If you’re a young athlete or the parent of one, the foods you choose to eat play a large role in how well you perform on the field or court. Fueling developing bodies with the right nutrients boosts athletic performance as well as increases the chances of growing up healthy.
What nutrients do young athletes need the most? While needs vary based upon exertion level, all developing athletes need adequate vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrates for optimal performance. They also benefit from staying hydrated and consuming adequate calories to meet their energy needs. Whether you’re a parent or performer, here are six food groups all growing bodies need.
1. Eat Fruits and Veggies in Every Color
Scientists learn more about phytonutrients, the chemical compounds giving fruits and veggies their vibrant colors, with each passing day. While people have intuitively associated certain food colors with particular nutrients for ages, science now confirms the different health effects these nutrients have on our body’s functions.
Strive to fill half of each mealtime plate with fruits and vegetables. Consuming adequate amounts of fresh goodness eliminates the need for supplements in many, but follow physicians’ orders when it comes to supplementation. If raw vegetables cause digestive upset, try cooking them, and if they prove unpalatable, reach for ranch or other tasty dips.
2. Protein Fuels Muscles
Protein needs vary, but in general, consuming approximately half a gram of protein for each pound of body weight ensures adequate intake. When you’re young, not only do your muscles need protein to heal from athletic feats, they also need the nutrient to keep you growing strong.
This doesn’t mean stuffing yourself with steak at every meal. Studies show plant-based proteins outperform the carnivorous version every time. Load up on beans and leafy greens like spinach and kale.
3. Healthy Fats Fuel Young Minds
The human brain needs healthy fats to develop properly, and the body cannot perform athletically without the assistance of this vital organ. Healthy oils and fats include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as avocados and nuts.
Nuts, especially walnuts, also boost brain function. Try mixing up a batch of your own mixed nuts at a natural food store to avoid all the salt often included in store-bought cans.
4. Staying Hydrated Provides Endurance
No doubt you’ve heard the advice to stay hydrated a million times in your athletic career, but that’s because the advice holds true. You cannot perform at your best if you’re thirsty. Carry a water bottle around with you all day and try setting reminders for yourself to sip.
Additionally, avoid or limit your consumption of foods and drinks that lead to dehydration, such as soda, coffee and energy drinks. Parents should talk also to young ones about alcohol as early as possible to help them avoid increasing pressure from peers to drink. Besides having a very bad effect on your hydration levels, alcohol affects developing brains and bodies in a variety of other negative ways.
5. Carbohydrates Provide Easy Energy
Consuming carbohydrates provides an instant energy boost, however, not all carbs are created equally. While downing a chocolate bar provides accessible glucose, once it’s gone, energy levels plummet.
Instead, stick to complex carbohydrates made from whole grains like oats. Avoid refined sugars and white flour. If gluten sensitivity exists, try fueling your body with ancient grains like quinoa and amaranth, especially if wild grown. While scientists have not confirmed glycophosphate used in Roundup and other commercial weed killers in wheat crops increases gluten sensitivity, anecdotal evidence suggests the substance may cause gastrointestinal upset.
6. Calories Do Count
Most people read nutrition labels stating, “Recommended daily allowances based upon a 2000 calorie per day diet.” However, this level is inadequate for active athletes aged elementary school through young adult. Depending upon their activity level, young athletes need anywhere from 2000-5000 calories daily.
The best rule is to fuel yourself when you feel hungry, but do so mindfully. Avoid the siren song of greasy fast food and opt instead for nutrient-dense whole foods as close their natural form as possible. Instead of grabbing a large order of fries, for example, make a baked potato topped with vegan cheese and veggies like broccoli and carrots.
Selecting the Best Foods for Developing Athletic Bodies
All developing bodies need proper nourishment to thrive, but athletes need additional nutrients and calories. By following the six tips above, you can nourish yourself or your budding young athlete for maximum performance as well as optimal health.