Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes
Since training and competition takes a toll on youth soccer players, it is extremely important that young athletes eat a diet that a) provides all of the essential nutrients they need for growth, and b) also provides the energy that they need for performance on a regular basis. The Head of Performance Nutrition at EIS (the English Institute of Sport), Jeni Pearce, has helpfully outlined her top 10 nutrition tips for young athletes:
- There are no good foods or bad foods: Balance and moderation are the key. Young athletes are encouraged to eat a wide variety of foods from a range of food groups to provide both the energy to train and compete and also for growth.
- Eat many different foods: Try new foods and new flavors often. Young athletes need to develop flexibility in their food choices to help prepare them for travel and the unexpected. An athlete who restricts food choices and flavors potentially limits both the nutrient intake and the ability to be flexible when circumstances are challenging, such as when travelling to attend competitions.
- Drink fluids to keep hydrated: Use sports drinks when competing in the heat and humidity especially. Limit weight loss to less than 2% of body weight by monitoring body weight both before and after training sessions. Also avoid over drinking to the level where excess body weight is gained.
- Eat enough for growth: Food needs will fluctuate, but overall, your player should increase their food consumption as they grow since there is a natural increase in bone and muscles, tissues, and blood supply. Growth is individual and will vary widely among athletes.
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables: Aim to eat at least 5 or more servings daily of different colors as these provide key nutrients for growth and sports performance. Eating fruit and vegetables regularly provide the body with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for growth and performance. You can use a range of fresh, frozen, and dried.
- Regular meals and snacks are important: Breakfast is just as important as snacks are after training or competitions. Breakfast restores the body’s fuel stores after an overnight fast, and provides key nutrients for growth for the young athlete including calcium, protein, fiber, vitamin c, and fluid.
- Choose snacks wisely: Treat foods are suitable now and again, rather than daily. Snacks provide valuable energy for the athlete growth and performance, and high fat treats should be saved for special occasions only and eaten away from training and competitions.
- Eat enough foods rich in iron and calcium for growth and development: These are the two key nutrients for growth which also play key roles in sports performance. The dietary intake of these nutrients have a tendency to be low in young females and in some young males.
- Sugar has a role but use it wisely and sparingly: Rely on the natural sweetness in food, and add extra sugar only when additional energy is needed from meals.
- Balance eating with growth and activity: Young athletes need more energy for growth compared to adults, and also have higher protein needs. To avoid undesirable weight gain, make sure to balance eating with activity levels.
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