Would you put cheap gas in a Ferrari or Porsche? So, why would you put unhealthy fats and added sugar into your body? Having a great game or work out is more that just training, practicing and “keeping in shape”. Athletes have unique nutrition needs, especially teens. Eating for sports is not only about loading up on carbs and sports drinks, there is a lot more to it! Your body needs good nutrition, hydration and rest to perform its best. In fact, a teen athlete may need anywhere from 2000 to 5000 total calories per day depending on activity levels. So, what happens if you don’t eat enough, and continue to be physically active? The body will not achieve it peak performance and may even break down rather than build up muscles. When there is not enough energy coming in, our body starts to break down our muscle, which can affect performance, energy levels and weight. To achieve peak performance what should you eat? What is important? First and foremost, balanced intake of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats is needed to the right nutrients at the right time and give your body an edge during physical activity.
Carbohydrates are the most important source of energy for the athletes. They provide endurance and power. They are stored in the body and glycogen and can be used when needed. No matter what sport you play, carbs provide the energy that fuels muscle contractions. When carbohydrates are ingested, our bodies break them down in simple sugars – glucose, fructose and galactose, which are then absorbed and used as energy. The glucose not used is stored in the liver as glycogen. However, once these stores are all full, the extra glucose gets stored as fat. Glycogen is the source of energy most commonly used for exercise, particularly for short period of intense activity, such as sprinting or weight lifting, because is it immediately accessible. For the first few minutes of any physical activity, it is the glycogen at work. What happens if the body does not get enough carbohydrates? If the body does not get enough carbohydrates, it will turn to the muscles a source of energy. This results in limiting the bodies ability to build and maintain tissue, and it also stresses the kidneys’ to work harder and eliminate the byproducts of this protein breakdown. As explained, carbohydrate is the preferred fuel for athletic performance. Athletes have the capacity to store carbohydrate in the form of glycogen, but this capacity is limited, so carbohydrate must be consumed daily. Are all carbohydrates created equally? There are three types of carbohydrates: starch, sugar and fiber. Starches and sugars provide your body with its main source of energy. They’re all comprised of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, which are organized into single units. Sugars contain just one or two of these units and are “simple,” while starches and fibers have many units of sugar, making them “complex”. Fiber is also complex but not digested or used for energy, but rather aids in preventing constipation and reducing disease risk. Starch is the best choice – whole grains! Eat 4 hours before to allow digestion.
Protein is the building blocks for muscles, bone, skin, hair, and other tissues. Used to make red blood cells, which move oxygen to muscles, and white blood cells, which help fight infections. If we rprotein for energy (by not taking in adequate carbohydrate), this can limit the bodys’ ability to build and maintain tissues. In addition, it can stress the kidneys because they have to work harder eliminate the byproducts of this protein breakdown. Protein is necessary for muscle growth and repair post-workout and is very important to our bodies. Athletes need protein to repair and rebuild muscle that is broken down during exercise. Protein also helps to optimize carbohydrate storage in the form of glycogen. But, when choosing protein, try to avoid unhealthy sources of protein such as cheeseburgers, fried chicken, or bacon. Rather, aim for lean proteins such as: grilled lean meats including chicken or turkey; soy products such as tofu, fish, or beans. Remember, it is easy to get too much protein. Too much protein can lead to dehydration and increased calcium loss.
What about Fat? Fat is an important source of energy, however can be difficult to digest before an activity. Foods with a lot of fat or fiber can be very difficult and slow to digest and remain in the stomach a long time. They also will pull blood into the stomach to aid in digestion, which can cause cramping and discomfort. Meats, doughnuts, fries, potato chips, and candy bars should be avoided in a pre-exercise meal, and be limited overall. Choose food from the four food groups, and make healthier choices more oft
The human body is made mostly of water, with over 60% of your weight made of water! Water plays a big part in keeping you cool, as well as in flushing toxins from your system. When you exercise strenuously, you can lose a lot of fluid, and it is important to replace that fluid (re-hydrate) so that your body can continue to function at its best. Signs of dehydration include feeling dizzy or lightheaded, having a dry mouth and not urinating as much as usual. If you are dehydrated, you will not be as strong and your reactions will not be as fast as they could be. Dehydration will compromise performance. Drink fluids, mostly water, during and between meals.
- Want to enhance your sports performance? Eat before, during, and after your sport – helps by maintaining blood glucose levels
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Drink water 2-3 hours before your sport, during breaks, and especially afterwards to replenish your body.
- Choose unsaturated fats. Fats are an important source of energy for your body, and are needed. Choose healthy fats!
- Before exercising, eat complex carbohydrates – whole grains! (pasta, bread, rice)
- After you exercise, your body needs to rebuild and repair – protein and carbs – try chocolate milk as a sports recovery beverage!
- Feeling nervous about a big race, game or competition? Still important to eat something – a snack – oatmeal, fruit, or toast
- Fill you body up with vitamins and minerals from food – choose a variety of colourful foods daily!