5 Key Nutrition Strategies for Youth Athletes

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Youth sports have gotten progressively more competitive in the last 20 years. With all of the additional travel, practice times, and training , there is an increasing and often neglected need for acceptable nutrition. Proper nutrition can make all the difference, both for performance and for maintaining energy levels throughout an increasingly busy schedule. With that in mind, I’m going to get into 5 key strategies families can implement for their young athletes.

  1. Hydrate.
    This one is probably the most obvious and I don’t want to beat a dead horse. That said, water is the most important nutrient. It assists in energy production, transports nutrients, and regulates many biological processes of the body. Probably most importantly, through sweat, it helps regulate your body’s temperature. Make sure you’re sipping water throughout the day.
  2. Put something colorful on every plate.
    I’m talking about fruits and vegetables. Each contains vital vitamins and minerals that your body uses on a daily basis. A multivitamin can help some deficiencies but some studies have shown better absorption rates when these micronutrients come from whole foods. Make sure you get some on every plate.
  3. Use portion control.
    Use your fist as an indicator for a serving size. Young athletes need a lot of food  for energy in their busy schedules but it’s important to break that up into several smaller meals and snacks than to consume it all in two enormous meals. When you gorge on food, two things happen. First, you tend to store unwanted calories as fat. Second, your body tends to get rid of some more desirable calories if it can’t readily use them. Coaches want your body to move as efficiently as possible so make sure you’re eating that way too.
  4. Think like a carnivore.
    Whether you eat meat or not, protein is necessary to repair and rebuild muscle and tissue that breaks down due to sport and other vigorous activities. Roughly 20-30% of your daily caloric intake should consist of complete proteins. This is easy if you’re a carnivore as animal proteins contain all essential amino acids. If you’re a vegetarian/ vegan, you’ll have a tougher time creating combinations on your plate to get all the essential amino acids, but it’s doable. Either way you eat, eat 10-20 grams at every meal/ snack.
  5. Eat well on the road.
    It sounds like a tall order with all the restaurants and take-out that occurs on the road but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Look for the words BAKED, GRILLED, STEAMED, and BROILED. If you do that and follow the other 4 strategies on this list, you’ll be setting yourself up for success on the road.

There’s obviously a lot more that goes into it, but in today’s fast-paced world, it’s tough to implement nutrient timing and more advanced strategies into busy schedules. These strategies should be more than enough to keep a young athlete energized and nourished for the next practice or game.

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Aaron Runner is the Owner/ Director of Strength & Conditioning at Full-Stride Performance in Roswell, GA. He holds a Master of Science degree in Kinesiology & Exercise Science, is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the NSCA, and a Sports Nutrition Specialist through NESTA. He has presented research at the national level, is a published peer-reviewed author in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning research, and an avid writer.

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