The adolescent athlete must meet the nutrition requirements associated with training and competing while also meeting the needs required for growth and development.
In addition to needing high quality food in the right portions, the timing of meals and snacks are an important part of fueling young athletes.
1. Start your day the right way, with a balanced breakfast
You have heard this one before – Always eat breakfast. Two common mistakes athletes make when it comes to breakfast, are either, they don’t eat breakfast, or their breakfast contains little or no protein or fiber. Protein at the start of your day will help you feel full and satisfied longer into the morning than a meal without protein. Aim for protein, carbohydrates, and fiber in your breakfast every morning. This might look like oatmeal, eggs, fruit, and add a glass on low-fat milk to include a dairy serving. Even better, throw some veggies in with the eggs.
2. Pre-practice snack
After a long day in school, it is important to have a snack before practice or a game. This will help top off your fuel tank heading into a training or competition. The size of your snack might depend on the amount of time you have between the end of the school day and practice or a game. If you have less than one hour this would consist of a simple carbohydrate snack that is easily digested such as pretzels or a banana. If you have longer than one hour between school and training or competition, such as a bus ride to an away game, this is an opportunity to get some more substantial fuel in the tank like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, deli sandwich, or Greek yogurt and a piece of fruit.
3. Balanced Dinner
A balanced dinner consists of a lean protein, carbohydrate, vegetables or fruit, and healthy fats. The portions of these nutrients and food groups might vary depending on the size of the athlete and their goals. See the United State Olympic Committee for Performance Plate handouts on portion sizes. The ideal situation is to eat this meal as soon as possible following training or competition. Realistically this is not always feasible with a family’s busy schedule and ability to have a meal ready when the athlete walks through the door. If a meal is not possible within about 45 minutes of activity, you will need a snack with carbohydrates and protein to help you recover and hold you over until the meal.
4. Night Snack
The key to nighttime snacks are type and timing. The type of snack should contain a source of protein, ideally dairy protein which contains a type of protein that is slower digesting than some other proteins. This could be a glass of milk or Greek yogurt. Cottage cheese is one of the best nighttime snacks. The timing of the night snack should be about 90 minutes to 2 hours before bed. Eating too close to bed can throw off the bodies sleep cycle.
Athletes should be well-hydrated before the start of training and competition. It is recommended to drink fluids throughout the day as well as before, during, and after training and competition. Research has shown that even 2% dehydration can negatively impact performance. A tip on hydration is to drink at least half your body weight in ounces each day. This is the minimum amount of fluid an individual should consume. If you are a heavy sweater, every pound of weight lost during exercise should be replaced with about 20 oz. of fluid. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, the minimum amount of fluid you need each day is 70 oz. If you have a 2-3 hour practice on top of this and it could range from an additional 20-60+ oz. per day depending on how much you sweat.
About the Author
Auburn Weisensale joined the University of Pittsburgh athletic department in September 2016 as a Sports Dietitian.
Auburn works with baseball, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, cross-country, gymnastics, men’s soccer, women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, volleyball, and wrestling teams. Weisensale does team nutrition education as well as one-on-one nutrition counseling. Additional services she provides to the student-athletes include grocery store tours, cooking demos, supplement education, and weekly samples at the fueling station referred to as Taste it Tuesday.
Before her time with Pitt, Weisensale worked as a Sports Nutrition Assistant for the University of Florida. While with the Gators, she assisted the men’s and women’s golf, women’s lacrosse and cross country teams. Weisensale also spent time at Indiana University as a Gatorade Sports Nutrition Immersion Program Fellow, working with men’s and women’s tennis, field hockey, and rowing teams. She also assisted with Indiana football, baseball, and volleyball teams. Prior to that, she spent time as an intern for Tara Gidus Nutrition Consulting with the Orlando Magic, University of Central Florida, and run Disney. She also worked as a Sports Nutrition Intern at the University of Virginia.
A 2013 graduate of James Madison University with a bachelor of science in dietetics, Weisensale was a four-year letter winner on the field hockey team. She was a four-year NFHCA National Academic Squad member and finished fifth in JMU history in freshman game-winning goals. Weisensale completed her dietetic internship/residency program through the Pennsylvania State University and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. She went on to pursue her master’s degree in Applied Exercise Science with a concentration in Sports Nutrition from Concordia University Chicago.