Nutrition Talks: My Key Messages for Young Athletes

School is starting back up, which means I get to be back in schools talking with young athletes about sports nutrition and how food can make them stronger, faster and sharper, and at the same time enable optimal growth, development and performance in school.  There is a lot going on with this group of athletes and I always remind them of that.   I then remind them that nutrition plays an important role during this time.

My first talk of the school year was last week and I loved it just as much as I always do.  I love the challenge and  I love talking about something I'm (a) passionate about, (b) believe in and (c) have the science and life experience (before I studied it I lived it) to back  me up.  As much as I love it, though, I always feel like I'm potentially walking a fine line - the line that divides the side of helping athletes become well-rounded, eating foods they enjoy but mostly focusing on foods that will support their training, sport, and day-to-day activities and the side of propelling them into the extreme, becoming too structured, too restrictive, or fixating on just one point discussed (this is the reason I always like to do follow-up talks and not appear just once, if I can).  Keeping this in mind, when giving talks or working one-on-one, I always try to remember or mention the following things.....

 

It's all about balance & timing of food vs "good" and "bad"

 Get the recipe for my super simple  Fig & Cheddar Turkey Melt!

Get the recipe for my super simple Fig & Cheddar Turkey Melt!

It's important to eat "healthy" most of the time but that doesn't mean a young athlete can't still enjoy his or her favorite "less healthy" foods.  I always want to make sure I get the point across that just b/c a certain food isn't ideal for training or competition that doesn't make it across the board "bad" (I avoid labeling foods as "bad" and "good") - it means it's not the ideal food at that time for reasons including:  it may cause stomach cramps, upset stomach or nausea during the event or it may cause blood sugar spikes and crashes throughout the day leaving the athlete feeling tired and drained at the time of the event. 

 

to be cautious of those prone to or already struggling with disordered eating

 Need a quick breakfast, snack, or dessert idea?  These  Sun Butter Banana Oat Bites  are delish!

Need a quick breakfast, snack, or dessert idea?  These Sun Butter Banana Oat Bites are delish!

Part of my caution in talking to young athletes about sports nutrition also stem from my knowledge of the presence of disordered eating and eating disorders in adolescents and now in children, and I never want to say anything to offend or set someone off.  If one athlete isn't the one with the disordered eating or eating disorder, it may very well be the friend or teammate sitting across the bench.  These things are very personal and often not talked about.  

 

"healthy" & "portion size" are a relative terms. Under-eating or under-fuling doesn't make great athletes.  it makes great injuries.

 Easy dinner idea packed with nutrition, flavor and 3 out of the 5 food groups?  Try this  Chili Lime Shrimp  Dish!

Easy dinner idea packed with nutrition, flavor and 3 out of the 5 food groups?  Try this Chili Lime Shrimp Dish!

I also want student athletes to understand that as athletes they can't assume that their friend's or peer's definition of "healthy" is the same as their definition.  Young athletes want lots of fruits and veggies and lean protein and some healthy fats like everyone else, but, for most young competitive and elite athletes who have hit puberty, foods with carbohydrates should be a best friend.  On top of that,  young competitive and elite athletes typically need bigger portions or to eat more frequently than their friends and family members do due to increased energy and nutrition needs from hours of practice and playing.  As a figure skater growing up, there was a period of time in Middle School, maybe sliding into the 9th grade, where I thought less food = better skating.  I soon learned, and more on this is saved for a separate post, that that was not the case.  I'll say this again, but, under-eating or under - fueling doesn't make great athletes.  It makes great injuries.    

 

summing it up

 Easy to make & easy to pack, I love this  Red Pepper & Pesto Chicken Salad!

Easy to make & easy to pack, I love this Red Pepper & Pesto Chicken Salad!

Overall, yes, young athletes want to eat "healthier" foods because these are going to supply them with: (1) ample energy to work their hardest  (2) sustained energy for longer practices and maintained focus (3) strong bones to withstand the constant pounding and stress put on them  (4) decreased inflammation after wear and tear of muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc. and (5) strong muscles to keep them running, kicking, hitting, jumping, swimming and diving.  There is the saying that a sport is 90% mental and 10% physical.  I can see the validity in this statement;  however, even with the toughest "go-get-em" attitude, an athlete can only get so far if he or she does not have the proper nutrition as a foundation.  Yes, this strong-willed attitude may work for a short while, but if the athlete keeps going, keeps advancing with longer practices and harder workouts, eventually poor nutrition (whether that's too much of the nutrient-void foods, too little of the nutrient-dense foods, or just too little food in general) will catch up with him or her.  So, yes, there can be room for favorite desserts, chips, french fries, etc., but these foods have to be placed at the right time and these lower nutrient foods can't crowd out the ones that fuel the sport, growth, and school work.  

Wrapping it up, this is what has been on my mind this week.  Of course, every athlete has his or her own unique nutrition needs depending on factors including, but not limited to, age, weight, height, and sport played.  However, at the root of all of my different talks for different teams and with different athletes is the following message: 

  1.   You've got to get you fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, calcium and healthy fats to play / perform your best.
  2.  That doesn't mean you cannot or should not ever include you favorite foods that don't fall into the categories in #1.
  3.  Understanding digestion rates / timing is helpful so you know the best time to enjoy those favorite foods that may not be the best fuel for your sport.  Knowing this will also help you incorporate those favorite foods that do best fuel your sport, helping you place them at the right times before, during and after events. 
  4.  Also remember that you're an athlete.  If you're a serious competitive or elite athlete, you're using up a lot more energy and nutrients than your non-athlete peers.  This means you most likely have to eat more food.  Under-eating or under - fueling doesn't make great athletes.  It makes great injuries.
  5.  So, eat your meals and pack your snacks.  Load them up with the nutrient-rich foods to support training, but enjoy your favorite foods along the way - whatever those may be.

 

Happy Fueling!

Taylor

 

Hydration

The name of the game this month is HYDRATION.  Here I want to touch on the importance of staying hydrated, signs and symptoms of dehydration and foods and fluids that can help you keep up with your fluid goals.

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We all know Texas summers (or really any southern summers) are HOT.  However, that doesn't stop our morning or evening runs, our summer hikes and lake trips, and of course our kids' summer sports and activities.  Whether you're a parent or a young athlete, you run an increased risk of getting dehydrated out in the hot summer sun.  However, if you know how being hydrated helps your health and performance, the signs & symptoms of dehydration, and some strategies to help you stay hydrated, you can go on as usual, staying fit, staying healthy and playing your best.

 

The Importance Of Being Hydrated:  

Staying hydrated keeps us energized and alert.  We have to sweat because the act of sweating controls our body's core temperature, keeping us cool and preventing us from getting overheated, which can lead to heat illness.  We must stay hydrated to replace fluids lost in this process.  Staying hydrated will keep us energized, sharp, and promote optimal recovery time after a workout, game or practice

 

How To Know If You Are Dehydrated:  You may be dehydrated if....           

  • You experience fatigue early in your activity
  • You notice a decrease in performance
  • You get headaches or feel lightheaded
  • You have a hard time focusing, whether in your workout, in the office or in the classroom
  • You notice you are not sweating nearly as much as you usually do
  • Your urine is dark in color (like apple juice) and / or low in volume

 

Hydration Strategies for a Fueled & Focused Day:

  1. Drink fluids (focusing on water) throughout the day, starting when you wake up and make this a daily practice.  You cannot make up for lack of fluids right before your event or the day of!
  2. Know your sweat rate.  You can weigh yourself right before and right after your workout.  The body weight lost is from water.  You want to drink about 16 - 24 ounces of fluid for each pound of body weight you or your athlete loses during a workout.  (Note: if there is a history of disordered eating or eating disorders with the athlete, I do not recommend this method)
  3. If you or your athlete is a salty sweater (notice a salty residue on the skin or clothing after exercise), a sports drink or salty snacks would be beneficial to replace the lost electrolytes (sodium & potassium, specifically).
  4. If you or your athlete is not a good drinker or does not often feel thirsty, salty snacks may also be beneficial to increase thirst and promote a higher fluid intake.
  5. If your athlete is not able to drink much at school, encourage high - water - content foods at breakfast and pack high - water - content foods in their lunch and for snacks

 

Hydrating Food & Fluids to Have On-Hand:

  • Bottled waters
  • Sports drinks like Gatorade (during or after exercise only)
  • Fresh or frozen fruits (like oranges, grapes, apples, watermelon & pineapple)
  • Fresh vegetables (like cherry tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, sugar snap peas, & cucumber slices)
  • Pretzels or other salty crackers (promote thirst and increased fluid intake)
  • Soups
  • Low-fat yogurts 
  • Tomato juice
  • Bottled or home-made smoothies

 

Happy Fueling!

Taylor

 

Summer Sports Camp Fuel

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Just because it's summer doesn't mean the madness stops.  It seems to simply shift to a different routine of crazy as you juggle your own regular work schedule plus your athlete's morning practices, two-a-days, sports camps, and other summer activities, all while making sure you and your young athlete are fueled enough to get you both through the day.  Special attention is needed for young athletes who, depending on their sport, may have gone from a one to two-hour practice before school and / or a 2 to 3 hour practice after school to all-day sports camps consisting of breaks here and there throughout the day, but not much time for rest and recovery and often times out in the heat of the day.

So, let's talk SPORTS CAMP FUEL.  The goal here is to energize and to hydrate.  To provide quick fuel and also provide sustained energy.  "Quick", "totable", "simple" are the criteria for these meals and snacks - items that can be made before bed or assembled quickly in the morning before heading out for the day.

To hopefully make life a bit easier, below, I have compiled a list of snack ideas for camp with a little explanation of why they make great sports snacks.  For more ideas keep up with the blog, which will be featuring healthy fueling snacks throughout the months to come!

QUICK ENERGY WHEN YOUR CAMPER HAS A COOLER

  • Water
  • Smoothies (fluid, antioxidants, and carbohydrate from fruits and water / ice)
  • Fresh fruits (such as: grapes, tangerines, pineapple, watermelon, apple slices)
  • Mini bottles of a sports drink (like Gatorade)

 

QUICK ENERGY WITHOUT A COOLER

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  • Water
  • Pretels or other salty crackers (quick carbohydrates + salt to replace sodium lost in sweat and help retain fluid)
  • Dried fruit (quick carbohydrate + antioxidants + some iron, depending on the dried fruit)
  • Whole grain cereal (low in fat and fiber)
  • Fresh fruit
  • Granola bars (low in fat and fiber)
  • Jam Sandwich on white bread (very quick carbohydrate)

 

LONG-TERM ENERGY WHEN YOU OR YOUR CAMPER HAS A COOLER

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  • String Cheese
  • Turkey & Cheese Pita
  • Turkey & Hummus Wrap
  • Bowl of whole grain cereal with low-fat milk
  • Nonfat Greek yogurt topped with fruit and a little low-fat granola
  • DIY Blackberry Burst yogurt (a Taylored Recipe)
  • Hummus & whole grain crackers (healthy fat, protein, fiber + a little iron)
  • Low-fat milk or chocolate milk (carbohydrate, potassium & protein - great snack to refuel)
  • Smoothies made with milk / yogurt
  • Fig & Cheddar Turkey Sandwich (a Taylored Recipe)
  • Sliced tomato or pineapple & cottage cheese 
  • Pasta salad with sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and Italian dressing
  • Quinoa / rice bowl with bell peppers, avocado, chopped grilled chicken & salsa

 

SUSTAINED ENERGY WITHOUT A COOLER

SunButter Oat Bites.JPG
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Graham crackers with peanut butter topped with strawberry or banana slice
  • homemade trail mix (nuts, whole grain cereal & dried fruit)
  • Hearty whole grain granola bars with at least 6 grams of protein
  • Peanut Butter Banana Oat Bites
  • Popcorn
  • Pre-packaged oatmeal packets (if a microwave will be available)
  • Carrot sticks, sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, baby tomatoes (as a side)

 

SNACKS THAT HYDRATE

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  • Water
  • Nonfat yogurts
  • Nonfat or low-fat cottage cheese
  • Smoothies
  • Fresh or frozen fruit
  • Fresh vegetable slices (such as: carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumber)
  • Sports drinks
  • Apple sauce
  • Chocolate milk (great recovery drink after a long intense practice)
  • Vegetable juice (such as V8 or tomato juice)

Feel free to comment below with any questions or suggestions of things you do that work for you and your young athlete!

Happy Fueling! 

Taylor