betwen 20-27 calories/pound of body weight. So, for a 100# kid, that would be 2000-2700 calories/day. Typically, these calories should be 60-70% carbohydrate, 10% high biological value protein and 20-30% fat.
What does this look like for a 100# athlete eating between 2,000-2700 calories? 1,200-1650 carb calories, 200-270 protein calories and 300-400 fat calories. The quality of the food as well as the timing of eating can also play a role in optimal performance on the court, field, pool or weight room.
Overall, a daily diet rich in complex carbohydrates (whole grains are best) with fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats as well as low-fat dairy is best to meet energy needs and ensure adequate stores for peak performance.
A couple of hours to immediately before a game, match or meet: String cheese, boiled egg or natural peanut butter with whole grain crackers, bananna or apple and peanut butter, greek yogurt. bagel with lean meat, low-fat cheese, trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and WATER.
Afterwards (1 hour max): Chocolate milk (personal fav), greek yogurt, fruit with peanutbutter, meat and whole grain crackers and WATER.
Several hours later: A meal with complex carbs, lean meats and 20-30% fat will provide the optimal fuel for muscle repair and storage of energy (glycogen) for the next big event!
Using nutrition to enhance increase energy and athletic performance is not a new idea. Nevertheless, it is one that is greatly undersused. Give it a try. Use science to help your athlete be prepared, perform at a higher level and recover more quickly. Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear from you!