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Gameday Nutrition for Young Athletes

Pre-game or Pre-practice

  • Work to make healthy choices that best work for YOU. Individualize food and fluids to taste and tolerance
  • Fuel your body with a meal at least three hours before practice or game time
  • Eat enough to feel satisfied, but not stuffed. Stop eating when you start to feel 75-80% full
  • Focus on minimally-processed, whole food carbohydrates
  • Choose moderate amounts of lean protein
  • If you are hungry within the three hour window, eat a small snack or drink a small, easily digestible smoothie. Wait to eat your full meal until after practice or the game
  • Try to limit or avoid fats and fiber right before you play to help lessen the possibility of an upset stomach
  • Keep hydrated! Consume fluids throughout the day and hours prior to activity. Make a goal to drink 16-20 ounces of water at least four hours before
  • Drink 8-12 ounces of water 10-15 minutes before you begin playing
  • Make it a habit! Practice how you fuel your body for game day during practice

During the Game or Practice

  • Drink up! Remember to replace the fluid that is lost through sweating and breathing hard when you are playing
  • Drink 3-8 ounces of water every 15-20 minutes when exercising less than 60 minutes
  • Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of a sports beverage (no more than 5-8% carbohydrates) that has electrolytes like sodium, chloride, and potassium every 15-20 minutes when exercising more than 60 minutes
  • To help reach hydration goals, drink fluids during breaks throughout practice and timeouts, quarters, and at halftime in games
  • Do not drink more than one quart per hour during exercise
  • Prioritize water first over other sports drinks and fluids
  • Focus on sipping fluids as compared to guzzling them

Post-game or Post-practice

  • Replace those fluids you lost through sweating and breathing hard by drinking plenty of water. Rule of thumb: Drink 20-24 ounces of fluid for every one pound lost
  • Sodium, either from fluid or in food, can help promote complete rehydration and prevent low sodium levels in the body (hyponatremia)
  • Consume quality carbohydrates through whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and dairy products.
  • Carbohydrates should make up 2/3 of the post-game meal
  • Eat or drink some protein in order to start rebuilding damaged muscles. Milk is an excellent option
  • Consider consuming a protein snack right after you are done playing and before bed to help your muscles recover during sleep

10 Nutrition Rules for Young Athletes to Live By

  1. Come Back to Earth: Choose the least processed forms of whole food such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
  2. Eat the Rainbow Often: Each different color of fruits and vegetables has a unique set of vitamins, minerals, and health benefits. Eat a variety of fruits or vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow for the biggest benefit.
  3. The Less Legs the Better: Focus on lean protein sources with each meal, such as poultry or seafood. Plant-based proteins are always great too.
  4. Eat Healthy Fats: Include healthy fats in your diet like olive oil, nuts, natural nut butters, seeds, avocado, salmon, and flaxseed.
  5. Eat Breakfast Every Day: When you eat within 30 minutes of waking up, you jumpstart your metabolism. This gives you more energy to get your day going.
  6. Fuel Your Body for Exercise: Don’t skip meals when you’re growing. Try to eat something every two to three hours; keeping healthy snack options around in your bag/lockers/cars can be a great way to stay on track and keep your body fueled.
  7. Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can decrease your athletic performance. Drink water or other non-caloric beverages like unsweetened teas and sparkling waters. Reduced-fat milk can be a great option as well for providing protein, vitamin D, and calcium steadily throughout the day. Carry a water bottle with you all day long and aim to fill it up at least five times.
  8. Recovery: The best window for recovery is 30-60 minutes post-activity. Have a post-workout recovery meal that combines both protein and carbohydrates immediately after your training. Chocolate milk can be a good option for recovery too!
  9. Sleep: Aim for seven to eight hours of sleep. The body grows, recovers, and repairs best when you are catching some ZZZ’s.
  10. 80/20 Rule: Each meal and snack is an opportunity to fuel your body optimally. Choose the foods that are best for you 80% of the time and incorporate some of those foods that may not be nutritionally the best, but are your favorites, 20% of the time.

Nutrition for Young Athletes

  • Focus on carbs for energy. Choose quality carbohydrates through whole-grains, fruits, and vegetables for fast energy. Save the sports drinks (with no more than 5-8% carbohydrates) for an energy boost during endurance sports or training sessions lasting more than an hour.
  • Spread out protein foods. Active bodies need high quality protein to support growth and build and repair hardworking muscles. Young athletes should spread protein foods throughout the day, having some at each meal and with most snacks, such as eggs for breakfast or a sandwich with chicken, turkey, or tuna on whole-grain bread for lunch. Plant-based protein foods like tofu and beans are also great choices.
  • Use caution with fatty foods. Fatty foods slow digestion. Greasy, fried foods and fatty desserts are filling and may leave you feeling tired and sluggish. Skip the fries or pizza before your practice or game and keep fat content on the lighter side.
  • Flow with fluids. Good hydration should begin early in the day. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water during the day, especially in the two to three hours before game time. Continue to drink during the game (about 1/2 cup every 15-20 minutes) and afterward to rehydrate after sweat loss. Water should still be your go-to drink for exercise that’s under 60 minutes. Training sessions over an hour may require a sports drink to replace electrolytes lost through heavy sweating.
  • Timing is everything. WHEN you eat is just as important as WHAT you eat. Your body needs two to three hours to digest a regular meal such as breakfast or lunch before an athletic event. Small snacks such as a granola bar or small smoothie can be consumed 30 minutes to an hour in advance. Load up at meals, but don’t overeat, and keep snacks light as you get closer to game time.
  • Topping it off with milk. In addition to water, fat-free or low-fat milk is a smart way to help young athletes meet their fluid needs with some extra health benefits. Just one cup of milk packs in 15 to 24 percent of your daily protein needs, while also delivering a healthy dose of nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.

Gameday Nutrition Plan for Young Athletes

Eating right on gameday is your secret weapon for top-notch performance, whatever the sport. Here’s a sample gameday nutrition plan:

Balanced Breakfasts

  • Scrambled Eggs, Toast, Strawberries, Milk
  • Peanut Butter or Cheese, Bagel, Banana, Vegetable Juice
  • Whole Grain Cereal, Milk, Blueberries, Lean Ham or Turkey Bacon, Water

Loaded Lunches

  • Whole Wheat Pita Sandwich with Deli Meat (Turkey or Chicken) & Vegetables, Carrot Sticks, Granola Bar, Milk
  • Multigrain Crackers, Sliced Cheese, Apple, Oatmeal Cookies, Milk or 100% Juice
  • Deli Meat (Turkey or Chicken) Whole Wheat Sub, Fruit Salad, Yogurt, 100% Juice or Water

Post-Game Dinners

  • Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Salad, Fruit, Milk
  • Roast Chicken, Baked Potato, Steamed Vegetables, Baked Apples, Milk or 100% Juice
  • Stir-Fry Vegetables with Meat (Poultry or Tofu), Steamed Brown Rice, Yogurt Parfait, Milk

Superior Snacks

  • Fresh Fruit
  • Cheese & Crackers
  • Trail Mix
  • Yogurt & Granola
  • Veggies & Hummus
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