Nutrition For Young Athletes with Irene Gardner MS, RD CSSD

As a kid, I remember some of the best parts of the week were playing sports. Whether it was running from the classroom straight to practice or stepping out onto the court or field on Saturday morning, I absolutely loved each moment, each opportunity to play and to compete. Throughout the years, that love of sport never waivered.  Regardless of age, gender, or sport, that drive to be better, to aim higher, and to succeed lies within us. While I understood my work ethic and attitude were critical in my contribution to the team, at the time, I did not understand the impact of other factors, like, nutrition and hydration.

As you progress from middle school to high school and beyond, putting the right foods in your body will help you to practice and play at your best.

Now, I’m not talking simply about wins or losses. I’m talking about your accuracy, your strength, your speed, your endurance, and your enjoyment.  I’m talking about how quickly you think and react, and about how well you recover after each practice and game to keep your body running all season long.

In this segment on sports nutrition, I will focus on tips to fuel young athletes.

Tip #1 Breakfast
Feeding your body in the morning gives you the energy to move well and to think quickly.  This is because food supplies energy to your muscles AND your brain.

Skipping breakfast means that you won’t have the energy or focus needed for school or practice.

Oatmeal, with friut and nut butter.

Oatmeal, with friut and nut butter.

Fill your breakfast with whole grains, fruit, protein, and milk or yogurt.

Here are some breakfast ideas:
-          Whole grain toast with natural peanut butter, a banana, a glass of milk
-          Plain yogurt with strawberries/bananas, sliced almonds
-          Whole grain waffle with nut butter, orange slices, milk
-          Oatmeal with apples, cinnamon, walnuts, milk
-          Homemade breakfast sandwich: English muffin, egg, spinach/tomato, cheese, and a glass of milk or yogurt

Breakfast food to limit:
-          Sugary cereals and yogurts, cereal bars, flavored oatmeal packets
-          Doughnuts, pastries
-     Fast food

Eat breakfast EVERYDAY!

Tip #2 All Day Eats
Your nutrition plan should involve eating 3 meals a day plus snacks between meals.

Eat real, whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, starchy vegetables, lean proteins, dairy and healthy fats.  These foods give the best nutrients for fuel, for recovery and to keep your immune system strong. 

Pick from the food lists to build a balanced plate.

Step 1: fill ½ of your plate with vegetables & fruits.

Step 2: fill ¼ of your plate with lean protein.

Step 3: fill ¼ of your plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables.

Step 4: Choose water or milk to drink

Tip #3 Hydration Station
Water is the best, but milk, 100% fruit or vegetable juice, smoothies, and soups also count for fluid. Limit sugary drinks like soda, juice drinks, coffee drinks, and energy drinks. Sports drinks are okay during long trainings or games, or in hotter temperatures. 

-Before Activity: 12-16oz o fluid 1 hours before

-During Activity: 3-10oz of fluid every 20 minutes

-After Activity: 16-32oz of fluid or more to replenish sweat loss

This is on top of drinking water throughout the day, so bring a reusable water bottle to school and refill it before and after practice.

Tip #4 Game and Tournament Fuel
On a regular basis, eat 3 meals a day plus snacks as needed. On days you have practice or games, you will need to pack some extras.

Around practices and games, there are TWO important snacks to include. A pre-activity snack supplies energy when eaten 30-60 minutes prior to the event, and a post-activity snack within 30 minutes refuels and recovers your body.

On a tournament day, pack a bag or cooler with various options to eat small amounts between games to keep you properly fueled all day long.

Here are some ideas for pre- or post- activity nutrition:
-          Fresh fruit: apple or orange slices, tangerines, strawberries, banana, grapes
-          Fruit leathers, apple sauce packets, dried fruit
-          String cheese, yogurt, deli meat, beef or turkey jerky
-          Mixed nuts, pretzels, crackers
-          Turkey and cheese wrap, peanut butter sandwich

An important key is to test out your game day fuel on practice days. Practice your nutrition, just as you do your sport!

Best of luck to everyone playing a winter sport or preparing for the spring rugby season. As the year goes on, continue to build positive nutrition habits to help you perform at your best and most importantly enjoy your sport!

Irene Gardner, MS RD CSSD

Irene Gardner, MS RD CSSD

Our next nutrition segment will cover the topic of supplements. Until next time, stay well!

In Health, 

You can reach Irene Gardener in the following ways:
Twitter-@IG_Nutrition or on Instagram @IG_Nutrition

About Irene- Irene is a Sports Dietitian, a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, with a Master's Degree in Nutrition. She is  a former member of the Cal Women's Rugby Club, Berkeley All Blues, as well as the USA Rugby's Women's National 7s Team. She's also accumulated a number of rugby awards and honors along the way. Now, Irene is working full-time to help others live well and improve performance through nutrition! She is currently collaborating with us at The Rugby Republic to bring nutritional information and tips to ruggers.