Three tips to keep youth athletes in top nutritional shape this school year – The Philadelphia Inquirer

Is your youth athlete eating like a winner?

When it comes to nutrition, many of us tend to focus on food’s relationship to weight loss or weight management rather than its powerful health-improving properties. Eating a well-balanced diet is preventative medicine and is essential for better brain function, higher energy levels, and a stronger immune system. And for the students in your family, proper nutrition is vital for enhancing not only their academic performance, but athletic abilities, too.

Students have a strenuous school schedule. They’re up early, endure long hours of learning, and if they’re involved in sports, expend an extraordinary amount of physical energy. Combined with the school day, practice, team travel, and games, the typical youth athlete works a whopping 12-hour day. And that doesn’t account for the hours of homework to follow. Too often, stamina-sustaining nourishment is sacrificed at the expense of these seriously stacked schedules.

For youth athletes to thrive, they need easily accessible, nutritious snacks to power them through their days. Here are the top three ways to ensure your children are staying fueled and healthy:

We know we’re supposed to drink water throughout the day. But why? Water regulates body temperature, lubricates joints, helps organs function properly, flushes toxins from the system, improves cognitive skills, and increases energy — all crucial functions for students to be successful.

Unfortunately, younger folks are more apt to opt for sodas or energy drinks, which are loaded with sugars, artificial flavors, and other harmful chemicals. High-sugar drinks are also linked to such dangerous health conditions as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Although sugary drinks will give you an instant energy jolt, they leave you feeling depleted and energy deprived.

Even Gatorade and other beverages marketed as “sports drinks,” intended to replenish the electrolytes lost during intense exercise, contain a substantial amount of artificial dyes and sugars. To create an all-star formula, fill a large water bottle halfway with Gatorade and dilute the rest with water to ensure that you’re staying well-hydrated.

Don’t let pre-practice or pregame snacks be an afterthought. The food an athlete eats can make all the difference in practice and game-day performance. Students train for long hours, with drills consisting of such arduous tasks as sprint work, long-distance runs, weight training, and back-to-back scrimmages. When your body is fueled with the right foods, you’ll have more speed, strength, and stamina.

Opt for wholesome foods that promote and sustain energy levels, and that are rich in carbohydrates and proteins. But beware: Not all carbs are created equal. Be sure to choose complex carbohydrates and lean protein combos, such as whole wheat bread with peanut butter or whole grain crackers with cheese. These will burn slowly to keep the body satisfied longer. Ideally, athletes should eat these snacks 30 to 60 minutes before exercise. This time frame usually falls right after the end of the school day. Foods that contain dairy, are high in fat, or full of fiber are less ideal. They can be difficult to digest beforfe exercise and cause cramps or other unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.

Making sure your youth athlete replenishes with the right ingredients after exercise is just as important as what goes in it before playing. Similarly, you’ll want foods consisting of complex carbohydrates and lean proteins to help restore the body after exertion. Homemade energy bars, Greek yogurt with berries, a banana with nut butter, or reduced fat chocolate milk are all good options. Aim to refuel 30 to 45 minutes after exercising.

When it’s time to sit down for dinner, design a well-rounded plate that has complex carbohydrates, proteins, and vegetables. Whole wheat pasta with grilled chicken and vegetables, or salmon with quinoa and vegetables, are just a few ideas that help guarantee that your athlete is getting all the necessary nutrients to regenerate muscle fibers broken down during exercise, as well as replenish energy that was expended.

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